I’ve been itching to shoot this assignment since I saw it on the syllabus at the start of class weeks ago. This shoot was especially important to me because I don’t believe that the only people capable of achieving high fashion are shirtless dudes showing their eight pack or thin women with unbelievably long legs and this gave me the opportunity to capture that.
This assignment was two part. One had to be shot in the studio and the other had to have location lighting. I wanted to photograph roller derby fashion and people in the drag community. I decided to shoot my queens in the studio where I had more flexibility to play around with lighting and photograph the derby women at the arena where they practice because the track would only add to the context of the photo.
Studio drag shoot:
Zach (aka Lacey Grace)
Zachary Bach, whose stage name is Lacey Grace, poses in drag in the studio on Wednesday, Oct. 12 on Central Michigan University’s campus.
Zach was seriously a trooper. He is a friend on my roommate’s and he came to our apartment at 8 a.m so Casey could do his makeup. We were trying to shoot at 10 in the studio because he had to work at 1 p.m. We got to the studio a little bit early so we had time to set up and maximize on time to shoot. All we ran into were issues. I had two lights set up like so:
Simple, easy, and ready to go. Hooked up my sync cord and hot shoe: wouldn’t fire. I’m standing there swearing like a sailor fumbling around trying to make sure everything had a tight connection, hooked up the cord to my other camera to eliminate the possibility that it’s an issue with my camera, and it still didn’t fire. I looked at Zach as he was getting his heels on and just told him he might as well keep them off and save his feet because it could be a while.
An hour later I had eliminated an issue with my camera, tried every hot shoe with every sync cord, and thought geez it must be the hot shoe. So I walk my booty down to the office and talk to the ladies who had opened the studio for me an hour prior and asked if there was a possibility that I could borrow a hot shoe from the second studio to see if all three of the ones in ours were malfunctioning. They then directed me to a professor that was able to get one for me on the promise of my life if I did not return it (which I did), and it still didn’t work. I was very aggravated and grumbling a lot of curses toward the equipment and was getting ready to pack my stuff up and find some other way to photograph Zach with the time we had left when I had a thought. I unhooked the sync cord from my primary light with my softbox and tried another monolight. Clicked my shutter: flash goes off. Sync port malfunction.
Praise the sun, we have a winner. But the light wasn’t where I wanted it so I had to swap around my equipment and I added another light to the left of my softbox setup. The lamp on the malfunctioning monolight still worked so I moved that to be my backlight, then I quickly took the light where the flash would fire and made that my primary light to my right, then I added another light to my left where the flash would still fire via slave, but dialed down the intensity. I just wanted it to lightly touch my model when it fired.
Eventually I had my final setup:
Then we got to work. Lacey Grace performs in the studio in Wightman at Central Michigan University on Wednesday, Oct. 12. Zachary Bach, 22, is from Grand Blanc, Michigan and is pursuing a degree in accounting and will be graduating in December. “I knew I wanted to do drag a couple years ago after watching RuPaul’s Drag Race and realizing how fun it looked,” Bach said. “I have always been a performer and I’ve done a lot of theater so I knew that drag was definitely in my wheelhouse.”
Neither of the queens I photographed had any professional quality photos of themselves in drag so they were just as excited to shoot this assignment as I was. We started off shooting full body and doing some still shots, then I asked him if he would perform a song so I could get some photos of Lacey Grace “in action” if you will.
Other than equipment malfunctions I think one of the most challenging things about this assignment was learning how to fix makeup in photoshop. Basically I’ve had nearly zero experience in that regard and in the original images Lacey Grace had incredibly heavy foundation down around her eyebrows so I went in and fixed them in nearly every image. Time consuming, but it was a welcome challenge. Below are the before and after shots. On the left is the original image that has no editing, on the right is after editing. Spot healing brush in photoshop was a huge help.
Lacey Grace poses with her makeup brush in the studio. “For me, drag is just another form of expressing myself,” Bach said. “It helps me break away from the shy persona that I sometimes give off when I’m not in drag.”
Neal (aka Lavender Hazze)
My second drag queen was Neal. I photographed Zach and Neal back to back and it worked out perfectly. Unlike Zach, Neal is very new to the drag community, but not new to loving it.
Neal Primm, 21, also known as Lavender Hazze, poses in the studio Wednesday, Oct. 12 at Central Michigan University. “I knew I wanted to become a drag queen was in high school,” Primm said. “It was after I saw my first performance by a drag queen that opened up many doors to so many ideas.” Neal is currently studying at Mid Michigan Community College working towards a visual ads degree with full focus on ultimately becoming a photographer.
I spent so much of my time photographing these queens while standing on a chair. This little 5’2″ frame of mine was not conducive to photographing already tall men, dressed up as women, and in heels on top of it. The original photos I took minus the chair look like a toddler took them…while sitting down.
We played lots of music in the studio throughout and Neal really shined while I photographed the still photos and I was really impressed by the originality Neal showed as Hazze. Generally when you think of drag queen you picture essentially a beauty pagent queen but there are so many different types and to be able to photograph that and essentially represent it was truly a blessing. That’s not to say that Lavender Hazze isn’t beautiful, because she is. She just has her own style and I love that.
Neal also walked into the studio and pulled out these fake ass looking flowers out of his bag telling me about how excited he was to use them in the photos. I love when models do this because they not only got excited and brainstormed what they wanted to do but it gives me an even bigger opportunity to really represent them by using their ideas. For a moment I thought to myself, what the hell am I going to do with these ugly looking flowers, then I thought fuck it, it’s going to be awesome. And it was.
Lavender Hazze poses with flowers in the studio at Central Michigan University. “There’s so much creativity and art behind drag if you put your mind to it, and that is something that captivates me,” Primm said. “This is my opportunity to show people that you can do anything you put your heart into.”
Neal was also super excited about tearing those photos apart, but initially we’d either throw the flowers out of frame, or he’d be smiling in the photo which would seem to contradict the tearing of the flowers. One of the most memorable experiences in the beginning of our time together he said laughingly, “You know, I feel like since I am getting my photo taken that I should be smiling.” And you could see that nervous energy, but I just told him something to the effect that he should just do what he feels comfortable doing and if that’s smiling, then to do it, but if not don’t worry about smiling.
Lavender Hazze tears apart flowers in the studio. “You’ve gotta ignore the negativity the world is throwing at you and just do whatever it is you want! For me, I’m blooming. No more holding back,” Primm said.
When my roommate saw this image she said something that I believe was incredibly profound and correlates to the drag community and how people view it. “It’s almost as if the flowers represent femininity and destroying them is destroying the social confines of who and what can be feminine.” -Casey Crick
Central Michigan Mayhem
Cassi (aka Battle Scarred Beauty) and Kate (aka Sly Vixen)
So photographing the women on the Central Michigan Mayhem team was a lot of fun. It wasn’t my first experience with them as I had photographed their annual event Zombies vs. Vampires bout last year, an event I will also be covering this year on Saturday, Oct. 29. I planned to get to the arena after their practice but got there early in case they finished practice early. The down side of that I hadn’t realized, was that the ladies would be tuckered out after practice and almost all of them felt like a hot and sweaty mess and weren’t really up for being photographed. Two rockstars got their gear back on for me and went in front of the camera so I could get some shots for my assignment.
Cassi Weatherby, known by her derby name Battle Scarred Beauty, shows of her derby fashion after the Central Michigan Mayhem’s practice on Wednesday, Oct. 12 at Northside Hansen Arena (formerly known as Spinning Wheels Arena) in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. Weatherby, 25, from Sumner, Michigan, originally started doing roller derby almost five years ago just before two deployments with the National Guard.
The arena looked a lot different from what I remembered the last time I was there. Along the top of the walls near the ceiling there were a lot of reflective surfaces which were incredibly distracting in the images and lots of things in the background I tried my best to avoid, like the glowing red of the exit sign, benches, etc. Since I didn’t want to take up a lot of the women’s time, I kind of just shrugged and accepted the fact that it was part of the environment and make it work. Really looking forward to working with these ladies again in a few weeks.
Weatherby goofs around with fellow Mayhem skater Kate Hewitt, also known as Sly Vixen. Hewitt, 32, from Alma, Michigan, has been a skater with Central Michigan Mayhem for almost five years. “Roller derby tricks me into exercising, but it’s more than that,” Hewitt said. “It’s a kind of therapy that helps me on bad days realize that I don’t have to be the skinniest, perfect person. It helps me realize that I am strong; I am brave; and that is beautiful. I also have a fantastic group of people that I consider part of my family. Roller derby is about empowering women, love, and respect and that’s what it means to me.”
The location lighting setup I used to photograph the ladies was really basic, just two strobes. Since I was coming after practice I wanted to use a setup that would be effective but quick to put up and tear down so they didn’t have to wait on me.