Drag has exploded into the spotlight in the last couple of years, thrust into mainstream culture by RuPaul's Drag Race and Drag Queen Story Hour, glamorized for its glitter and the generally over-the-top, too-big-to-fail personalities involved in many of the shows. The inherent visuals of drag make it catnip to photographers, but the work of Pippa Scott stands out.
Here, Scott, a photographer working on a long-term project about the drag community in Vancouver, spoke with BuzzFeed News about her sensitive approach to documenting the so-called Bratpack, a local drag group.
I was looking for a personal documentary project to get involved with after relocating from Southern California to Greater Vancouver, Canada. My background is very much in the arts. I grew up in a theatrical family — my father was a British theater director and my mother taught drama at the University of Birmingham in the UK. In my twenties I trained on Broadway at the Circle in the Square Theatre School, and so with all my personal ties to the performing arts — I was immediately drawn to the world of drag. After some research into the drag scene in Vancouver, I came across a drag troupe known as Bratpack.
Bratpack initially was put together by member Jane Smoker in August 2015. Over the seasons (the group has seasons, similar to episodic TV, that run from January to September each year), some of the members have left and been replaced. When I started the project, there were five members: Jane Smoker, Gia Metric, Thanks Jem, Kendall Gender, and Synthia Kiss. Synthia Kiss ended up leaving the group at the end of 2018, and now there are four members.
I was fascinated with the group approach to drag, and I started documenting the Bratpack as of summer 2018. There is a very strong emphasis on community and family both within their group and generally in the Vancouver drag scene. They all have their drag mothers, who are mentors to new talent in the community. The Bratpack is a family and that feeling definitely drew me to them. It was inspiring and beautiful to witness the support they give one another — when they perform solo shows the rest of the group will often attend and they celebrate holidays together.
They rehearse as a group — it is very much a collaborative effort with all members choreographing and giving feedback to what works and what doesn’t. They definitely experiment with their looks and change their makeup and wigs all the time, which is part of their artistic voices.
The group performs Thursdays at the Junction, and they are also involved with other collaborations and shows within the drag community both individually and as a group. Recently they performed at “It’s Just Drag!” at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver. They have a strong fanbase and following. They are comparable to a girl group and often use the Spice Girls as an example — as they all have very distinctive personalities. When they were a group of five, they often performed as Scary, Baby, Posh Spice, etc.
There is an image of them that was taken at a weekly meeting for the group where they are outside of drag, hanging out. I felt this photograph managed to accurately represent the warmth and family bond between them. I feel like I can almost hear them laughing, and as a photographer I always strive to capture the emotions I feel in my images so it resonates with me. In terms of what surprised me the most — when I first approached the Bratpack I was quite naive to the world of drag. I imagine like many, I saw the surface-deep reality of drag and was distracted by all the glitter — all of this made me wrongly assume that there was almost a kind of lightheartedness and happiness to drag — which there is, but it is, of course, more complicated.
As I got deeper into the project, I started to notice a sadness in my images. At first I wanted to ensure that I as the artist was not projecting my own emotion onto my imagery, but after more time I realized that there was much sadness in this world. That is not to say there is not a great deal of happiness too but the sadness is what surprised and moved me. I believe it stems from a great desire to be accepted, seen, and valued — while also having to overcome many more obstacles on the quest to that acceptance than most of us experience. This desire to be seen lent itself toward a vulnerability and a rawness that helped others to connect on a deeper level to the performers in the imagery. You can feel the honesty of the performers in the images, and this offers an opportunity for viewers to connect more authentically to them.
In terms of how I built this intimacy, it is simple: I genuinely care for each of them. I very much wanted to hear and tell their stories. I draw much inspiration from Annie Leibovitz, and she famously said, “A thing that you see in my pictures is that I was not afraid to fall in love with these people.” I hope you can see the same in my imagery.
One of my favorite images is a portrait of Giorgio, who goes by the drag name Gia Metric. This was toward the middle of my work with them, and after the show one night — I was backstage and asked her to simply look up at me. I was interested in photographing her eyes, but when she looked up it kind of took my breath away — I could feel the soul of Giorgio shining through all the makeup and glitz of Gia. I felt strongly this desire to be truly seen, and I love the image for its imperfections — the way you can see the hairnet showing under the wig or a little makeup on her face. It was a moment catching Gia as she let down her guard and started the transformation back to the artist — Giorgio — underneath. This humanity and rawness is something I strive for in my art.
A photo has been removed from this story to align with BuzzFeed's editorial standards.