After a Conversation with Magnus Hastings

Today, in almost any photograph of a drag queen that you come across you’ll find Magnus Hasting’s name in the bottom corner of it. In his latest and greatest offering to the world, he asks the most proficient queens around the globe: “Why Drag?” The project has taken many years in the making and is finally ready to be revealed on May 17th, when Magnus’ first book will be on sale. Originally from London, Magnus spent much of his early career photographing the most delightfully trashy celebrities that Britain had to offer. The kind of celebrities used to sell subpar gossip magazines; the most seemingly vapid celebrities whose sex tapes were too gross to go viral – those sorts. Whilst these essential D-list celebrities were being used by the media as empty props, Magnus gave them a bit more credit than that. He tells me about the time he had photographed Katie Price and Peter Andre (our British equivalent of luminaries like Ryan and Trista Sutter). Instead of asking them to vacantly pose, with both abs and cleavage slumping outwards  – he gave them the direction to whip all clothes off and to pose on top of a cross in mock-crucifixion. What seems wildly inappropriate on paper is executed with the utmost effectiveness that only Magnus could muster. In the juvenile stage of his career he allowed the public to see these figures in ways that never could have been had Magnus Hastings not existed. The provocative and the jarring remain ever-present in Magnus’ work today, but he ascribes these qualities to people who are far more deserving of them – drag queens. Although there’s nothing that the queer community savours more than a D-list celebrity that was neglected from the heterosexual zeitgeist, Magnus’ work is at its prime when there is a drag queen in front of his camera. His apartment is abounding with photographs of drag queens that he has taken. I am a little distracted by the one of Milk with its striking blue-white hospital colors, which is mounted up behind him – the size of a coffee table. He gives me a tour of each of his rooms, every one of them overclouded by photographs of drag queens. We leaf through his book Why Drag together and he talks in paragraphs which often ramble and rove towards the end. He regularly becomes so animated and effused that he forgets his point and has to start again – which, as we look through his photographs, is how I’m beginning to understand the processes behind his work. As we pass photos of Sharon Needles in a straitjacket and Courtney Act receiving cunnilingus in a bathroom, I feel right at home. For us Gaybies who spent our formative years being desensitised to violence and the ultimate oddness (how old were you when you had to endure Divine inserting a steak into “her own little oven”?) this stuff is hardly new. In fact, it’s exactly the kind of content that we signed up for. However, there is still some shock left in the squeamish straight people of the world. Magnus tells me that whilst his photographs of fishy queens seem to get a universal approval – his bearded queens – or really, any of his queens that show signs of transformation – are shunned away by the straight audience. In fact, a lot of the queens he photographs are keen to erase any signs of transformation. “So, are you going to photoshop that out?”, “can we airbrush that?” are questions Magnus gets asked and then rejects often. This is exactly what Magnus’ photography opposes. Unlike the average celebrity photographer, Magnus has a very warts-and-all approach, which in drag terms means that he will very much let the front of that lace-front wig show.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s