Powerful Portraits of Drag Queens In and Out of Costume

Drag queen in and out of costume.
Brenda the drag queen.

A photographer inspired by Annie Leibowitz captured powerful portraits of drag queens in and out of costume to show the “human side” of their characters.

Drag queens have found themselves at the center of an argument between conservatives and liberals with many red states trying to push through legislation that would ban drag shows from public places.

Photographer Matt Ramey is from North Carolina, one of the states pushing to restrict drag performances, and was prompted to carry out the project by the rise of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.

“My partner is non-binary and queer so it was hitting close to home,” Ramey tells PetaPixel.

“But the anti-drag and anti-trans legislation is so hateful and concerning that I wanted to do whatever I could in my small part to address it.”

Drag queen in and out of costume.
Chanté Elise Cassidy
Drag queen in and out of costume.
Miss B Haven

“I decided I wanted to show drag performers in and out of drag to show the human side of the characters they play on stage,” he continues.

“Annie Leibovitz’s portraits of showgirls were a big inspiration visually with the costumed photos in color and the out-of-costume photos in black and white.”

Drag queen in and out of costume.
Dana St. James
Drag queen in and out of costume.
Chloe Cassidy

Capturing a Drag Queen’s Portrait

“Getting into drag takes so long that I wasn’t going to ask anyone to get in drag just for the portrait,” explains Ramey. “So I met all of the performers for their costumed portrait out and about before a show.”

Drag queen in and out of costume.
Shelita Bonet Hoyle
Drag queen in and out of costume.
Poison Venemisis

To shoot the photos, Ramey had to conjure up a portable studio that included a four-and-a-half-foot seamless paper roll, a Profoto A10 with a gel on to create different colored backgrounds, and a Profoto A2 for the key light.

“Originally I wanted to do sort of three-quarter-length portraits but I realized I probably wouldn’t have the room to set up a seamless paper roll that large at the venues I went to, so I decided to do tighter portraits for everything,” he says.

“The lights are very small and portable and made it easy for me to set up at the different venues where they would perform.”

Drag queen in and out of costume.
Ruby Liquer
Drag queen in and out of costume.
Alex Thee Rabbit
Drag queen in and out of costume.
Emory Starr

“For the black and white portraits, I used window light for all of them. I shot everything on a Sony A7 III with a Sigma Art 85mm 1.4 lens,” he adds.

In an article for the Huffington Post, Ramey explains that he asked each of his subjects the question: “Why is it important to live in your truth?”

“So the portraits plus the quotes from each performer make up the heart and soul of this project,” he adds.

Drag queen in and out of costume.

You can see more of Ramey’s photos by visiting his website and Instagram.

Image credits: All photos by Matt Ramey.