Native New Yorker and photographer Leland Bobbe gained immense popularity with his series, Half-Drag, in which he shows us the faces of people behind the drag-queen makeup. We got an exclusive interview with him – as well as exclusive photos – and picked his brain on the series and his work. [see the original post we ran on this series]
Can you tell us the story behind how the ‘Half-Drag’ series got started?
Before I started my Half-Drag project I had shot a series of portraits of Neo-Burlesque performers. I saw a full body snapshot of one of the male performers on Facebook as half male and half female and asked him if he would come in and do a tighter studio portrait of this. I liked the result and put it on the back burner.
A few months later I was at a photo industry event where they had drag queens serving food. We exchanged contact info and a few months later I asked the queen to come in and do a tight beauty portrait as half male and half female to really accentuate the difference of the two sides. It was so successful that i decided to pursue the idea as a project.
Tell us about your personal favorite subject from the series?
I have a few favorites from the series. Miss Fame, Heidi Glüm and Vivienne Pinay are right at the top for me.
Do you have any particularly memorable experiences as result of the ‘Half-Drag’ series going viral?
I have some very memorable experiences. The first was having Half-Drag appear in Italian Vogue. The publicity I received from this was huge and helped to give the project credibility and a real launching pad virally.
The second was appearing as the first guest interview on the recently launched Huffpo live.
I appeared in person along with 5 of the drag queens I shot who were all hooked up to the interview electronically. The third was being filmed actually doing a half-drag shoot by the German TV network RTL. It has been broadcast in Germany numerous times. I also gave a talk at one of the Apple stores here in NYC about the series which was very well attended.
Most, if not all, of your body of work has a NYC element to it. As a native New Yorker, how has the city helped shaped you as a photographer?
Being in New York City has definitely shaped me as a photographer. The city has a certain edge and visual excitement to it that really keeps me on my toes. I feel as if every time I go somewhere in NYC I have the chance of seeing something that will catch my eye or fuel an idea.
On your site, you said that, ‘I find my influence comes more from a state of mind fueled by rock and roll, Miles Davis and great films’, How exactly does music and film affect your photography?
In my early years I was greatly influenced by the music that I listened to and before and I was a musician before I was a professional photographer. Much of my photography is very bold, simple and in your face, very much like rock and roll. On the other hand some of my work has a layered and mysterious quality to it that I think reflects my love of Miles Davis’ unique music.
I have also been greatly influenced by my love of great cinema. I tend to shy away from the big Hollywood films and prefer smaller plot driven films that create a visual mood and stimulate thought. I often get photo ideas from watching these kind movies.
As I said, it’s all a state of mind.
What is the next BIG photo project you’re undertaking?
Since I completed my Half-Drag project, I’ve begun a project I call New York City Wall Art. These are photos of the peeled, tattered and layered poster that I find on the walls of buildings and construction sites in NYC. I find that the random rips and tears on posters on top of other posters and walls reveals an unintended collage quality that creates its own aesthetic balance.