Laura Chen

For my series Killer Queens, I have photographed around 40 individuals from Birmingham's (UK) LGBTQ+ and drag community; the scope and participation of which demonstrates the growth of this countercultural scene in contemporary Britain. 

The colourful portraits celebrate and explore performance and self-expression. The series ultimately addresses current issues surrounding identity, sexuality and community spirit, and tells a strong collective story about discovery.

Motivated to entertain and educate, the talented artists I have worked with embrace and advocate their multi-layered identity, offering a podium for inclusion and diversity. Utilising drag as a tool to creatively question the construction and ascription of identity, they ‘play with gender’ and magnified stereotypes. If the work focusses on the drag community, ultimately, it addresses societal issues at large. Gender performativity is choreographed and acted out by everyone in our every day lives. 

I am fascinated by the ways in which drag artists can create endless variations of characters, in the most unique and innovative ways. They do this by playing with different fabrics, colours, patterns, textures, shapes and forms. With these photographs, I aim to make aware that despite the fact that everyone is born with a specific shape and form, we have the freedom to experiment with new appearances, attitudes and identities through re-invention. We are never fully formed.

I seek to connect with the characters they play at nighttime when fabulous, exaggerated and dramatised from head to toe, but am equally starstruck by how they present themselves to the world in their everyday, ‘natural’ look. Photography enables me to feed this curiosity I have about my subjects. My camera gives me an opportunity and motive to observe, get up close and interact in a way that I otherwise would not be able to, or perhaps, would not have the courage to do.

Passionate about archiving what the scene looks like at this point in time, I realise the historical significance in documenting and telling the countless stories of my subjects. The series consists of both digital and analogue portraits (Polaroid 600), which are driven by colour. Unlike a traditional reportage however, I use simple backgrounds in various colours to isolate my subjects from their context. I try to give a twist to the theatrical environment and setting they are accustomed to, seeing the studio as a stage without an audience or decor. I experiment with different shades to evoke and communicate a certain mood or message, but also to literally display and visualise the colourful, lively personalities of my subjects. The colour furthermore represent the rainbow flag that is associated with the LGBTQ community. 

At first glance, the images may look like glamorous perfection, but on closer inspection details and imperfections draw attention to their constructed nature; the fake hairline of their wigs and the texture in their skin, coming through the surface of many layers of glossy makeup. Just like the artists I capture, I am constantly drawing attention to the artificiality and playfulness with forward-thinking aesthetics, using a drag strategy with my photography. I am jarring, not trying to disguise reality, but instead, uncovering their raw beauty, which I value and am keen to articulate throughout my work. Essentially I play with the same idea as my subjects; the disconnection between desire and reality — the person they feel like being that day, in that moment, and the person they are behind the mask. I study and observe this balance and its limits.

The working title of my project references Queen’s song ‘Killer Queen’. There are different theories behind the meaning of this song, however I likened it to the idea of drag queens, in that they have the guts to be and show who they truly are, or paradoxically, who they pretend to be.  They are killer fierce and unapologetically real and surreal at the same time. To some people this can be quite daunting or intimidating. Just like how the protagonist in the song is described as and compared to different people, things and personalities, drag queens play with their multi-layered identity, taking on different characters. The project title is also a play on words that I use to introduce an alternate meaning and interpretation of the word “queen”. Through my eyes, you do not have to be royal to be a queen. All you need is a bit of glitz and glam. That being said, it takes a lot of hard work, time and creativity to achieve real artistry. That is where drag comes in.

 

Ginny Lemon

 

 

Pork Pie

 

 

Paulette Mii Cherry

 

 

Teal Sparkes

 

 

Mama Mamba

 

 

Jupiter & Minerva

 

 

Elliott Barnicle

 

 

Fred McFannybatter

 

 

Dahliah Rivers

 

 

Dominus Von Vexo

 

 

RiiRii LePour

 

 

Ashleigh-Marc

 

 

Anna Nass

 

 

Paul Aleksandr

 

 

Eva Lution

 

 

Peaches Monroe

 

 

Misty Fye

 

 

Jay Andre

 

 

Ambriel Addams

 

 

Jenna Davinci

 

 

Cycki Brokat

 

 

Effy Raine

 

 

Damaris

 

 

Ezra Skag

 

 

Lucius Blac

 

"My persona is really a statement of things, I myself, find attractive or aesthetically pleasing. I wouldn't say its 100% masculine since I take inspiration from gothic subcultures where a lot of men can appear with feminine aspects, makeup, hair, even style of clothing.

I have a very simple way of dressing; a lot of black. A lot of the things I wear in drag are simply things I'd love to wear everyday but don't.

I work retail, I'm pretty socially awkward and prefer to just get on with my day so I can get home and do the bare minimum in my own space. When in drag I want all the attention, talk to anybody and have an overflowing wardrobe.

As soon as I'm in drag I feel more confident, sexy and interesting. I'd say my drag allows me to let my hair down quite literally. I'd compare it almost to night and day."

"The first time I went out in drag it was to a local club which had various other drag artists performing, so I wanted to support the best way I knew how. I can still be a little nervous in drag but how I look and the response it gets boosts my confidence pretty quickly.

85% of places I go to in drag are clubs, either just to mingle and support, or after much delayed planning to saunter about on stage. Any occasion to dress up I will tend to revert to drag, maybe in a different style, but usually always a nod to my character.

I admire so many characters and people on Instagram that dress the same way, so used it as my chance to do so. I often say Lestat from Queen of the Damned, but could also draw similarities to a few outfits from Russel Brand. Really a mix of a sleazy Rock band front man, vampire-esc."

"I'm an entertainer. I look up to so many kings and queens that use their influence and presence for political uses, but I just see myself as someone who enjoys dressing up and miming the words to a song.

I always get nervous anytime I perform, the amount of time between each of them varies so I never really get used to it. For the first couple of minutes it feels surreal, but then I let myself fall into character and relax. 

It really helps if I'm super familiar with the song and have some sort of prop/ routine. Drag definitely gives me the chance to express the more masculine side which I usually only really show with friends or like-minded people in queer spaces."

"Even if I have a routine in mind when planning, it still slightly changes when on stage. I do try to bring fitting props that will add flare to the performance or tell a story within it. I'm definitely not a high energy performer, it's been labeled as sensual or a calculated slowness since I try do most of the acting with expressions or gestures. 

When getting ready I'll have all my makeup ready on the sink or my bed. Have the easier/comfortable bits of my outfit already on, depending on how long I think it will take to get ready, possibly already have my chest binding done. 

I love listening to music when doing makeup as well, so I have a few playlists I'll rotate and a glass of gin and tonic at the ready to have inbetween stages. I put my wig and contacts on last to complete the look and then usually go back to add or touch up."


 

Dylan Doe

 

 

Twiggy

 

 

Annie Mal

 

 

Divine Miss M

 

 

Anthony Scorpia

 

 

Tanja McKenzie

 

 

Amy LaQueefa 

 

 

 

Many thanks to the artists involved:

Amber Cadavarous

Ambriel Addams

Amy LaQueefa

Anna Nass

Annie Mal

Anthony Scorpia

Ashley Marc

Cristal Queer

Cycki Brokat


Dahliah Rivers

Damaris

Divine Miss M

Dixie Pop

Dominus Von Vexo

Dylan / Dee Sasstrus Doe

Effy Raine

Elliott Barnicle

Eva Lution

Ezra Skag

Fred McFannybatter

Ginny Lemon

Jay Andre

Jelly Cube

Jenna Davinci

Jupiter & Minerva

Lilith

Lucius Blac

Mama Mamba

Misty Fye


Paul Aleksandr

Paulette Mii Cherry

Peaches Monroe

Pork Pie

RiiRii LePour

Sasha Forrest

Seana Momsen

Tanja McKenzie

Teal Sparkes

Twiggy

Using Format