Interview

Interview With “Give A Shit About Fashion”

About a week or so ago I was interviewed by the owner of Give A Shit About Fashion – a blog that focuses on upcoming artists, photographers and other individuals who have an interest within the fashion world. My questions focused more closely on my overall personal style, outside of my editorial work, so I really enjoyed the chance to talk about my aims and reasonings behind the photographic process. You can read the original interview here, or simply read the questions and my answers to them below.

Interview With Give a Shit About Fashion
Questions for Elizabeth Burns, Photographer

1. When did you start taking photographs?
I guess it was probably when I did a brief class in high school that taught the basics of analogue photography. I really enjoyed it and definitely took an instant liking to the whole process. But I didn’t really take photography seriously until I took up a tertiary course in Photo Imaging in early 2013, as a desire to try something different. Pretty quickly my interest progressed as I realized I could use photography as a way of learning about other people and sharing those findings publicly to insight thought on the matter being conveyed.

2. How do you want people to feel when looking at your work?
I mostly try to inspire thought or intrigue about a particular topic or the subject within the image. Sometimes I photograph purely for the appreciation of something that I see as beautiful, but it varies depending on the subject matter.

I just try to leave a lasting impression, whether bad or good or just a change of thought on a particular issue. If I inspire people to think about something – anything – then I’d say that was my primary goal.

3. Do you have a favourite shoot?
My personal art projects are something I have a strong affection for. I feel they most closely reflect the way I think and the way I want to express myself through imagery.

There’s a shot I took recently of a boy named Andy Leaf that I unofficially titled “When Alone”. He’s lying in a bathtub and you can see scars across his chest from a surgery he’d previously had done. I feel proud of that photograph because I think it creates an interesting narrative for the viewer to interpret on a subject where I find importance.

I particularly like that the image is authentic. It isn’t a model posing for a shot, it’s a person baring a part of their private life within their own home. I just feel immensely appreciative that people will allow me to document these areas of their lives – that people will trust me to be respectful of the situation.

But I’ve recently been doing a lot of personal work relating to gender identity, sexuality, and social fluidity that have yet to be released, so it mostly just feels rewarding to have a chance to create imagery in areas that I’m currently interested by.

4. How do you get the subject in front of the camera into the final image just the way you want?
In regards to the physical capturing of the image, I do my best to communicate clearly to everyone I’m working with so that people know what to expect from the project. I think an image is mostly affected by the collective mood on the day, so I do my best to be accommodating and make others feel comfortable around me.

I’ve also learnt that direction of a subject is more efficient when you give a situational example so as to give context to the idea you’re trying to create. I feel that communication really is the key.

And in regards to the creation of a concept, I just make sure to plan out exactly what my aims and intentions are in a photo treatment and to map out how I will achieve these goals. Ultimately I think it’s just planning and preparation. I perform better when I know exactly what I want to achieve and am familiar with the environment I’ll be working in.

5. Describe your personal style.
I feel I’m very drawn to ambiguity. I like photographing people who are androgynous or have a striking aesthetic that isn’t particularly normative. I’m attracted to obscurity and “otherness”. I feel a lot of my imagery has a sort of melancholy or wistful undertone to it as a result of those attractions. I like capturing my subjects in a pensive moment and I like to create a feel of some sort of intimacy or closeness within their eyes.

I’m always wondering and questioning, so I think I almost subconsciously was drawn to creating photography that reflected that. I’m not entirely sure, but it was definitely a natural inclination first and foremost.

6. What inspires you to create the imagery that you do? Do other artists inspire you?

Many things inspire me, from social issues, to other works of art, to evolving fashion trends, to changing of personal politics. But mostly, I’m consistently inspired by the people that surround me. I’m inspired by the way that other people work and think and am constantly intrigued by trying to understand differing perspectives.

Mostly my personal work will vary depending on what’s going on in my life, whether more clearly evident or not, but I feel it’s mostly a reflection of what my experiences are.

In regards to other specific artists who inspire me, I’ve especially been into the work of photographer Nhu Xuan Hua of late. Her imagery is just unbelievable and encapsulates an aesthetic I wish I could embody. I think if anyone’s work inspires me to create something, they’ve achieved what I would hope to achieve within my own work.

A Common King

Earlier this year I conducted an interview with a friend of mine before she jet set across the seas to pursue a Masters Degree. I hadn’t intended for the series to be published, but I decided I’d send it out to an American magazine I was particularly interested in as a small effort – and I very fortunately received a reply from the editor the very next day explaining their interest in the story. The magazine is called Psychology Tomorrow.

You can see the original interview on their website hereAnd below I’ve added a copy of my own of the interview with all the images I snapped on the day.

Prologue

It’s nearing the end of June. I arrive at my friend’s house located within the inner suburbs of my hometown in Melbourne. It’s a cold and cloudy winters day, accompanied by intermittent moments of beaming sunlight.

I knock on the front door several times with no answer. I decide to walk around the side through the old wooden fence attached at the back of the house. Walking up the cement path I hear music emitting loudly from the back door that has been left ajar. I see Britta sitting among a pile of bags and clothing, preoccupied with something in front of her.

She’s leaving for Denmark in two weeks to study a Masters Degree in Videography – I’m heartbroken to be losing my friend. This would be my last chance to speak intimately with her and document it for others to read.

It is in this interview that I aim to find out more about the life of a Drag King, and the opinions of a friend who gave me confidence within my own identity.

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Interview

So what initially drew you to performing as a Drag King and why?

Well I’ve always been into performing. In high school I was in the school play and I was always really into performance art. Then as I got older I got into the queer scene and I became increasingly interested in gender, how society views gender and how you can play with that and use it as a performance in of itself. I found out there was a Drag King night [here in Melbourne] and there was an audition night – they said just show up – and so I did. So that’s how it started really.

Have you ever considered making Drag performance a full time pursuit or is it more of a hobby for you?

Oh it’s definitely just a hobby. I love performing and I love getting that energy out to the audience, but it can also be quite draining.

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I know you go by various names in your personal life, I personally call you Zack – what are the names you go by and what do you prefer to be called? Why did you create these additional names?

Well Conner Lingus is my Drag name, I just thought it was a fun play on words. I started going by Zack when I first moved to Melbourne ‘cause I was questioning my gender at the time. I was considering transitioning but I wasn’t sure, so I felt that I should test the waters first. Being a Drag King actually helped me realize that I didn’t want to transition and that gender bending was just a hobby for me and it wasn’t something that I wanted to do full time.

So you realized you were more interested in being androgynous identified, with female pronouns, instead of actually changing your gender to male?

Yeah, it was just a fun thing to dress up as a dude. Drag definitely helped me understand that better. My birth name is Britta, which is what I’m going by now.

So am I calling you something that you don’t want to be called anymore?

Oh nah I’m fine with whatever. If someone asks, “What should I call you – I’ve got no idea!”, I’d say Britta. But I respond to Britta, Zack or Connor.

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How would you describe your appearance in day-to-day life? How do you feel others would perceive you?

I’m quite masculine – I like to wear shirts and pants to work and even going to lesbian bars I get mistaken as a guy a lot, which admittedly kind of annoys me. If I’m not in drag then I don’t expect to be mistaken as a male, but I think it’s not just in the way that I dress; I’m sort of broad shouldered and I’m built pretty solidly, but it does help for being a successful Drag King.

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How would you describe your appearance in day-to-day life? How do you feel others would perceive you?

I’m quite masculine – I like to wear shirts and pants to work and even going to lesbian bars I get mistaken as a guy a lot, which admittedly kind of annoys me. If I’m not in drag then I don’t expect to be mistaken as a male, but I think it’s not just in the way that I dress; I’m sort of broad shouldered and I’m built pretty solidly, but it does help for being a successful Drag King.

Do you think that your personal style is influenced by drag?

I think it’s the other way around, I think that my interest in drag is influenced by my personal style. My first drag show I ever did I dressed up as a very effeminate gay man and performed to a very effeminate song that was really bitchy and vogue, and that was really fun. I like wearing tight jeans and tight tops and then being able to work that into my drag, it’s just so awesome.

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So do you think that Drag performers are generally more gender fluid in their personal lives?

Oh absolutely. I know a couple of trans-men who started off performing as Drag Kings and then through doing Drag they realized that they were interested in being perceived as male full time and ended up transitioning. So Drag was a venue for them to explore their gender and then confirm that they wanted to be male. Whereas for me it was kind of the opposite, it was a venue for me to realize that I didn’t. So I think a lot of people get into Drag for reasons outside of the performance aspect.

And how do you perceive gender?

I think what I’ve learnt in the last few years is that gender is not as, umm – I don’t want to say important – it’s not as influential over your life as what people would have you believe. Whether you’re born male or female it doesn’t completely change your life path, and it’s sad that some societies – or aspects of our own society – think that it does.

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So would you say that you define gender more from a biological standpoint or how a person might define themselves?

I definitely think that gender is more how people define themself. Like, here’s an example – if you were to ask Joe Bloggs or Jane Smith on the street, “Close your eyes and picture a woman”, and then ask them if she has long hair, if she’s straight, if she’s probably able bodied and white – I’m guessing they’re most likely going to say yes.

Most likely she’s going to fall into these categories – she’s going to be straight, ‘cause that’s just what people think of when they’re going to imagine what a woman is.

Working off that sort of mindset there are arguments for a plethora of genders, where lesbianism is a gender within itself. Because if you ask someone to picture a lesbian, they’ll picture a lesbian, but if you ask them to picture a woman they’ll picture a straight woman as a separation to what they’d imagine for a lesbian.

So sometimes you can identify as a woman but not necessarily relate to the term, and if you’re looking at gender like that by the whole variety of ways that people perceive you socially there can be a whole range of different definitions people hold and how you personally might think of yourself – it’s just so diverse.

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So I know you’ve travelled around the world a fair bit. Of the places you’ve been to, which culture would you say most shares the perspective on gender that you hold?

I can’t really say Australian culture as a whole because the only place that I’ve been in Australia is Melbourne, and Melbourne is meant to be very open. It’s kind of hard to compare us to the rest of Australia – but definitely Melbourne as a city [of the places I’ve been]. There are a lot more queer resources, even the fact that there’s a clinic that caters primarily for LGBTQI people that’s just really awesome.

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Was that available over in your hometown in New Zealand? 

Absolutely not, I come from Auckland that is the capital city of New Zealand, which has a population of about a million. I just went to see the local GP and I had a hard time explaining to her what being a lesbian meant for my sexuality. She still got me to do pregnancy tests and she didn’t quite understand what being sexually active as a lesbian meant to her medically – she just didn’t have training or the real understanding, it was just really frustrating. So it’s definitely great being able to go to a doctor who just knows what that means.

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Do you think that Kings are generally more masculine in their personal lives?

It definitely varies; the two MC’s at [the club I perform at] are quite masculine in their personal lives, but then there’s these two other King’s that are both very feminine in their personal lives. It’s interesting, their own persona and their King’s persona are dramatically different. Some Kings hardly change at all when they go and do a show, they just put on a moustache and that’s about all they have to do whereas some Kings change their entire look ‘cause they are very feminine in their personal lives.

There was this one King that came over from America a couple of months ago and I spoke to her before the show – and she’s there in her skirt and her little frilly tarpan, and then I saw him in his show and it was just amazing – he’s completely different. And not just the way he looks, but his entire energy, just like a switch had been flipped – it was really awesome to watch.

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How accepting do you think society is of Drag Kings in comparison to Drag Queens?

Drag Queens have been a very public figure in the LGBTQI community, for quite a while. They’ve been at the forefront; they’ve been very visible. And I don’t think Drag Kings have been neither nearly as visible nor around as long. So it’s kind of hard to say what people in general think of Kings because a lot of people don’t realize that it’s a thing that exists.

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Do you think that has anything to do with either Drag Queens having a longer standing history in popular culture or is it some sort of sexism against Drag Kings and women in some way?

Absolutely, there’s a really interesting photo of Iggy Pop where he’s in a dress and he’s quoted as saying something like, “I’m not ashamed to dress like a woman because I don’t think it’s shameful to be a woman”. And I just think that it’s seen as very outrageous for a man to put on a dress because a lot of people don’t understand why he’d demean himself and lower his social status by putting on a dress. A woman putting on pants and a suit are seen by some people as aiming for a higher social status and are climbing their way up in the world. And so they’re less threatening because they’re supposedly adhering to the idea that masculinity is what will get you to the top.

So [by being a Drag King] it’s less outrageous because people think they understand their reasoning more, even though that’s not at all where Drag Kings are coming from. If a man puts on a dress they’d be like, “Why would he do that? Why would he make a fool of himself?” and it’s much more of a spectacle – people are more interested in seeing that.

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So overall do you feel you’ve been able to learn from being a Drag King in regards to your perspective on gender, sexuality and societal views? Do you think you’ve been able to become more liberal and open-minded by becoming a part of this aspect of community?

Yes, I’ve definitely been able to learn a lot about the community, and myself. As I said before Drag helped me realize that I didn’t want to transition, but I definitely think I was already pretty liberal and open-minded beforehand. I’ve always seen gender from a very liberal standpoint.

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