When you’re a 6-foot-something drag queen the size of a parade float with more spandex outfits than the WWE, it’s not all that often that you get to be “arty.”
Recently, I took just such an opportunity during a photo session with Miranda Roen of Roen Photography. Frequent visitors to the site will know her work as it’s all over my gallery pages and I use it quite often for promo materials. Miranda actually did my first photo session about 3 years ago when I was getting ready to launch the site, and I was thrilled to feature her as our very first artist profile here at the World of Champagne (Whoa, flashback! Check it out HERE). She is a dream to work with and I love the dark and beautiful perspective she brings to her own work. When I decided to book her for a session this spring, I wanted it to be something special, and recently I posted the gallery: DISTURBIA! This post is some “behind the scenes” information about the session, the photos and how it all came together (including additional images not included with the photo story!).
1. The Set: As you may know if you’ve been keeping up with the Local Arts and Theatre section, I recently co-directed The Dixie Swim Club at the Fire Hall Theatre. We came up with this fabulous little beach cottage set and I knew that I wanted to use it. In the show, this cottage is a rental that 5 friends gather at every August. I started to think about who else might populate that cottage when the women weren’t there. The color scheme was bright turquoise, peach, and white with small touches of lime green. It had a vibe that was sort of 50s and sort of 80s at the same time. It made me think of John Waters’ movie Serial Mom. It was stylized and dark and funny, exactly what I wanted in my photo shoot. We rearranged the furniture for some of the shots and we removed some of the decorative stuff that was used in the show but all of the set pieces and furniture are part of that little world we created. I just wanted to keep that little cabin forever!
2. Reading Material: I don’t know if I’m planning to start a literacy campaign or what, but I had lots of shots where I was reading shit! I loved the idea of having a few different photos where I’m “caught” reading something, and I played around with a few different things. In one shot with my “husband” Hyrum, we’re sitting back to back reading porn; he’s reading gay pulp novels, and I’m reading an 80s copy of Hustler. I love the weirdness of this image! There I am in that proper, 50s-looking swing dress reading filthy porn! I chose Hustler because I love the way it pushes the envelope and does things really differently than magazines like Playboy or Penthouse. It’s not afraid to offend or disturb people, including it’s own target audience!
3. Reading Redux: To further build in a little queerness, there is one shot where I’m sitting at the table with a drink and a smoke, and I’m reading a book called The Well of Loneliness. That book was one of the early lesbian pulps and was super famous. Some people might just look at the picture and not think anything of the book, but for the people who know it, or who take the time to look it up (it’s not that hard people, use the interwebs!) there is a little extra meaning in the image for them. I love that sort of layered meaning.
4. Speaking of, did anyone notice that my “husband” seemed a little, well, gay?! Besides the aforementioned gay pulp novels, if you look closely in the kitchen setup with the mirror full of cocaine, he’s taking a break from snorting up to sniff a pair of wadded up panties – the same panties that I pull out of the laundry basket in another shot! They are clearly not the right size; his perhaps? In addition, I told him to make sure he wore some sort of green tie. That was apparently one of the symbols that gay men used to use to find each other – they wore green ties!
5. For the cookie murder set, I was hoping no one would look too closely at the rat poison – it was actually in little pellet form, not a white powder! I was actually going to try to find a box of arsenic at the hardware store, but I forgot about it until the last minute and had to run to the grocery store. The rat poison was right up at the front, and so it got its day in the spotlight!
6. Another little queer/feminist touch – I decided to do a couple of pics with a picture I have in my office of an old Wonder Woman comic. Wonder Woman has often been invoked as a feminist icon, and I love that! I have a small collection of Wonder Woman action figures, graphic novels, and other collectibles, including the first ever issue of the feminist magazine Ms. featuring “Woner Woman for President” on the cover! But I liked the old cover because it comes from the early years of the comic which are very odd and have a certain queerness to them. It turns out the creator of Wonder Woman, William Moulton Marston, was in a live-in relationship with two women and was pretty into bondage and domination. Those two women, his wife and his mistress, influenced the creation of the character, and his love of bondage found its way into many early storylines. That’s the kind of complex sexual icon I can stand behind!
7. You’ll notice that my “husband” dies twice in the course of the photo story, but Jenn, our other model playing my “nosy neighbor,” only dies once. There was actually supposed to be even more murder and mayhem in the set than what we accomplished. Originally, I wanted to have Hyrum’s leg’s behind the couch, me with the knife and pie, and Jenn with a gun. However, a week or so before we did the photos, some guy decided to shoot up our local Wal-Mart so I thought having a smiling housewife brandishing a gun might be in poor taste – and not the type of poor taste I delight in! I scrapped the gun idea and had planned to have Jenn peeking in through the screen door at our little murder scene (with a follow up shot of her body joining Hyrum’s); however, the lighting just wasn’t right and Jenn disappeared in the shadows. That saved her life…until the cookie scene that is!
8. Speaking of murdering nosy neighbors – Jenn wasn’t originally supposed to be the one creeping on my wicked ways through the screen door! My friend and theatre buddy Amy D created a really fun look for the character Mrs. Fremus in The Boys Next Door. I actually wanted Mrs. Fremus to be at the window with a pair of binoculars and then become the next victim. There was also a “lost arc” featuring me in the coral swimsuit outfit and my sexy squeeze Sibre (who appears in a kilt in the romance novel cover set) as my pool boy/lover, Amy D as my lesbian assistant, and a police officer investigating my husband’s “disappearance.” It was supposed to end with Sibre and Amy taking the fall and then me assuming a new identity while turning tricks. The photo at the end of the story, of me in the yellow dress counting the money while Hyrum zips up his pants, is a riff on how that arc was supposed to end (except with a different John instead of my dead husband!). The story started to get too convoluted and costuming/casting was becoming a hassle, so I condensed it down into the main story that was eventually posted.
9. Lighting (Mis)Design: Shoot on stage at the Fire Hall, I thought! It will be great, I thought. That shows you how much I understand about lighting for photography. Turns out, I really put Miranda through it! The light wash on the stage is great for theatre as everyone is lit up and beautiful. For photos, however, it means that there are about a billion shadows going every which direction in every shot! There were a few different settings that we had to shift or alter to get rid of some really terrible shadows! What can I say? I’m the idea girl, not the tech guru!
10. A few other little surprises hidden throughout:
-In one shot, I’m reading a copy of Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. I actually met the author at the UND Writer’s Conference and got that copy of the book signed. I mentioned to her that I was a drag queen in North Dakota, and she asked me if I would submit an essay to her website about being a drag queen in North Dakota. I fangirled so hard, I thought I might die! If the essay happens, we will be sure to post a link here at the World of Champagne!
-I wanted to incorporate something related to Lit Cosmetics since Jodie from Lit has been so awesome and supportive to the site, even after my computer decided to eat her phone interview. I was already doing some shots with SugarPill and Urban Decay products, so I wanted something different, something unique. Then I remembered that Jodie had sent me a great promotional item: a plastic fan with the Lit logo and motto! I did a few shots in the swimsuit, fanning myself from the “heat” – and making sure the logo was prominently displayed.
-The towels in the laundry basket are actually my towels…and they were in the basket because I had just washed them the night before, to make sure they were fluffy and clean for the photos!
Finally, here is a link to a gallery with all of the “outtakes” from the DISTURBIA! shoot:
I hope you enjoyed this little behind the scenes peek into my crazy mind!
Tags: Amy Driscoll, Bad Feminist, bondage, Disturbia, Feminism, Fire Hall Theater, Fire Hall Theatre, Firehall Theater, Firehall Theatre, gay porn, Hustler, Hyrum Patterson, Janessa, Janessa J, Janessa J Champagne, Janessa Jaye, Janessa Jaye Chamagne, Jenn Soukup, Miranda Roen, Miss Jaye, Ms. Magazine, photo shoot, photo story, photography, photos, photoshoot, Roen Photography, Roxane Gay, The Well of Loneliness, William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman, World of Champagne