Here’s Why Drag Queens Around the World Love This Photographer 

Paige Turner: “Drag lets me use every color of the rainbow and unapologetically unlock my big gay inner child, while connecting with people with a whole lot of laughter along the way.”

Copyright Magnus Hastings

Magnus Hastings grew up in London, he says, a “child of drag,” prone to putting on his sister’s clothes and dancing around his childhood home. But he didn’t truly discover the drag world until much later, long after he himself had stopped dressing across gender lines.

In 2003, on a visit to Sydney, Hastings walked into the Arq nightclub and saw the drag queen Vanity Faire lip-syncing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz in a flawless Dorothy outfit. The experience changed his life.

“I started shooting drag because it’s my home and my world and it feels like my family,” Hastings said. 

Watching that performance connected Hastings to a part of himself that he’d abandoned due to social pressures as a child but that he still longed to explore. With Vanity’s guidance, Hastings began photographing the city’s vibrant drag scene and developing a polished, dynamic style of portraiture reflecting his subjects’ creativity and humor. As he traveled the world, he continued capturing local queens with a focus on those who best represented the art’s diversity and daring, from the bearded to the “fishy,” or ultrafeminine. His images attracted a larger audience when he started posting his photos to his Facebook group, “Dragged Around the World,” and in 2014, a large exhibition at the Out NYC Hotel helped solidify his reputation as the globe’s leading drag photographer. Now, his photographs are collected in a book, Why Drag?, which Chronicle Books will publish in May.

Dulce De Leche: “Drag is the fuel to my creative passion. It’s everything times 10! Why have a single cone when you can have the whole banana split with an extra cherry on top? Go big or go home.”

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Glamamore: “In the ’80s in NYC, we had a term: ‘The Power of the Breast!’ Nowadays one need not even wear falsies, yet we still tap into that ‘power.’ The ability to walk through the projects in 4-inch heels at 4 a.m. in the dead of winter or to tell some shady promoter to go fuck themselves! Much easier and more effective in face. Why drag? It’s like asking a butterfly, ‘Why the wings?’ or a unicorn, ‘Why the long horn?’ … It defines us, and there is a power to it. Going from a meek and mild church mouse to a lady with balls in a relatively short amount of time (three hours is nice), and daring to show the world your true butterfly, that’s potent magic, that’s power.”

Copyright Magnus Hastings

Kizha Carr: “First and foremost, drag is a creative outlet. I enjoy creating a persona or character that can change every time I put on a face. It’s also a great challenge to keep doing new things and to continue to push myself creatively. Creative aesthetic aside, I feel that drag not only allows me a platform to raise awareness about different LGBTQ issues, but also mandates that I use it. I love drag. It’s hard to imagine my life without it.”

Copyright Magnus Hastings

As a photographer, Hastings is drawn to drag queens for their remarkable aesthetics. Still, he’s interested not just in their looks but also in their thoughts and experiences. Alongside each queen’s portrait in the book he’s included her response when asked why she chooses to dress in drag. The explanations are as varied as the personas and accompanying ensembles. 

“Drag queens come in all shapes and sizes, and there is no one reason why they ‘tuck, pluck, and preen,’ ” singer-songwriter Boy George wrote in the book’s introduction.

Left:  Le Gateaux Chocolat: “A more interesting question is, ‘Why not?’ ‘Why’ creates the glass ceiling that ‘Why not’ shatters. We’re all in drag, projecting an exaggerated side of ourselves that any situation requires. Ironically, my drag isn’t the mask I hide behind. It engenders freedom, affording me an almost disconcerting level of honesty and candidness that lets me speak directly, through my work, to the humanity that connects us all. Yes, I’m black, gay, bearded, lycra- or sequin-clad, and in drag, but before all that, human.” Right:  Pearl: “Drag allows me to release my inhibitions and take a break from myself while sharing my creativity with the world. To me there is nothing more intriguing than the art of transformation. There is something powerful about the ability to embody both male and female forms.”

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Porcelain: “Creating chaos for a better tomorrow. Warping the mind of reality and pissing on sadness. Being a kaleidoscope of unusual attraction. Questioning my existence in a world full of monkeys. That’s all we are after all, animals fighting to stay alive.”

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Left:  Grace Towers: “Drag has answered many questions I’ve had throughout life regarding gender, sexuality, and art. Becoming Grace has given me the chance to question norms under the guise and security of a developed character. As I continue developing what I communicate through my art, Grace continues to evolve as well. Drag helps me spread the message of embracing differences and valuing individuality in everyone. James Broughton said it best, ‘Follow your own weird.’ My weird just happened to be in 6-inch heels and a full beard.” Right:  Jiggly Caliente Brookes: “I revolve my drag around the music and my performance. It’s my way to express and transform myself into the music that I love. When I perform, it’s personal, because every performance has a backstory in my head. I try to exude that when I’m on stage.”

Copyright Magnus Hastings

Hastings’ photos may look masterfully and carefully composed, but he doesn’t always get hours to try different outfits and environments with his subjects. In fact, his shoots are frequently more harried than one might expect. His greatest challenge, he said, is often getting his subjects to keep their appointments with him.

“There was one queen who canceled the shoot four times in three weeks. Sometimes the shoots are like guerrilla photography. With one queen, Sharon Needles, I got 20 minutes in her hotel room. But there was nowhere to shoot in the room, so I ended up popping up a background I had in the hallway,” he said. 

In addition to his commissions and personal projects in the drag community, Hastings also works on commercial assignments and shoots with nondrag celebrities. Even though photographing drag queens can sometimes be difficult, they’re still by far his favorite subjects. 

“They risk things. When you do normal shoots, they have publicists and managers who go, ‘No no no,’ and here everyone goes, ‘Why not?’ ” he said. 

Alaska Thunderfuck: “Drag doesn’t make much sense: It takes up all of your time, consumes most of your money, and may subject you to some of the most extreme ridicule on the planet. But I imagine it is much like being a nun or a priest—once you get the divine (or Divine) calling, you have no choice in the matter and you belong to drag for life. Even in the case of those who have hung up the heels and sworn off the frock, the truth remains: bubbling just beneath the surface lies the eternal inner queen.”

Copyright Magnus Hastings