In “Queens of the Triangle,” Shayan Asadi peers into the lives of drag queens living and performing in Raleigh, North Carolina in the fall of 2013.
AN INTERVIEW WITH PHOTOGRAPHER SHAYAN ASADI
Why Queens of the Triangle?
Last summer I worked at Fenuxe Magazine in Atlanta as their staff photographer. While I was there we started a project where we photographed every single drag queen in Atlanta. It was the first time anything had been done like that on such a big scale. Those photographs were all studio shots, like you’d see in a commercial magazine. Then last semester I took Alex Harris’ [Alex Harris is a photographer and the founder of Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies] color photography course and while brainstorming I decided it would be cool to take more of a documentary approach to drag and show more of what goes on behind the scenes. Because within the gay community it’s glamorized and then outside the LGBT community there’s not much knowledge about it, other than it’s a man dressing up as a woman, but really it’s more than that. You’re taking on a persona. You’re not necessarily cross-dressing. It’s like a form of entertainment, but also a form of expressing yourself, showing off fashion and a lot of deeper things.
It’s an escape for a lot of people. I know people who work during the day at a place like AT&T, and they have this awesome life at night where they are a completely different person. And coming from a psychology aspect, I’m not sure this is true, but it must be rewarding to have so much attention going to you. I didn’t talk in depth to a lot of people about their motivation, but that may be something I would want to look into in the future. I really wanted to show a wider audience a more truthful and unbiased look at the drag scene.
Do you feel like you accomplished that?
Somewhat. I feel like some of the photos are kind of more of the stereotypical pictures that you would imagine, but some of them get underneath that. And some of the ones where the queens are looking in the mirrors give a more introspective look. There’s at least more feeling.
Can you talk a little bit about your approach?
I started out at Flex Nightclub in Raleigh. They have a weekly Thursday night Trailer Park Drag Show, so that was fun. I got there early and photographed them getting ready. I hung out, chatted and was a part of the whole behind the scenes cattiness between the queens. I wanted to get a wider range of photos so I followed one of queens, Vivian Vaughn, around. I went to her house and was there for three hours while she got ready and painted her face. She said it was the fastest she’d ever done it, but it was probably an hour and a half to two and a half hours. And that was just the base layer because she still had to drive there; she did the rest at the club. I also took photos at the Crape Myrtle Festival drag brunch they do at Solas Restaurant in Raleigh the third Sunday of every month.
How did this project in North Carolina compare with your experience in Atlanta?
Well, it was definitely a completely different approach. In Atlanta we booked time slots in the studio and they posed; it was much more glamorous. We used a white backdrop and white reflection on the floor. It was fun because I got to see their personalities through their different poses. But I wanted to see what all went into their preparation. It was cool to see the emotions they showed throughout the show.