behind the scenes with some of the most iconic queens from rupaul’s drag race
Photographer Jonathan Daniel Pryce was given full access to shoot Violet Chachki, Detox and Kim Chi on their annual Werq The World tour.
Photography Jonathan Daniel Pryce
“The main source of drag imagery today is through the Facetuned Instagram selfie,” says photographer Jonathan Daniel Pryce. “So I wanted to capture the queens still looking stunning, but with simpler lighting and unpolished surroundings.” Jonathan is talking about the series of images he shot backstage at the annual Werq The World drag tour, for which he was granted unprecedented access to photograph some of the starriest queens from Rupaul’s Drag Race, including Violet Chachki, Detox and Kim Chi.
“The world of drag interests me because of this juxtaposition of high glamour emerging from challenging experiences and hardship,” adds Jonathan, who is also well known for his street style pictures published under the pseudonym @garconjon. “The documentary Paris Is Burning illustrated that beautifully. The Ru girls are so popular now, so things are a lot more elevated, and it brings a level of luxury not often afforded to drag queens.”
It’s this conscious return to drag’s grittier roots in Jonathan’s images that gives them their unique magic. There’s Monét X Change leaning on a railing backstage in a pink satin top hat and tails, and a faded portrait of Asia O’Hara that could have been lifted straight from an 80s ball in Lower Manhattan. One image is just a snapshot of drag detritus: a discarded wig and an ostrich feather gown stuffed hastily into a suitcase. “I photograph a lot of men in my work and enjoy witnessing the interactions and vulnerabilities unfold in front of the camera,” Jonathan adds. “But with drag queens it’s more of a collaboration. They’ve constructed a powerful image, which is intentional and considered: they’re both the royalty and the court jester.”
When it comes to telling us whether he had any favourite queens to shoot, Jonathan is a little more coy. “Backstage we have very little time between performances, but these queens gave frame after frame of strong poses, each one entirely different than the last,” he says, before admitting: “It was probably the banter with Monét [X Change] that stays with me most -- along with her exquisitely beautiful face.” As Jonathan describes it the tour is something of a family affair, adding that “there's a real camaraderie and care for one another.”
But on the subject who he’s rooting for in the upcoming grand finale of Rupaul’s Drag Race’s eleventh season (now only two weeks away) he doesn’t hesitate: “Yvie Oddly, undoubtedly! From episode one I could tell she'd be entertaining, fresh and creative in her approach, and she hasn't disappointed.” Place your bets on Yvie quickly: if anybody knows what makes a queen a superstar, it’s Jonathan. Start your engines, and may the best woman win.