Dov E. Kupfer, Documenting the Gay Community in El Paso, Texas

Dov E. Kupfer, AIFD, CFD, was born and raised in El Paso, Texas.  He was an inquisitive and artistic child. He attended Mesita Elementary School, El Paso High School, and the University of Texas at El Paso.  He said he was motivated to go into teaching is a second profession. He received his Bachelor of Art (All Levels with Teacher Certification from UTEP). He said he wanted an Art Degree that could be used because he never taught art, other than his student teaching, although he did use the skills he acquired to teach the Professional Floral Design classes at El Paso Community College.

He said his road to become a floral designer was a fluke. My mother had heard that a Jewish man had purchased Kern Place Florist and she insisted that he go and ask for a job there. Dov said he had no real floral education. Dov said he only knew what he was doing because he created floral arrangements for his family and for Jewish organizations that his mother was involved in, but he did not have any professional floral design training. 

When he applied at Kern Place Florist, Dov said the shop did not need help, but he was told that he could observe the work at the florist after my classes at UTEP.  He would go to the shop a few days out of the week and was eventually hired on a part time basis during holiday season for a few years. Over time, he learned more and when he became proficient, he was hired full time. When he graduated from UTEP and then became manager of the flower shop. He worked at Kern Place Florist for 18 1/2 years. Then things went haywire and his time at the flower shop ended. By the time his work at the flower shop ended, he already been teaching floral design at El Paso Community College for several years during this time.

Being versatile, Dov said his documentation and photography of the LGBTIQ community in El Paso was also a fluke. He used to go to the Old Plantation to watch the drag shows. After one of the shows, he asked the then show director Rose Quintana if I could meet the performers. He was allowed backstage into the dressing room. Rose knew that Dov did photography as a hobby and she allowed him to photograph the performers, with their permission. So Dov then began photographing the shows and performers. His photography then transformed to documenting  gay events that took place in El Paso and was invited by the different gay organizations to photograph their events. He documented events at the Gay Community Center, the Southwest Pride Parade Committee, AIDS organizations, holiday events and pageants at the clubs and eventually the El Paso Sun City Pride (EPSCP). He has photographed events and happenings in the communit for the last 35+ years later with no stopping.  Dov said, “Almost 35+ years later, I am still at it!!!”

Photograph of Dov E. Kupfer, with permission by El Paso Style, https://www.elpasostyle.com/photographer-dov-e/

Dov began his work with EPSCP as a Co-Historian with Jerome Cook. They were the official photographers for the organization.  When Jerome left El Paso, he became the solo historian. He said working with EPSCP has been a great experience because he was able to do more documentation of the community and events. Dov stated: 

I was able to document worthwhile activities such as the Christmas Toy drive; the Easter Basket drive; the Art of Fashion event and more. Documenting the largest event of the year PrideFest, afforded me the opportunity to photograph a myriad of events, including the Pride Parade, Pride Brunch, Street festival and the incredible shows with notable gay singers, performers, and drag queens, both local and national. It was such an amazing experience. I was able to meet so many gay celebrities and photograph their performances and meet and greets.

Dov has been documenting the gay community for over 30 years. He said the very first photograph that he took was of a drag queen named Tommie Ross at the Old Old Plantation. After attending drag shows at the Old OP, he eventually met Rose Quintana, who was the shows director. He asked Rose if there was any way he could shoot photos of the drag performers. She eventually let him go into the dressing room to meet the queens and eventually he was given permission to photograph her. Dov said:

It was a dream come true. I was not only able to meet the guest performers, but I was now able to photograph them. So it all began with my first photos of Tommie Ross… and the rest, as they say, is history. I was able to take pics of Tommie, and many others, some who have since passed away. Erica Andrews, Dianne Michaels, Whitney Page, Camille De Mornay, Mercedes De Marco, China Blue, just to name a few. Many others from out of town including Kelexis Davenport, Chevelle  Brooks, Christina Ross, and so many more! At that time I was using a 35mm camera with cartridges, then a digital camera that used floppy discs, and now totally digital. So to ask about memorable photos, there are way too many. Nowadays I am documenting the shows featuring seasoned and up and coming drag queens. Diamond, Luna Di Santi, Cassandra Paige Jones, Valerie Nicole Taylor, Rumor, Monique, to name a few, and so many new queens that are the star performers of today. 

With the introduction of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, Dov said he has photographed many of the stars who have been invited to perform in El Paso. He has photographed Raja, Alyssa Edwards, Trinity Taylor, Latrice Royale, Sharon Needles, Ongina, and so many more. Dov said he feels truly blessed to not only meet all of these performers from the past and present, but to have able photographed them as well. He said many of photographs have been posted on the Internet as well as on several performers’ web sites and social media pages. He photographed Kelexis’ profile photo which he shot of her at the OP doing a high kick. 

Dov has photographed so many performers and some more than others.  He has photographed performers at the Old OP, the New OP, the Mining Company, the U Got It, the Whatever, and Badlands, Lips, Lotus and Pish Posh, that unfortunately all those bars have closed. Now, he photographs shows at EPIC, Touch, and occasionally at Toolbox.

His photographs were featured in the Centennial Museum’s presentation of the 2015 “Engendering Community Exhibit” organized by Dr. Brenda Risch and J. Aaron Waggoner.  Dov said he I had a choice of selecting what would be displayed in that exhibit. Photographs he displayed included his first Tommie Ross photo; a photo including the late Whitney Page, known as “The Eyes of Texas;” and one of China Blue. Other photographed were displayed on the wall of the exhibition room at the Centennial. Dov said Brenda and Aaron contacted him and he gave them a set of 100 photos to choose from and they decided which ones to exhibit. He also said had a small selection of photos from Pride events and the AIDS Quilt when it was at the Haskins Center for viewing and panels which were added to it. He said he was honored to be part of such an important Gay exhibit.

Dov took photographs at the recent Social Distance Pride Parade.  He said the event “was so phenomenal to see how many from the community came out to drive their vehicles or motorcycles in the first ever Social Distance Pride Parade.”  He said he wasn’t sure what to expect, but that he was totally and pleasantly surprised.  “It was so amazing, even the El Paso Police Department  came out, voluntarily, to make sure everyone was safe and the parade was guarded–it was so wonderful to see!”

When asked how Pride can be celebrated during Covid-19, Dov stated:

Pride can be celebrated in many different ways. Adorning ones living space, doing virtual Pride drag shows, sporting a Pride flag on your vehicle, just to name a few!!! Showing your Pride with what you wear, can also celebrate Pride. This year is just so different. We must make the best of a crazy situation. Covid has put a stop to many Pride events, but it can’t stop one from feeling Prideful and showing their Pride in different and special ways!!!

Dov hopes that 100 years from now people will remember him as an important photographer who documented the community in such a beautiful way.  We do think he will be remembered as a person who made a big difference documenting the gay community.

Happy Pride!