Lip sync battles, roasts and flawless makeup galore: Thirty of New York City’s hottest drag superstars are coming together at Highline Ballroom for one night to celebrate the launch of the new photo series, “DRAGS.”
“It’s sort of like Wigstock,” the annual East Village drag festival dating back to the ‘80s, photographer Gregory Kramer, 42, said. “It’s pretty rare you get a chance to go into a venue and see this many drag stars perform in one night.”
The coffee table-style photo book, set for release Sept. 7, features black-and-white glamour shots of 50 of the city’s top names in drag -- including “RuPaul’s Drag Race” season 9 winner Sasha Velour and runners-up Peppermint and Aja.
“There really haven’t been many books about drag queens,” Kramer said, explaining why he decided to focus on the city’s queens. “The ones that do exist show queens in different scenarios, queens with props -- it’s time for someone to document their art without any distractions.”
Kramer, a fashion photographer based in the Garment District, also launched the book with the hopes of giving back to the community. All proceeds from the $75 book will go toward the Ali Forney Center, an organization prided on helping homeless LGBT teens.
To celebrate the book’s launch, several of the featured stars -- including Sasha, Merrie Cherry and Zeta Jones -- are gearing up to show off their stage skills at the Highline Ballroom show, kicking off at 7 p.m on Sept. 7. Tickets, starting at $75, are available at dragsbook.com.
Kramer explained his vision and what it was like to shoot drag icons ahead of the launch.
What was behind your decision to highlight drag in this photo series?
It all started with a photograph of Linda Simpson, who I had known for years. She’s one of the pillars of the drag community. I reached out to Linda with the idea, shot a photograph of her and she loved it. From there, I had a list of 10 other drag kings and queens that I wanted to include in the book. I took that photo, put a proposal together and one by one it started to grow. The book kind of just happened organically through recommendations from one drag queen to another. It was friends, too. I went on Facebook to find a few personalities.
You have some impressive names in drag featured. How did get involved with the “Drag Race” contestants?
When I started the book, they had just begun filming “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and I wasn’t that familiar with the Brooklyn drag scene. Merrie Cherry gave me a recommendation of seven or eight people and Aja and Sasha were among those people. Peppermint, I just knew from sort of when I was younger and was out and around the city.
So, you shot Sasha Velour before she won “Drag Race”?
Yes, I shot Sasha before she won. I shot Sasha twice. She came once and we did a couple of photos. The minute she walked into the room I was mesmerized. I thought, “Who is this amazing person?” She was on time. Her clothing was impeccable. Her makeup was flawless. She was super professional, funny and smart. After my first interaction with her I was like, “You have to be on the cover.” I reached out to her to do another shoot. We decided to put her on the cover before she won, too.
Drag is known for its vibrant colors. Why did you decide to shoot in black and white?
My background is in fashion photography. I shoot for Saks and Macys. I based it on one of my favorite photographers, Irving Penn. A month or two before this project came to mind I bought Penn’s “Small Trades.” It features show girls and firemen and I really loved how the black and white leveled the playing field for everyone in the book. My vision for the drag book was to take out the colors and pop culture craziness that drag is known for so you’d really focus on the individual and the makeup would be secondary.
What stood out to you the most during shooting?
Everyone was responsible for their own hair and makeup and wardrobe. Performers came and got ready at the studio. It was a very collaborative shoot. We’d start a few frames, look at the images, then shoot 100 frames and sit down and edit together. If they weren’t happy, I’d say let’s go back out and do another round. The final edit ended up being a combination of myself and the performer choosing the image. I think that’s pretty important for the subject, being happy and being a part of the editing process.