On Halloween, a small but devoted group of people traveled across the desert in the bitter cold to Cisco, Utah, to celebrate trans photographer Tiffany St. Bunny and attend an exhibition of photos taken during her month-long artist residency.
The residency, called “Home of the Brave,” takes place in a former railroad fill station and ghost town that’s being resurrected by artist Eileen Muza. The residency will take place twice a year for a month each, and Tiffany St. Bunny was its first resident. Muza states on the Home of the Brave website that the artists should bring everything they need, and she’s not kidding. Cisco is 45 minutes from the nearest town, and has no running water, grocery, gas station, or residents other than Muza. She purchased the abandoned town in 2015 with a clear mission in mind: to rebuild Cisco using salvaged materials and establish a nonprofit artist-in-residence program.
Tiffany St. Bunny, aka “Bunny,” grew up in Oklahoma and is now based in Oakland, California. She is best known for Truckslutsmag, an Instagram account with a corresponding magazine that features images of trucks and the queer and trans people that love them.
What differentiates Bunny’s pictures from other queer photography is the rural setting of the photos and how it reflects her lifestyle, especially how she was raised. “I think a lot of [queer and trans] people in that community are doing things where they see a lot of trucks. It’s different than gay city life, for sure,” she told Hyperallergic.
Bunny’s initial goal was simply to take pictures of trucks, and then her friends got involved. “People would be like, ‘I’m going to climb up on that truck and take my pants off or something.’ I would tell them, ‘Let’s do it.’” As it turned out, those were the images that resonated with her followers. “I think [the photos] touched a lot of people,” she told us. “[They] were also like, ‘Oh, I see myself in this.” At first, Truckslutsmag was popular mostly among the radical queer and trans community, but now it has a broader fan base.
After working on the project for five years, Bunny applied to the first Home of the Brave residency in Cisco, which took place in October. Out of 60 applicants, Bunny was chosen. It turned out that Muza and some of the jurors were already familiar with Bunny’s work.
When Bunny came to Cisco to begin her residency in October, the temperature ranged from a high of 80 to a low of 19. Bunny had to adapt to the rustic lifestyle, desert climate, and limited amenities. She told us, “The hardest part about being out there was it got super cold.”
The simple life suits Bunny, though. As an adventure guide for eight years and having lived off the grid in northern Alaska for part of a year in 2018, the 37-year-old artist feels most at home with nature. “I am from the country. I grew up in a very rural area.” By looking at the photos, you can see that that Bunny felt comfortable in Cisco’s barren setting. There’s an intimacy that’s captured with the landscape. “The desert is a place of inner strength and peace for me,” Bunny said.
On a typical day, Bunny traveled in and around Cisco shooting for Truckslutsmag from 5–6:30 p.m. to capture evening light. She also photographed a smaller series called Eternal Endless, a commentary on time and the perception of time which captures old, abandoned structures with words like ETERNAL and TIME IS A BUMMER painted on them.
For the Truckslutsmag project, Bunny put a post on Instagram calling for models to travel to Cisco. “I was just able to say hey, I’m looking for models out here, and people came from Salt Lake, Colorado, Arizona, and California.” She said she is grateful that many of the models were willing to drive, sometimes four to six hours, to the very remote location participate in the project.
For Bunny, creating a collaborative work environment is a key part of her process. “I generally give less direction to people I’m shooting for the first time because I want them to feel comfortable. I tell people to bring certain outfits and certain props or to pick things up from the store.” In the pictures, models are dressed up in things like bikinis, a big blue bouffant wig, and Playboy socks worn with black platform stilettos, all posing near trucks. One model in clown makeup playfully sticks out her tongue, holding an assault rifle. Through her photographs, Bunny takes the trope of the off-roading redneck and puts her own spin on it, breathing queer life into the formerly deserted landscape.
To promote the show, Bunny created a brochure and posted it to her Instagram page. She was also a guest on KZMU’s I Can See Queerly Now radio show. Days away from the opening, the location of the venue was still up in the air. While Muza was hoping to use Bunny’s studio space, Bunny had her heart set on Muza’s cabin. They settled on the cabin because it was bigger.
On a tight budget, Bunny purchased the picture frames at Michael’s and worked up until the last moment to get the photographs in order. The day of the gallery opening, she drove 100 miles round trip to Grand Junction, Colorado to pick up the prints. Then, she had to frame the prints — 16 Truckslutmag images and four Eternal Endless images — and hang them up on the walls for the exhibit. When asked about her work ethic, Bunny reflects, “I have big Scorpio energy and I follow through on stuff. Basically, if I say I’m going to do something, I’m not going to give up.”
The evening was predicted to bring temperatures in the teens and Muza and Bunny wondered whether people would even show up. Muza remembered thinking, “If nobody comes at least we’ll have a party for ourselves.”
Bunny added, “I was like, ‘Who’s going to come out here when it’s 14 degrees? And then a lot of people did.” The Milwaukee-based musicians Saebra & Carlyle performed for the guests, some of who were in Halloween costumes.
Despite the freezing cold and the last minute rush to prep, Bunny feels the show — and the residency that made it possible — were successful. “I think a lot of people have feelings of low-key imposter syndrome all the time, like I’m not a ‘real artist’ and there are so many people that are better than me,” says Bunny, reflecting on the residency. “I think the big takeaway for me was that I am a real artist. I am actually really good at what I do.”