Sabrina Chap talks her second album “We Are the Parade!,” circus, sideshow and burlesque inspiration, her book tour, and the link between art and sanity.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: Your first album “Oompa” was very well-received, and your hilariously fun, horn-blasting, burlesque-inspired second album “We Are the Parade!” was released this year on ERT Records, and you describe it as if “Regina Spektor met a marching band and took them to a vaudeville show.” The record features over 30 musicians and blends orchestral sounds with big band and Dixie without sounding chaotic or overdone. I couldn’t help but smile while listening to your album, found myself laughing out loud multiple times and certainly wanting to dance. It’s also a politically charged album in the sense that the title track was written in response to California’s Proposition 8 bill. Please tell our readers more about the process of putting the album together and your inspirations in doing so.
A: Well, the feel and ridiculousness of ‘We Are the Parade’ was entirely inspired by a photo by my friend, Dave Sanders. He had taken the photo, initially to be the cover of my first album, ‘Oompa!’. We had this really great photo shoot where I dressed as a drum major and we snuck onto roofs to take the photos. They were brilliant photos, but I looked at the result and realized they didn’t look like Oompa sounded.
Oompa was more of a ‘back of a dim-lit bar’ type of album, upright basses, piano, a lone trombone. . .that type of feel. And here I had a photo that was me smiling in the blazing sun wearing a big bass drum. I took one look at it and knew we had great photos- but not for this album. I apologized to my friend and we reshot the cover of “Oompa!” into the cover you now see. But I also told him that the drum major shoot was the cover of my next album.
Throughout the production and writing of Oompa! I wanted to think ‘orchestral riot’. The main word I wanted to be received by the listener was ‘joy’. As a former musical composition student, I allowed this album to be my grad school. I scored 10 out of the 13 tracks, writing out the music for the instruments, and basically decided I would do every musical idea that came into my head. There’s times for editing, and there’s time for explosion- this was my time for musical explosion, and acting as my own producer, I was able to be as ridiculous as I wanted.
My engineer was overwhelmed, especially as all the ‘orchestras’ you hear were mostly recorded one at a time. I would have a session with a lone bassoonist, and then another with a French hornist quadrupling their part. It was a musical puzzle on the production side of things, and luckily, it worked out.
I am very enamoured of the natural sound of instruments. Their voices, the clarinet has the smooth lilt of a classy lady two drinks in. A muted trumpet can sound like a drunk and horny widow. It’s theatre, making them all meet, and it was those musical moments I was searching for. ‘One Night Stand Serenade’ was written in part because I wanted to have a song where the instruments spoke as humans. Now, when I do it live in burlesque shows, I mostly fake orgasmic sounds during those musical moments in that song. Luckily, I have an orchestra or orgasmic sounds at the ready.
But yes- joy- I wanted the album to be joyful. Once I wrote the title track, ‘We Are the Parade’, which is a revolutionary call to arms for queers to arm themselves with the joy Joy is a weapon, sometimes the most resilient and underappreciated in survival. And I believe that the joy of the queer scene, which has to deal with so much hatred on the day to day, is how we survive.
Q: Regarding your background as a musician, you’ve played piano since the age of 5, with concentration on classical and even went to school for classical compositions but you’ve said that you “didn’t understand songwriting.” You eventually took up guitar, spoken word, theatre and books, but eventually made your way back to what you knew – piano. How did your other acquired skills (especially spoken word and theatre) help you as a performer (if at all)?
A: Well, my years doing spoken word have completely affected my type of songwriting. I am guilty of ‘over-writing’ sometimes, which is why patter songs come so effectively to me. Years of spitting out bad emotional open mic pieces have allowed me to simply be able to get the words out in songs like, ‘The Denial Rag’.
I began songwriting on guitar, but was terrible at it. Having been classically trained, I knew what a good musician should sound like- and my twang-y powerchords on acoustic guitar were initially embarrassing to me. So I did what anyone does when they’re embarrassed- I compensated. I compensated by writing really dense lyrics, in hopes that it would cover the bad guitar up. Once I got back to the piano, which I really could play, I realized I didn’t need to compensate anymore, which allowed me to write more musically confident songs that didn’t rely on the lyrics as much, although I am still inherently a lyric focused songwriter.
I was in theatre all of my life, and did study at the National Theatre Institute, but was especially interested in playwriting. I wrote and produced several plays, and would often tell people, when they asked what I did that I was a playwright and a songwriter. I really thought they were divided art forms in some way. However, once I stepped onto the burlesque stage, it was amazing. Here I could combine theatricality and songwriting. I also realized that most of my better songs were written from a character’s point of view. Sure, often times those ‘characters’ were versions of myself- but it became clear that character driven music was something that I naturally liked, and it combined my playwriting and songwriting skills.
Q: You perform your show regularly in burlesque and cabaret shows and circuses. Since your album is self-described as burlesque-inspired (and the inspiration is readily apparent in the music!) I’d love to know more specifically how you used burlesque as an inspiration for your music. Were there specific shows, venues, performers, performances, memories, etc. that you used as fodder while creating your album?
A: The entire burlesque and cabaret scene has been such an inspiration for this album. It started in a non-burlesque way. There’s a New York event called Cinema 16 where they pair up musicians with a series of silent movies. They’re incredible events, and the musicians they choose are varied, from cabaret inspired artists like me to more mainstream musicians, like the guys from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The curator, Molly Surno, listened to my music and gave me a series of silent movies to score- one of them being a test strip for Thomas Edison when he was testing out film colouration. The film was of the one of the silent movie era’s earliest stars (and later, Ziegfield Follies star), Annabell Whitford Moore, who was known for her amazing skirt dances. I was blown away by the silent film, and intimidated by it. She looked like a lotus flower, ever blossoming in a range of technicolour revolutions. When I performed it live, I performed it with a loop pedal, so I could create a big band effect with looped piano and kazoos. This dictated the form of the song, and when I came to scoring it, I sat down and rubbed my hands together thinking, “Now I get to score a big band!”
I studied Benny Goodman. I began talking to older musicians, one of which is the drummer for Woody Allen’s band, trying to understand the orchestration of those times. Again, I wanted that explosion. I wanted banging tom-toms that promised the thrill of an unraveling century. And even more so, I wanted to create something that a burlesque girl could dance to, so she could be a modern Annabelle Whitford Moore. (I later paired the original Edison strip inspiration with the final track off the new album, with Surno’s permission, and put it up on Youtube, so you’re welcome to look at what inspired the song.)
As a whole though, burlesque has inspired a lot of my music in the sense that it is character driven. I find that when I write a song, I’m creating a character- except since I’m shit at costuming and make-up, I create the characters and scenarios with lyrics, instrumentation and when I’m live- often a story set up. I was very surprised at my initial success performing in burlesque shows, although I was immediately at ease the first time I stepped on a stage. Currently, my albums don’t fully explore the range of my live shows, which are tending to be dirtier, darker or sometimes more satirical the more I perform in the scene. However, once I started touring in the UK, I began to see other people like me in the scene. Other ‘singers/songwriters’. The more I’ve performed in the scene, the more I learn about the tradition of vaudeville which was so inextricable from burlesque’s initial roots. Performing with the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus is a continual education in the history of the cirkus, sideshow and vaudevillian sides of showbiz, and where I fit in with them. But simply, I first truly came to burlesque because I had this one song ‘Never Been a Bad Girl’ on ‘Oompa! that I thought was something a burlesque girl should dance to. I didn’t know how to get the girls to dance to it, so I finally e-mailed a show and asked if I could perform it, and it worked like a charm. That song didn’t just belong in the burlesque world. I did. The more I’m in it, the more I learn about it and the more it inspires me. I feel extremely lucky, as a musician, to have any part of such a thrilling performance scene.
Q: I’ve read that in contrast to your current super happy, horn-driven fun album, your plans for your next album are “super twisted” and “really dark and very, very fucked up” and that you have the most songs written for that record. Care to share more details with our readers about those plans?
A: Oh yes. See, actually, of all of the albums, the next one, tentatively entitled, ‘Freaks’, is full-on inspired by my time in burlesque. Several of the written songs were directly because of burlesque shows. The one that is the most popular, and has undoubtedly become my ‘signature’ song is called, ‘The One Thing I have Never Done’ (aka as ‘The Dirty Song’.) I wrote that for Book Club Burlesque, an event that was going on a bit ago in New York. Each show was based on a different book, which you were supposed to read and then do a performance based off of. The assigned book was Edward Gorey’s “The Curious Sofa”. I read the notice about the this burlesque show, (at the time, I hadn’t been performing in burlesque) and thought I’d give it a shot. I love song assignments, and love Edward Gorey. I thought I’d have to write something about the alphabet- you know, A is for Alice when falls down the stairs type of thing. But then I read the book, which he actually published under a pseudonym originally because it’s so filthy. I was shocked. And I sat back, my eyes wide, and realized, “I have to write the dirtiest song ever written.”
I considered like my ‘Aristocrats’ joke. How far was I willing to go. I remember writing very clearly- I was sitting in my bathtub, scribbling away and I had two thoughts, well. . .one thought and one moment. The moment was when I cringed while writing some of the lyrics. I had never written something so out of my comfort zone before. The thought was, “Why am I working so hard on this song? I will never ever play it ever again. There’s no place for this song.”
But then a month later, I was booked for Cheeky Monkey’s Sideshow in DC, and all of the other performers were prepping their props- tying their razor blades together, prepping their broken glass or bed of nails. I felt like a high school freshman that just came from a Catholic school. My eyes were like saucers. And again, because I was so afraid, I overcompensated, and did the dirty song. I was like, “I’ve gotta do that song.” And now it’s my most requested tune.
That song’s in there, as well as several others written expressly for burlesque shows. One of my favorite burlesque shows I’ve ever performed in is ‘That’s F*cked Up!’ which is in Seattle every year. It’s curated by burly geniuses, Heidi Von Haught and Randi Rascal, and encourages everyone to push the boundaries of performance. I sent Heidi my dirty song because we were simply friends, and she invited me to be a part of it- but then asked me to write another song like it. I had gone as far as I could with sex in the dirty song, and didn’t think I could outdo it, so I decided to focus on politics, which forced me to write the satirical song, ‘Democracy’. In the performance, I sang it while stripping and then ended up blowing the microphone at the end. Performance! The next year, Heidi asked me to participate again, and I didn’t want to touch politics again, but no one else was touching on the Republican race for presidency, which at that point was dominating the news, so then I wrote a rap where I rapped as all the Republican nominees. I’ll tell you, when I was studying Stravinsky in college, I never thought I’d end up being on stage, dressed as a gangsta Newt Gingrich, yelling out, ‘You be the bitch, I be the Gingrich!’ But yeah, that happened.
The rap won’t be on the next album, but the rest of it will. The difference though, is that my earlier stuff has been more about recalling more classic burlesque or early century music sounds- touching on those scenes. I’m interested in creating a new sound. What is the sound of new cabaret? Of new burlesque? Who is our 21st Century Benny Goodman? Who’s our 21st Century Annabelle Moore? I want to see if I can listen hard to myself and figure that out.
That being said, the entire catalogue of songs is fitting into a narrative, so I’m also going to create a cabaret act based off those songs. My dream is to have a tight back-up band, small but effective- piano, bass, drums, sax and accordions and really flesh out the songs together instead of me piece-mealing an orchestra together. And the grand dream is that John Cameron Mitchell discovers it all and puts it together in some sort of Hedwig and the Angry Inch genius plan. But yes- long answer short- the songs on ‘Freaks’ are almost exclusively inspired my time in burlesque and cirkus, and in me trying to find my voice in that scene. And apparently, I’m a pretty twisted muthafucka.
Q: You just concluded your west coast tour for “We Are the Parade!” and you’re simultaneously promoting the second edition of your book, Live Through This – On Creativity and Self-Destruction which now includes an introduction by Amanda Palmer. You also do workshops on the topics of gender, self-destruction and art, and since it’s so pertinent to our burlesque readership – I’m quite interested in your questions about whether artistic women are more prone to self-destruction, and whether there is a link between art and sanity.
A: I could talk forever on this subject, and often do. Speaking in colleges about gender, art, creativity and self-destruction has been the way I have been able to be lucky enough to tour so widely. I’m very proud of the book, and the amazing contributors the second edition has allowed me to get (besides Amanda Palmer, Margaret Cho and street artist Swoon are new additions, along with original contributors bell hooks, Nan Goldin, Annie Sprinkle & Beth Stephens and more.)
The link between art and sanity. Oh, I love that question. It’s complex for me to answer, specifically because I’m an artist. I don’t know how it would be to come at this question from another profession. Simply, and it’s easy to say ‘YES!’ they’re connected, not only because being an artist encourages people to examine human nature, and hence, themselves. That propels a lot of navel gazing and emotion- a lot of consideration given to the deeper questions that other professions, sometimes can find easier to ignore. Also, there’s such a beautiful and romantic history of the connection between art and genius. From Sexton and Plath to the my modern day heroine, Sarah Kane- who famously killed herself after writing her seminal play 4.18 Psychosis, which was essentially a staged suicide note, there is such sensation in the self-destructive artist. For men, it’s more ‘acceptable’, but just as damaging, with iconic heroes like Hemingway who also killed himself, to Van Gogh to Bukowski to Rimbaud. I mean, hell. The lot of ‘em were ‘biographically nuts’. (I say this, because their biographers tend to romanticize any self-destructive nature because hey, ‘Crazy, alcoholic sells!’)
I used to believe this. I used to believe, you had to be crazy to be an artist. A good one. And then I watched a documentary on Chuck Close, the genius American artist. He’s someone I truly admire, and in the middle of his career, suffered a seizure which not only put him in a wheelchair, but made it very difficult for him to hold a paintbrush. In the documentary, I remember him sort of shrugging and being like, “Well, so now I have to wear a brace and I get my assistant rig up my painting to I can paint them while sitting down.” He just kept working. It astounded me. That you could just keep working, and that well of brilliance might just continue to be there.
The romance of being an unstable artist is one that we cling to because it’s easier for some people to simply be unstable than to do the work of being an artist. I often use Bukowski as an example, because I remember a lot of male ‘writer’ friends who wanted to ‘write’ but only hung out in bars and thought they had to screw a lot of women to be a writer. I remember being like, “I think you still have to sit down and write. . .” It is easier to assume the lifestyle of a romantic self-destructive artist and feel like you are emulating your heroes, and are, de facto, an artist. I chose to not be that type of artist long ago, and it is a very distinct decision on my part.
That being said, emotional highs and lows are nothing to laugh about. And that type of emotional resonance that comes easier to most are demonized as ‘crazy’ or ‘unstable’. Meanwhile, people are working 60 hour jobs in fluorescent offices and thinking prime time tv is hilarious. I mean, come on. Who are they calling crazy? Still, what do they want to do with people that don’t fit into that schematic of over-engineered life? Medicate them. Make them feel bad about not fitting into their rat-race. Say that the problem is that you’re crazy.
Meanwhile, I think there is insane untapped power locked into our self-destructive forces that, if unleashed upon the world, would change it. Art has been a very effective tool for this transition. It lends itself better to the insane than, I don’t know, a maniacal insurance salesman. That being said, as an artist, I see the direct links. However, I do believe that we’ve co-opted that romantic image of self-destruction, when it can indeed be found in any field. There is a culture to the ok self-destruction in any field, in law offices, you’re sometimes expected to work 80 hours and then go out and get hammered with your buddies. Yeah, like that’s not a self-destructive culture. But I do believe that there is art in every field- art simply is questioning life, and bringing forth your interpretation of that. That can play out in any field. There are lots of artists that I don’t even consider ‘artists’ anymore. Just turn on the radio. They’re money-making machines, just cuz they sing doesn’t make ‘em artists. But contemplation, strength, and a desire to see beyond your own given horizon- be it arts or science or law . . .anyone can have those tendencies.
All of that being said, I know my art keeps me sane. If I didn’t make things, I’m not sure I’d be here anymore.
Q: What have been the results of the dialogues in your workshops so far?
A: Because I think about this so often, I’m surprised at how little others do. I know that sounds snobby, but I’m often speaking in colleges, where a lot of the students have only begun to consider themselves, and often get lost in the maze of romantic roles, idealizations, cultural landmines our history has laid out for us. One of my favorite essays in the book is bell hooks’, who talks about how by reading fiction as a child, she was able to understand that sometimes children are the target for unjust adult rage. When she realized that, she realized that some of the suicidal feelings of helplessness she was feeling weren’t necessarily her own fault, but came with the tidal wave of history that washes over all of us, every minute. The wave that carries misogyny, racism, ageism, class war in the force of it’s current. I am constantly astounded at how much women artists tend to claim the fault of histories failings as their own fault, and silence themselves, or accept the label of ‘crazy’ or ‘unstable’. The dialogues have been fascinating to me as someone who has vested interest in the subject, but what has amazed me most is how many e-mails or quiet admissions I have received from people who have read the book and said it has saved their lives, or helped them through a difficult time. And I think the reason that happens is because it’s one of the few books out there that doesn’t demonize self-destruction, but recognizes its importance in harnessing your own sense of power.
Q: What have you learned during the process of editing your book, touring and promoting it?
A: Oh, so much. I was signed with Seven Stories Press, who also publishes heavy-weights like Kurt Vonnegut, Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky. Being considered by an outside source to have something to offer was astounding to me. I don’t want to say I didn’t have confidence as an artist before hand, because I always have. But I didn’t truly believe that it was possible to live as an artist. To have that profession. The book was my first entry into living my dream as a reality. Having something you thought of at night suddenly be available in every Barnes and Nobles was a pretty empowering moment for me. It made me believe in my wild notions more.
Touring and promoting it made me begin to understand the ‘biz’ in showbiz. Currently, I represent myself. It’s getting hard to manage doing tour booking, press, marketing, writing new songs, producing, orchestrating, arranging the albums and then actually showing up and performing without feeling like I want to hide in my apartment and watch Netflix all day. That being said, I was lucky enough with the book to have an awesome cast of already established artists help me understand how ‘they’ did it. What does it mean to ‘tour’. Why do you have to ‘promote’. Up until the book, I literally thought that all Tom Waits did was drink whiskey and write songs. Now I’m beginning to get, he might have attended some meetings too. Reading the biography of Sophie Tucker, she talks a lot about the management of her career- and I’m beginning to realize how important the biz is to making it in ‘Showbiz’.
Q: What’s next for Sabrina Chap?
A: So much. Right now, I’m in the middle of booking my UK tour again. I’m hoping everything works out. I’m doing some spot gigs in Cleveland and Detroit for some stellar gigs, performing at Pinch & Squeals’ Voix De Ville and Detroit’s Theatre Bizarre, as well as doing a burlesque show with my favorite line up EVER – me, Lushes LaMoan, Moxie Rhodes (Wisconsin), Sweet LilyBea (Minneapolis), organized by Shane Bang, who’s amazing. I have some ‘producers’ that want to do a musical revue based off my music, so that might happen. Right now I’m working on fleshing out the story with them. I’m hoping to get a monthly live gig in New York where I can figure out a way to pay a band so I can develop the next album. I’m doing a lot of songwriting at home. And I have to clean the tub at some point. I mean, really- it’s just there staring at me day after day.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
A: I’m honored to have a small place in this burgeoning scene of burlesque, cirkus and vaudevillian entertainment. I have learned so much from every performer I’ve been lucky enough to perform alongside, and the generosity and fearlessness of these communities astounds me . I hope I can continue to make a little music to add to the scene, make a few people laugh and continue discovering my own voice as an artist on these stages. Also, I’d love to tour in your city and meet you, whoever you are.
This month we’re delighted to feature a few selections from a photo essay by Italian photographer Valentino Varan Vesarach. He talked with us about his style, method and his experience documenting the 2012 Perth International Burlesque Festival. (All photos and captions by Valentino Varan Vesarach.)
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: You were born in Bangkok and then moved to Sydney, Australia after living between Bali and Italy. Travelling is your current pursuit, as well as your photography, which is rooted in your approach based on the basics of lighting, colors and an intimate relationship with the subject. Can you please tell our readers about your style and methods?
A: Style: The key to all of my works is the research and the relationship with the person to establish what I call “CONNECTION” with the subject. This relationship with the photographer and the subject is like a dance, I try to let myself be carried by the events and follow what I feel in every moment, trying to find out who I’m shooting. In this way minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, I have a deeper intimacy with the subject. During a project you can take the most beautiful picture of the Series after a few minutes, but as time and days pass, especially with the situations encountered, the relationships and interactions that change will generate different levels of Photographs Emotions.
Method: Although we are in 2012 I’d like to have us remember the origins of Photography. I’m a Young Artist who loves innovation and technology, but my photographic approach is “Traditional” and above all “Practical”. I talk a lot about ” LIGHT “and invite all to reflect that the Camera is just A BOX … where through a hole (Lens – which should be the implementation of our EYES) we get a certain amount of Light.
For all my Documentary works I observe some rules:
One Camera One Lens: This involves a little advance planning based on what you want to go to photograph and what you want to show. The reasons are simple: Total ductility in any situation, the Camera always on hand and the finger always on the button of the shot. The use of a single lens for each work also provides the same “point of view” and that I thought was more suitable to show our subject / subjects.
Only Prime Lenses, no Zoom: There are several reasons, but some of the most important are: Prime lenses are very flexible in low light condition, have a degree of clarity/sharpness and surrender of “reality” much more close to the real world that we are capturing. Finally to return to previous speech… If I suppose that my lens is just nothing more than my EYE, if you want to see something from nearer or more far away, I’ll do two steps forward or backward, but I’ll certainly not turn a wheel in my head to bring an object closer or further away!
Always and in all conditions I use only natural light. No Flash or any kind of support lights. How could I show what I see if I assume that I wanna change it before taking the picture??
Q: I’m especially interested in your photographic essay project called “The Kingdom.” You describe it as part one of a two-part series called “The Roman Empress.” This essay gives the viewer a behind the scenes, intimate look at the 2012 Perth International Burlesque Festival. Please tell us about the development of this essay and your experience documenting the festival.
A: I spent Approximately 20 days since she landed at the Perth airport until I took her to the check-in cue before the departure, along with the performer Dixie Ramone (The Empress). All this has led me to live a global experience inside the Perth International Burlesque Festival. Then from a well-defined starting situation subsequently developed thousands of other situations, especially on Tour Down South with the Crew, I got carried away so I photographed and caught all the moments where I felt stimulated. In the end I found myself with a lot of material that I liked, but was part of a wider story, so I decided to put together the series The Kingdom and showing the Festival in its entirety, just as I have lived. It was a sublime experience.
Q: The second part of your ‘Roman Empress’ project is titled, “The Empress.” Can you tell us more about that?
A: The Empress is the Series that tells about the Australian experience of the performer Dixie Ramone inside and outside the Perth International Burlesque Festival. It’s a Series full of emotions that in 25 photos reveals what I was able to catch about the character of Dixie Ramone (who I had never met before then) and also show this fast-changing relationship between us during those 20 days together… but I do not want to spoil the surprise!
Q: What’s next for Valentino?
A: In September 2012 I started to work on a very personal Series called “Nothing is Forever”. I’m still at an early stage and very thoughtful.
I can however say few general things. The subject is a Russian girl, I’m shooting in Black and White with an old 1972 35mm camera given to me by my Uncle and I’m using a 50mm lens. It’s a Series full of contrasts, a bit like a mirror of my soul in the relationship with myself and the other peoples. The Series travels between opposite edges, alternating sweetness to pure sexuality, passing from moments of extreme happiness and satisfaction to drastic apathy.
Regarding my carrier, now that I moved to Sydney I hope to get some good and challenging commissions from artists, people and magazines that are on my same wavelength, and also I really would like to have chance to make a few exhibitions, no matter where in the world they are. I’ll be ready to follow my heart and my feelings…like always!
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
A: A huge thank you to all those who believed in me and all those who appreciate my works and my genuine feelings towards Photography. A special thanks to Art Director and Designer Pino Usicco and to my Mentor the London Photographer Sam Harris, without whom I would not be from the artistic point of view the man I have become.
Thanks to Pin Curl Magazine for giving me this interview.
Micheline Pitt, Production Manager for Pinup Girl Clothing, designer of Deadly Dames, pinup hair and makeup artist, and model talks fleeing the South for the big city, bursting glamour bubbles, comics, Wonder Woman and toy-collecting.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: You grew up in a small town in Georgia and eventually moved to New York where you started your makeup career. When did you move to Los Angeles and what made you take that leap?
A: I did in fact grow up in a rather small town in Georgia; it was about 22 miles outside the city limits of Atlanta. Both Atlanta and my home town were very different back then. I remember my mom saying the town had one stop light, and we were one of the few houses on the block. We were lucky to have a Goodwill and a Kmart. There wasn’t much but trailer parks and churches. I often visited Atlanta to see family and friends, and I think that is where my real interest of moving to a large city came from. Atlanta was so much bigger than my small town, but it was still a small town in my eyes. The community was a bubble, everyone knew everyone and the thought of having a boyfriend there or any real relationship was frightening. You would always be dating someone else’s ex-boyfriend or husband. The girls did not take kindly to this and there were often fist fights and quarrels among them because of this. The south wasn’t for me anymore, and the only place I could see going was NYC, it was closer than LA which is where I really wanted to be and at 18 NYC seemed a lot less scary.
I didn’t see a future for myself in Atlanta on any level; it was comfortable and easy but I didn’t want easy anymore, I wanted a challenge. So I sold off most of my toy collection from the 1980′s – He-Man, She-Ra, Transformers that sort of stuff, made a few grand and had money saved from one of my many jobs at the time and moved. When I got there it was a rocky start. I was young and lost for the first few months. The only place I found my footing was with MAC Cosmetics. In Atlanta people would have to wait for someone to die to get a job with MAC, since no one ever left, and in NY there were so many opportunities. I remember walking into the MAC store in Long Island and securing an interview for myself. I was so full of energy and passion I must have exuded it because they gave a barely 18 year old a chance. I had practiced on myself and so many of my friends, but I had not honed my skills fully at the time.
I was really lucky to join them while the company was still protected by the original contract before Lauder was able to change things. I was able to be around real artists and fellow creative types, I was a sponge. I soaked up everything they would teach me and pushed myself further. I worked on magazine shoots, fashion shows, photoshoots and anything in-between. It was so surreal. But as glamourous as this all sounds, I was hit by the hard gritty truth that my one job was not enough to survive. In Atlanta I worked several jobs because I wanted to have money to leave one day, not because I had to. With NYC I found myself sleeping on the train between jobs. Doing make-up for go-go dancers and stage performers at clubs, then going and working a full shift at the MAC store.
I had found my first real love working at that first MAC store, someone who made the harsh world of NYC so much more livable. The only downfall of falling in love in NYC is it is often a born and bred NYC type, who lives and dies by the city. NYC was just a pit stop in my life, and not where I saw myself. At the end of the day and over 2 years later I left it all behind. I couldn’t handle the city’s lack of trees, blue skies, stars and affordable rent. To buy a 1 bedroom apartment was 1.2 million dollars when I left… and a poor girl from a small town in Georgia will never be able to afford that. So I knew I needed to find my place elsewhere.
Having done make-up in the fashion industry I decided it was time to try my luck of doing makeup in TV and film, and that was the real reason for me to come to LA.
Q: You work 40-60 hour weeks as the Production Manager for Pinup Girl Clothing, but not many folks realize how much goes into your role behind the scenes. What’s a typical work day in the life of Micheline?
A: You know it is funny, the internet makes my life seem so fun and glamourous… and I hate that. They think everything we do is easy and perfect and it is so far from being that. Being with Pinup Girl for 7 years I think this month (I am like a guy and horrible with remembering anniversaries) I work Monday through Friday from 8 am till 4:30 technically. But I often find myself starting earlier, or staying later till 6:00 when the factory closes. Now my main title as Production Manager means, I am the sole person responsible in the quality, fit, production and product you buy from one of our varied house brands. I have to oversee all the fabric purchases, qualities, dye lots and expenses. I also handle all the trim purchasing, lace, bows, piping, zippers, hangtags and labels. I have to make sure we keep constant stock in all of our current materials inventory, yet keeping us at or under budget by the end of the year.
Now each time we receive fabrics they have varied bolt widths or shrinkages, meaning I have to cut and press blocks for every fabric, run the math and adjust markers and grading properly. If one or two percent is off the entire garment will not fit, leaving thousands of dollars in damages and un-usable product.
I also attend all the fittings for head designer and owner Laura Byrnes, on all the garments that are made. Most designs are tailored to her fit, and I have to ensure that the product produced matches this and that the pattern makers make the correct changes to the patterns before they are digitized and graded.
I juggle all of our fabric vendors, constantly looking for and designing new prints for the collections along with Laura Byrnes’ guidance and input. Luckily we have a quality control person that checks all the garments when they come out of production. I used to have to do this position but we were running smaller productions. Now it is a full time job in itself to ensure you’re shipping a quality product. Just this last year I got a Production Assistant and she is great! When you have Fall production starting at multiple facilities, this year we have 4 and then you have to prep and begin patterns, fittings and fabrics for Spring, and things can get pretty crazy.
Things constantly explode and break in production, things get sewn wrong, fabric comes in damaged and takes weeks to replace making your delivery date 2 to 4 weeks later than expected. Fabric gets stuck in customs and holds your production back by 2 weeks or your fabric doesn’t come in because it was wrong and you missed an entire season of dresses… these things have all happened and will always happen. This is the nature of the beast of production. You can’t control every factor, but you learn to expect the worst and plan to correct every mistake that happens. We stand by creating a quality American-made good and that is what I spend my week doing.
Now as far as other things I do, many things take place at home after work, I make flyers, events and art for any and all projects requested by anyone at the Pinup Girl office. I just spent 3 hours this last Saturday making flyers, posters, postcards and event pages for our new Pinup Girl Store. I also do all the Make-up and some of the hair for all the photoshoots you see on the website, much like Laura Byrnes, the owner who is our main photographer, she has her escape to do her passion of photography and I have my escape doing make-up and hair. The Pinup Girl photoshoots are the most enjoyable, yet often stressful things I get to do. Our huge collection photoshoots are very involved and often take an entire day or several days to complete.
I love my job, and I work really hard for them because they worked hard themselves to start this company and I owe them the same efforts to continue to make it grow and succeed. It all started with Laura in her house making clothes and that is amazing when you think where we have come in the last 12 years.
Q: How did you get started with Pinup Girl?
A: I think this is the part of the story people pay the most attention to. They think it is like a Fairy Tale or a means to an end for themselves, but in reality it is my path and my journey… and that age old saying being at the right place at the right time. I don’t know if history will repeat itself, I think these sort of things only happen once in a lifetime.
I had known of the website since I was a 17 or 16, it was shortly after they had begun the site. A girlfriend at the time showed it to me. It sat there in the back of my mind for several years until I was cast on ANTM [America’s Next Top Model]. It was a brief flash in the pan moment of bad reality TV, but through it I found Pinup Girl again. People were telling us both that I should model for them and we connected that way. I didn’t know Laura that well after only modeling once, but I knew a co-worker and what she had told me of the company. At the time I was working in Animation as a Character Designer and doing Make-up for celebs and music videos. I hadn’t gotten paid in months and I remembered the employee telling me that Halloween season was their busiest time, and I asked if I could send my resume and have an interview with Laura. Laura had to be persuaded to even interview me, and with confidence I told her all the things I was capable of, and what I could do if she would give me a chance. I am sure there was a mental eye-roll of sorts, as so many times people often talk the talk and never walk the walk.
So I began part time, and seasonal help shipping Halloween costumes. I would hand pull all the orders that were placed on the site and Kevin would ship them. There were only 5 employees then and things were so different than you see them now. So much like I promised I did all the things I said I would do, I kept my word in that interview and I made sure to do right by Laura and her company since she went out on a limb to hire me. They are my family and this business means everything to me, and I will stand by it and protect it for as long as I am here to do so.
Q: In late August you posted a blog entry on Pinup Girl Style called, “How to become a Pinup Model – The Truth Behind the Red Lipstick” in which you were, in your own words, “brashly honest” about the expenses and work involved in being a pinup model and/or burlesque performer and the multitude of misconceptions about how some women view pinup as means to becoming rich and famous. I found your honesty very refreshing, and I wanted to know if you care to elaborate on any of the topics discussed in the blog.
A: I think like before in my previous answers, people just see big sparkly photos and think our lives are filled with free rides and hand outs and they are so very wrong. Being a Pinup Model or Burlesque performer is not glamourous. They all have real jobs and lives so very different than the ones portrayed on the internet. Most of them won’t ever tell you about them or pull back the veil and show the ugly truth… but that is something I do and I think it is important to do. For some strange reason this one scene in Beetlejuice keeps playing in my head when I think of this topic, “If I had known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have had my little accident.” The receptionist, Ms. Argentina holds up her slit wrists. I know it may seem a little morbid but I think that quote, just the words she says, not the actions, speak to this. I think all these young girls that write on all the models and burlesque performers walls saying “I want to be like you.” “I want to be you when I grow up.” “How do I become you.”
None of them tell these people the hardships and money and time that go into creating images or performances, you won’t ever get paid for, or maybe if you’re lucky you might have the venue where you have to change in the bathroom will give you 75.00 bucks for getting down to your pasties. I have heard and seen all these things happen to people I know and yes even myself. Now I am not a burlesque performer but I know what it takes to make a legit costume, props and music and it is so incredibly expensive. There are people setting un-realistic goals for all these other women who think they will get rich or famous from modeling, or doing burlesque. I am not rich or famous, nor do I desire to be either. I find myself to be relevant to my culture of people who I cater to for my job, and I live in an apartment, I don’t own a home, or fancy cars, and I think the most I spend on clothes are the ones I get from work, as the rest comes from Flea Markets and thifting.
Being famous is not something I ever wish upon myself, ever. To lose all privacy and have cameras in your face… it is not worth it. Most of those people are so wrapped up in themselves and they usually crash and burn as they spend most of the money they make letting the world know they have money. If you want to model or do burlesque do it as a hobby, as something you love, knowing you will never get any monetary return it, but you will have memories, photos and experiences you will be able to share for years to come.
Q: Speaking of that blog entry, I was curious what sort of responses you have received from your readers. I read many supportive comments, but I was wondering what kind of feedback you were given.
A: I have had mostly positive, where people thanked me for being so honest with them, and I think I may have convinced a few that this is not a career path, which is great. I did have a few negative responses, where I may have hit a nerve or two. Many girls are very sensitive when it comes to this subject and I kind of burst the glamourous bubble they have up. The truth hurts sometimes, but I think it was worth it.
Q: You’re the designer of the Deadly Dames clothing line, and you’ve said that your “first line was inspired by 1950s Barbie and John Waters’ Cry Baby.” How has the Deadly Dames line evolved since its inception and what’s in store for its future?
A: I think that line describes what the line was when it was first created. It has evolved into many things as I take inspiration from many different places. My last Fall collection was all French and Victorian-inspired color palettes and prints. I tend to air on the more “slutty” side of designing dresses. “I make things for boobs.” My current line takes inspiration from 1950′s bad girls and old Fetish comics. I think the bad girl quality will always be in my line. John Waters was always so good at creating unique and quirky characters, so I think I do that with clothing. I don’t think I push as far as he does, as I need it to be relevant and wearable, but I like to think I push past the basic wiggle dress.
The future will hold many things and ideas, but if I tell you what they are I would have to kill you .
Q: It’s known you’re an avid comic book fan. What are your favorite series and why? What made you fall in love with comics?
A: I have been an avid comic lover since I was about 6 years old. I think the comic book store in my town still has a Spiderman I drew when I was 8 hanging on the walls. I also think my mom has Zealot from Wildcats on the fridge from a year or two later. I don’t know, I think Disney movies triggered my interest in comics. Animation and Comics kind of go hand in hand and since I drew as a child I was obsessed with them and the idea I could make that stuff for a living one day. Being an only child and often staying home alone my escape was TV and comics. I wrote and drew my first comic series in 3rd grade, I still have it, it’s pretty awful, yet awesome. My favorite series growing up were; Lady Death, Purgatory, Wildcats, Spiderman, Batman, Swamp Thing and Vampirella. I also had a ton of re-issues of old EC Comics for Tales from the Crypt and anything monster or horror related.
Q: I also hear that you’re a toy collector. What kinds of toys do you collect?
A: I am an avid action figure collector and toy collector. However, I keep things tailored down, as I don’t want my collection to consume my home. I mostly collect all Universal Monster stuff, Frankensteins and the Creatures make up the most of that though. I collect some DC figures, Batman and Wonder Woman mostly and I own most of the Beetlejuice and Ghostbuster toys. As much as I love toys and action figures, I also collect creepy and strange board games. I own three of the rarest games; Green Ghost, Kabala and the Mystic Skull. I have a ton more, but those are my prized pieces. I also collect anything Mars Attacks Martian related. I don’t know why, but I was obsessed with those vintage trading cards when I was younger.
Q: You have an instructional DVD for pinup hair and makeup in the works. How is that progressing? Any idea when it will be released?
A: Oh the DVD, it had to be pushed back as I invested most of my DVD money in the new Pinup Girl Boutique store along with John and Laura of Pinup Girl Clothing. I plan on having it out in time for the next Viva [Las Vegas]. I am writing my edit script and having to plan some re-shoots for some voice over stuff, and eyebrows. It is not a big budget film, by any means, but for what it is, I am proud of it. I am going to make it really affordable for people, and plan to wholesale it.
Q: What’s next for Micheline Pitt?
A: Marriage, a puppy, a kitten… these are all things I don’t have currently. For myself, I look forward to settling down, having a home and vacations… lots of vacations. Pinup Girl will continue on and I know we will have a great joinery together. One day when I retire I plan on writing and drawing children’s books and possibly toys.
Vivien of Holloway talks vintage inspired fashion, red carpets, and curious weddings.
by: Femme Vivre LaRouge
Won’t you, please, tell us a little more about the evolution of the company?
With a life long love of 1940′s and 50′s movies I started the company so I would always have lovely clothes to wear. The high street is so boring and has been for years with cheap fabrics and ill fitting clothes. Having started making my own clothes at 10, by 14 I was making them for friends. At 18 I opened my first shop filling it with all the vintage clothes I had collected, then gradually replacing it with clothing I had made, most items being one-offs. Back then I was designing, cutting and making it all myself in the shop. Over the years I have always sold a mixture of vintage and hand-made designs. When opening the shop, I wanted it to be fresh and spacious so stopped doing vintage. The growth of the company means that I no longer make the clothes myself, but I do make the patterns and supervise the whole process.
You use mid-century patterns, slightly modified to flatter modern, feminine figures of all types, as well as prints and materials authentic to the time period. Would you please share a little with us about those patterns, prints, and materials – and how you choose what to use?
I have always just thought about what I would like to wear and then gone ahead and made it. I originally designed our trademark halterneck dress when I was 18, but the pattern has been modified many times over the years to get it as close as perfect as I can to suit all the different shapes us gals come in! I had no formal training in dressmaking or pattern cutting, I simply picked it up along the way. I do sometimes miss the whole process but there just isn’t the time now. Saying that, I was just thinking of making a sample for a new top this evening as I am impatient to see how it will look!
As for our fabrics, for years I have searched high and low to find interesting prints but as our company grows we really have to make our own now. So the next 12 months will hopefully see lots of lovely new fabrics for us.
I read on your website that you offer some wonderful services for brides-to-be who want a retro look for their wedding. Please tell me more about that; would you say that more brides are choosing an ‘alternative’ wedding look these days?
Most definitely. I think a lot of brides consider a 50s dress as classic and how they always dreamed of looking. A lot of the dresses available today are ridiculously over the top and badly fitting. Many gorgeous brides-to-be don’t feel comfortable in huge gowns and feel much more ‘themselves’ when they try on our designs. Lots of lovely brides come to us for their evening party frocks so that they can hit the dancefloor in style! Our dresses are so versatile that brides can style them with white or ivory accessories for a more traditional look, or mix it up with bright petticoats, belts and flowers! Each and every bride-to-be leaves us feeling like a million dollars and having spent far less than they would have in a bridal boutique! We also go up to a size 38” waist so we can cater for plus-sized brides.
I’ve noticed from your wonderful newsletter (which I’ve followed for quite some time) that Vivien of Holloway also sponsors several pin up/burlesque/rockabilly events. Please tell me about some of the upcoming events, or favorites that you’ve sponsored.
We sponsor hundreds of events and companies at a time, and there are a few regular events that promise some of the best nights out in town! Kai Hoffman’s Live and Let Jive is one of our favourites and is at the fabulous Ronnie Scott’s bar in Soho. We also sponsor wedding fairs like The Most Curious Wedding Fair and burlesque evenings such as the Tassel club and Missy Malone’s Revue, so there’s always somewhere different to go to! We also support the likes of the Jive Aces and Nina’s hair parlour. We just like to share as many contacts of interest as possible, so I would like to think we also supply much more than just a fabulous new look!
I saw some mention on the Vivien of Holloway blog about your designs hitting the red carpet; can you divulge for us, who are some of the most famous and glamorous people you’ve dressed?
We’ve dressed some lovely ladies for the red carpet and for various events and shoots. Our favourites include Paloma Faith, Nigella Lawson, Imelda May, Claire Richards, Heidi from the Sugababes and most recently, the extremely glamorous Christina Hendricks!
Renowned burlesque photographer Don Spiro talks the burlesque revival, Tease O Rama, King Kong, Doris Eaton and Jennie Lee’s vision.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
You’ve been interested in cinematography and filmmaking since you were a young boy. At the age of only six you were shooting movies with your father’s super 8. I’m curious to know which films you found particularly inspiring when you were a child. How do your childhood film inspirations compare to those you had as an adult studying film in college?
I think that most people who are inspired to be filmmakers at a young age are informed by films they saw as children. The 1933 King Kong did it for me. NY Channel 9 showed it every Thanksgiving, followed by Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young. I saw it when I was six and wanted to make films ever since, a desire that was only reinforced when Star Wars was released. I had the benefit of having parents who were interested in avante garde and classic films, so I grew up with Saturday afternoon Universal horror films, Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello and screwball comedies, MGM musicals, Warner Bros film noir and the rest from local New York and Philly stations. Also, my father was into Charlie Chaplin films, so we would go to whatever colleges in the tri-state area were showing one, and soon started going to other films they programmed. The Seventh Seal, Pandora’s Box, All Quiet on the Western Front, and O Lucky Man! All stand out. And they took me to R rated movies, so I was well aware of modern releases. By the time I got to college I wasn’t only already familiar with most of the curriculum, I’d already done research on my own.
Unless I’m mistaken, you first began participating in the burlesque community in 2001 with the now legendary Velvet Hammer Burlesque. According to many performers I’ve interviewed, the year 2001 was pivotal in the development of the now booming burlesque revival, mostly due to the first Tease-O-Rama. Being that you’ve been not only a witness to but a participant of both the L.A. and New York burlesque scenes for arguably the entire burlesque revival, I’m curious about your take on how burlesque has evolved in the last decade.
You’re correct, I didn’t actively participate until 2001. The ladies (and gents) in the Velvet Hammer were friends of mine, I’d been seeing their show for years and had been going to their personal side projects as well. I didn’t get involved until they were accepted to perform at Tease-O-Rama in New Orleans and they staged a benefit to raise travel funds. Augusta, my girlfriend at the time decided that documenting the Velvet Hammer would be a fun project and a good excuse to go to New Orleans. The project expanded to a few years of work and ended up as a feature length documentary, “The Velvet Hammer Burlesque.” It was in New Orleans that we became close to the Velvet Hammer’s ‘sister’ troupe, the Va Va Voom Room of NYC, which included Dirty Martini, Julie Atlas Muz, the World Famous *BOB*, and Miss Astrid.
In New Orleans I didn’t just shoot the Velvet Hammer and Va Va Voom Room, I shot the Lavender Cabaret, Tigger, the Pontani Sisters, Dita and Catherine, Dane’s Dames, and anyone else I thought fun. Remember, this was before digital, so there weren’t many photographers and I thought it would be good to shoot for posterity. I shot with two cameras: one loaded with black and white and one with color film. I shot boxes of film, had them processed in New Orleans and printed in Los Angeles…it was very expensive!
That show introduced regional performers to others around the country (and world) for the first time. Thanks to that, and to the online community, everyone was able to share ideas, cross promote, and take burlesque to a new level.
Before TOR everyone involved in new burlesque had a more vintage aesthetic, they appreciated the glamour and art of the past and paid tribute to those that came before. Some were just fans of the art form, some had a rockabilly or pin up background, some theatre or dance, and some had come from the tradition of stripping. After TOR there were a new crop of performers, inspired not by Blaze Starr or Tempest Storm but by Dita von Teese and Dirty Martini. Many of them stayed with burlesque got to be great performers (and got to know the history), but at the time there were a lot of people who were using burlesque to conquer their fears, build self esteem, or use it to further some personal agenda. I got to see people, working out their issues on stage in front of an indifferent crowd, on the same bill with established talent and ambitious up and comers who are headlining today.
Over the years, as burlesque became a buzzword almost synonymous with performance art, it seemed like anyone felt they could get up on stage and do burlesque or worse, teach it. The genre, as a traditional American folk art, seemed to get lost and the quality was diluted. As time has passed that is happening less, and a lot of the participants who have stuck with it have improved to the point where I am in awe of some of their accomplishments. The reputable teachers have outlasted the less qualified, and have genuine respect and camaraderie for each other.
My focus has always been on documenting burlesque, archiving the history as it is made. I’m curious what direction it will take, and how it will evolve, but I like my role as a passive observer. I know that some of my work has inspired others, and my involvement with some events and groups has helped keep burlesque alive, but other than that my interest is in seeing where others take it. Christopher Isherwood, one of my favorite authors (and another inspiration) wrote in Goodbye to Berlin, “I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking,” and I feel that is an appropriate motto for a documentarian. As a photographer, I will always still have my own personal style, but as a witness to burlesque as a subject I like to stand back and see what happens. I’m involved with the movement, but I can’t control where it goes.
I’ve always been impressed by how genuine your backstage burlesque photos are – how candid they are and the apparent level of comfort between the subject and the shooter. What’s the secret to capturing that essence? Or rather, as a photographer, what are your suggestions on how to ensure that the subject is comfortable enough to produce a genuine shot?
There’s no secret. A reputation as someone who respects performers is the best way to get the kind of shots that I do. The community is really small, and someone who is disrespectful usually isn’t tolerated. I rarely shoot backstage unless I’m asked, or happen to be there and see something worth documenting. For the novice, make sure you have permission, be prepared to stop shooting the moment you are told, and keep any promises you make.
In most cases, I am just taking pictures of my friends backstage, and they are already comfortable with me. It’s years of mutual feeling, and it’s why I don’t usually shoot people I don’t know. If I do, I usually ask permission, and in many cases either the producer or one of the other performers introduces me, but if I don’t see that level of comfort in a person’s eyes I don’t take the shot.
Burlesque people are always confident and self aware, so they are comfortable with who they are already, and are used to having cameras around. As a photographer I don’t have to deal with insecurities or pampering that you might need to do for someone else. However, through experience I am also aware of which performers do not want photos taken until they are in full make up, or when a backstage area is too crowded for me, or when some external situation may be causing tension backstage.
Over the years you’ve chronicled tons of important BHOF figures and events. What have been some of your most memorable moments as a participant? What about the most challenging moments for you as a shooter?
Shooting film was always the most challenging, you had to be experienced to know how a particular image would look when it was developed and printed, and any situation with low light was a challenge, particularly at live events where I didn’t get a second chance for a shot. An example is the Velvet Hammer Burlesque show at the El Rey Theatre November 2001, which had the Va Va Voom Room as guest performers and Miss Astrid as host. I’d watched the rehearsals. I wanted a crowd shot and positioned myself to the side of the runway, waiting for the moment when Michelle Carr would walk to the middle and be cross-lit by the follow spot and backlights. I knew when I took the shot that it would be a favorite. A shot I like looking up at Kitten de Ville at an outdoor show was similar…I put myself in the right place and waited for the right time.
Digital changed all that, but I still rely on my experience with film to get good shots without needing to fix them later. One of my first digital shoots was of Julie Atlas Muz as a mermaid in the saltwater aquarium behind the bar at the Coral Room. I had to climb above the tank to set up lighting gear to create shafts of light that would illuminate her and the fish that swam around her. I’m really proud of that shoot.
Most of my favorite shots, though, are the studio portraits I’ve done. Usually they are for promotion and publicity, but after we get what we need I like to experiment and challenge myself, working at odd angles or with dramatic lighting to get a particular effect. Those are often the most rewarding, and most fun.
I was interested to read about a project you worked on for years (are still working on?) which is inspired by E.J. Bellocq’s 1912 book of New Orleans bordello photography. You mentioned wanting to one day turn it into a book, and I wondered, do you still hope to do that?
I did that for over a year and would still love to get back to it full time but real work has gotten me a bit distracted. I have tons of negatives from that project, and would love to shoot more, but since it’s a personal project I don’t have a deadline to force me to commit to it. That project was and still is shot entirely on film; the goal is to someday print it as a portfolio book but without ever going through a digital medium, although now that may be cost prohibitive. There are fewer and fewer labs today that print directly from negatives, so I plan someday to learn platinum and palladium printing. I still shoot for the project when I get time, and if anyone wants to participate and is in NY or LA, let me know.
Do you have any stories about any ridiculous set up that was necessary in order to pull off the perfect shot?
There aren’t any situations that I would call ridiculous to get a perfect shot, but I’ve been in plenty that others may consider ridiculous. For years I’ve been shooting burlesque Mexican wrestlers at Lucha Va Voom around the country. I’ve been doing it for so long the safety guys know me and know that I’ve got experience. I’ve gotten to get a feeling for when the best shot might present itself, and often that means putting myself in a precarious position ringside close to the action. I’ve had them land very close to me and some of them land outside the ring right beside me! I’ve seen photographers next to me get kicked in the head (or worse, the camera) and have even seen wrestlers land on them. But I never fool with my own safety, I can anticipate when to get the right shot, or what last possible moment I can stay in one place without getting hurt. The only disappointing time is when I need to be in certain place and I see someone else already there, getting the shot instead of me.
I suppose one kind of ridiculous job was when my friends Ron Lynch and Craig Anton had their show “The Idiots.” There was a point early on in the script where they shake hands and smile at the audience like a photo op. I don’t use flash when I shoot live shows, but they asked me to stand up and take their picture with a flash when they shook hands, so I became part of the show.
Many who only know you as a burlesque photographer might be surprised to learn that you’ve been a professional camera assistant and lighting technician for film and television for the last twenty years! Could you share some of your career highlights for our readers to give them a sense of the scope of your work?
Most of my credits are on IMDB, if anyone is actually interested in my resume. My very first job in Hollywood was camera work for a documentary about the Ed Wood film, “Plan 9 From Outer Space.” I got to meet everyone associated with Plan 9 who was still alive, and have great memories of Maila Nurmi, aka Vampira.
I worked a lot in TV, lighting shows like The Shield, Malcolm in the Middle, and others, as well as lots of feature films, both low budget indies and big budget blockbusters. I spent six months on B unit for “Deep Impact.” I was on the lighting team for “Memento,” and one of the only crew members to be on the show from the first day to the last, and it all shot close to my apartment, so that was a big plus.
Besides having friends who helped start the burlesque revival, I have also been friends with a lot of people who are actors and writers in Los Angeles, and much of my favorite work has been collaborating with them. I’ve shot short films with and taken portraits of people who later went on to do work on Mr. Show, The Simpsons, Carnivale, and some amazing shows. If I wanted to be a writer or performer I would have great connections!
Do you have any plans to do a retrospective of your work or anything of that nature?
I’ve thought about it, but every so often I’m asked to show work in a gallery or group show and that works just as well for me. I’ve also realized that curating my own work would be a full time job and I’m too close to it; I would need someone else to come in and do the actual labor. Maybe someday I’ll compile all the projects into compendiums and publish them individually, but since I feel I’m still involved with my subjects a retrospective wouldn’t be complete. Anything I would do would have to be of an incomplete, work-so-far nature.
I’ve shot literally thousands of photos since Michelle Baldwin’s book “Burlesque and the New Bump-n-Grind” was published, but if someone wants to see the type of work I was doing then that has a lot of my shots and is pretty comprehensive. Anyone who wants to know the origins of new burlesque should read it anyway; it’s a great primer.
What’s next for Don Spiro?
I’m working on a new documentary for a Los Angeles production company and that is full time. In addition, four years ago my fiancé Diane and I started a monthly hot jazz club called Wit’s End at a former speakeasy in Manhattan; I’ve gotten to know a lot of great jazz musicians as a result. As a labor of love, I’m also editing Zelda Magazine, which Diane started two years ago that celebrates the jazz age and vintage lifestyles. Because of Zelda Diane interviewed and I was able to conduct the last photo shoot with Doris Eaton, the last living Ziegfeld Girl, just weeks before she passed away. She was 106, lovely, and had a better memory than I do now.
I don’t shoot much weekly burlesque anymore unless I’m asked, there are so many people shooting I feel I don’t need to anymore. They days of being the only one taking pictures at a show are gone. My main interest is in the Burlesque Hall of Fame and the New York Burlesque Fest, and those jobs also entail helping coordinate photography policies as well as shooting the events. I’m also looking forward to the next Tease-O-Rama, because that show originally opened my eyes to burlesque as a world-wide phenomenon.
Anything you’d like to add?
We’re reinventing the wheel with burlesque. We’re taking a great art form and recreating it for modern audiences and sensibilities, but the aspects that make burlesque unique have a direct line to the past. You can’t have a general definition of burlesque anymore than you can any other art that lasts, but like jazz it has definable eras. Burlesque in the 30s was different from burlesque in the 50s, or 70s, and today it’s certainly not the same as it was in the 1880s. We know this because we can look at ephemera, posters, photos, and read stories and articles about it. With the internet this has gotten easier, but a lot of the past is disappearing, so documenting and archiving is necessary now. I’m hoping the Burlesque Hall of Fame can eventually fulfill the vision of Jennie Lee and be a true museum. Just as live events keep burlesque alive as living history, seeing a clear vision for the Hall of Fame as an ongoing non-profit repository of burlesque is important to me.
Elsa Quarsell, photographer behind the new book The Domestic Burlesque, talks burlesque around the world, self-publishing, and traveling.
Q: Though Swedish born, London has been your home since 1999, and where you have made a name for yourself as an editorial and fashion photographer. Your new book, The Domestic Burlesque seems to stray, in content at least, from the majority of your work for clients such as The Sunday Times, The Guardian, The Independent, and Vogue.
Do you strive, as so many photographers do, to separate your “professional” work (meaning client commissioned) work from your “personal” work? Is it possible to be equally passionate about both?
No I don’t but I’ve noticed that you easily get pigeon holed. Now that people know my personal work I tend to get more work related to burlesque. But I really enjoy the variety of the work I do. It keeps it interesting. I love it all.
Q: How did you first become involved or intrigued by the world of burlesque?
I’ve been going to 50′s and 60′s club for years as I love the music and style. They started having burlesque performances in one of those clubs and I thought it looked like a lot of fun so I started to research it and found lots of great performers that I wanted to photograph.
Q: How was The Domestic Burlesque born? Why choose to shoot performers in their homes?
I had no interest in shooting in a venue where it’s all about the show and the stage character. I wanted to get a picture that showed a bit more of the person behind the character and I also thought it could be quite humorous. It started as a small project with the goal of having an exhibition but it grew bigger and bigger and BIGGER!
Q: What are some of your favorite behind the scenes memories from the shooting of the book?
When I shot Cha Cha Boom Boom (the girl covered in Nivea creme and feathers) she had quite a few builders on scaffolding right outside her windows…we had to tape up fabric in front. I would have liked to see their faces had the fabric fallen down!It was a really funny shoot to do, quite bizarre.
Tokyo was great as I had never been before and it was a very interesting experience. Going to peoples’ homes in cities you haven’t been before is the best way of getting to know the city. It was really interesting to see how people live over there (and everywhere else too). I often spent a bit more time with the performers; I’d stay for lunch or dinner and got properly introduced to Japanese culture.
Q: The project took you traveling literally around the world, and took two years to complete. Can you walk us through the logistics of such a project? How did you find and choose the performers you wanted to shoot without being intimately aware of the local burlesque scene in each community? Were you looking for “the biggest names” or the “most interesting stories” or come other combination of factors?
I looked at flyers and websites for big shows and festivals to see who was performing in the different cities and who the big names were. Performers often suggested other performers too. I did all the interviews after so didn’t know about the most interesting stories. It was often a particular routine that caught my interest. For example, I saw a photo of Nasty Canasta somewhere doing the act in the photo ‘The Unknown Stripper’ and I thought that’s hilarious, I have to photograph her. And when I heard about Honey Wilde’s Margaret Thatcher act I thought ‘I’ve got to have her in the book’!
I would have loved to go to Seattle, Las Vegas and California as well as there are a lot of great performers over there but I just couldn’t afford going everywhere and I had to limit the size of project somehow. Maybe in a second volume….
Q: How did you manage to research and finance such a major undertaking? Did you seek to work with a publishing house originally, or was the book always to be self-published? What are the pros and cons of each route?
I’ve basically spent ALL my money on this project. I did try and get a publisher in the beginning and they all seemed to like the pictures but didn’t want to take the risk…or burlesque didn’t fit in with them. It was far from finished then and when I finally finished it I was so eager to get it out and didn’t want to wait another 1-2 years for a publisher. I had one publisher on board that was really enthusiastic and wanted it printed quickly but one day he just disappeared from earth….and I decided to self publish. It’s been fun doing it all myself and I’ve learned a lot, but it’s also incredibly hard. A lot of shops only buy from bigger publishers so getting the work out there has proved hard. You could all help by asking for it in your local book shop!
Q: Were there any notable observations you made regarding burlesque in different countries? Does the scene in Tokyo vary greatly from the European scene? What about New York and Texas? Are there larger observations to be made regarding sexuality or femininity in each culture?
The scene in Tokyo is pretty small and many performers come from a belly dancing background. Burlesque is not as accepted over there. But the performers I met are amazing performers, all working hard on making burlesque big in Japan. And they are all so full of energy, it’s all about happiness and laughter, like Coppelia said, “Colorful is happy!”
The New York scene is absolutely crazy, quite extreme and so funny! I had such a good time there!
Q: Walk us through your process once you met the performer, often for the first time on the day of the shoot. How much of the posing is directed by you and how much is the performers?
I would normally arrive, have a look at the different outfits and decide what would work and where. I would give a few directions of what I wanted and we would try a couple of different things. Mostly directed by me but sometimes it was a joint effort.
Q: Seeing as this is the January Issue, we have to ask: What are your New Year’s Resolutions?
To work as hard as I possibly can, promote the book, start a new project and get an agent in Berlin! I’d like to move there before the end of the year!
What happens when two guys from the horror industry, Travis McGee & Brandon Barnett, collaborate with photography and scene painter H James Hoff, and make-up artists Ladonna Stein & Amber Downs? The end result is Brutal Beauties, a pet project of Brutal Industries. We asked them to create a vintage inspired fashion spread for our Halloween Issue. The results were breath taking.
Molly Crabapple, the founder of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, took time out from her ridiculously busy schedule to talk divine mindlessness, Manet’s Olympia, maximalist aesthetics, hillbilly angels, guys with machine guns, and absinthe.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
You’re the founder of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, which now has more than 100 drawing salons throughout the world. Exactly how many Dr. Sketchy’s schools are there at current count? What first gave you the idea to mix cabaret/burlesque with art and drinking games, and did you ever imagine it would grow to the extent that it has?
Right now there are 130 Dr. Sketchy’s making trouble around the world. When I thought up the idea as a broke art school dropout and former artists model, I wanted to fuse my passions for drawing and burlesque, but I had no idea that it would ever grow into this giant art octopus. We’re on 5 continents, in cities from Akron to Zagreb, and have done everything from illegal flashmobs to parties at the Museum of Modern Art.
I’m very interested in one of your current projects, called “Molly Crabapple’s Week in Hell,” in which you plan to lock yourself inside a rented room for 5 days, completely cover the walls in paper and subsequently cover all the paper with your art. The entire process will be documented by photographer Steve Prue and the resulting materials will become a book of the same name. You’ve stated that your goal is to leave your studio and comfort zone and test your limits as an artist. What expectations do you have of this event?
I’m turning 28 in a few months, and wanted to kind of say goodbye to a period in my career. I didn’t have a particularly easy start to my career, and I got a lot of blowback, both for being a young woman and for having worked in the naked girl industry. It left me with sort of a chip on my shoulder. I wanted to do something hard and definitive to say goodbye to that. I was talking with Warren Ellis, and had conceived of a very art wanky impossible to fund project, when he said “No. Just rent a room. Cover it in paper. Fill it with art.” So that’s what I’m doing. I don’t know what will happen, except the sort of divine mindlessness you get when you draw way too much.
You recently spoke at a panel about women, muses and paintings at the Brooklyn Museum. You mentioned that your favorite work, Olympia by Manet, would likely be the focus of your discussion. I’d love to hear about your thoughts on the piece and why it’s your favorite.
Olympia is fuck-you confrontation in a pearly pink package. The painting is of a famous courtesan, lying there, surrounded by her servant and all the luxury her business has earned her, staring at the viewer with these cold, impermeable eyes. ”I dare you to judge me.” It was rejected from the Salon, and the reason why was that the guys visiting it would have slept with her, and there she’d be, looking at them hard from the canvas.
You learned to draw in a bookstore in Paris. I’d like to know more about that experience and how you ended up there.
When I was 17, I was lucky enough to take off for Europe, and stumbled across Shakespeare and Company bookstore. The legendary owner, George Whitman, saw me sketching outside and invited me to live there, along with the Tumbleweeds, a ragged, international group of poets and musicians that slept on the velvet covered couches. It was one of the finest times of my life. Seeing a grandly generous art endeavor like that last 50+ years (in fact, it’s still around, under the leadership of his daughter Sylvia), is deeply fucking inspiring.
You appear to be fascinated by Victorian and Rococo fashions, and you mention that artifice is your favorite subject. Tell us about your feelings on those topics and the notion of beauty as a mask.
I love both of those time periods of their maximalist aesthetics that hid an almost insane cruelty. Sores under velvet patches, all of that. I came of age amongst underground performers- strippers, drag queens, burlesque girls, whose self-willed, and self -created beauty, was more interesting to me than that of any fashion model.
I started performing burlesque when I was 20, and kept at it till I was 24. While I did quite enjoy it, I was never very good.
You illustrate “Puppet Makers,” a DC Digital graphic novel described as a steampunk saga, which is currently in its third issue. You also have the graphic novel “Straw House” coming out in 2013, and if I read correctly, it’s about immortal carnies in the fifties. Please explain a little more about that project, as it sounds fascinating!
Straw House is the story of an immortal carnival that descends upon a small Appalachian town. When ringmaster Al Kelly decides he’s looking for an heir, the resulting struggle will tear the carnival, and the town, apart. It’s about love, family, rock and roll, and a gang of hillbilly angels. I’m doing it with my constant collaborator John Leavitt. We really hope we do a good job.
I saw a brief mention on your website of a stint in Turkish jail. Seriously? Do tell!
It was 3 hours because I was drawing in the South East and probably looking dopey. The Jandarma were nice, but a group of guys with machine guns not letting you leave is scary.
You describe your art as “if Dr. Seuss backtracked through the time-space continuum and commissioned Toulouse-Lautrec to reimagine his storybooks.” From where else do you draw your inspiration?
Drunk bullshit sessions with friends, the London student riots, depraved nightclubs, underground performers, the scratch an ink pen makes going across cold press paper.
You’re notoriously mad about absinthe, so I’d like to know, what are the best and worst absinthe-drinking experiences that you’ve had?
Best? Probably my party on Tuesday, swigging it from the bottle, while pink haired rockstar Kim Boekbinder stood atop by flat files and played me “Absinthe makes my heart grow greener.”
Worst? Night train from Budapest to Paris. It was still illegal in most of the EU, and I shared the car with a Japanese kid who was smuggling it in. As soon as the Austrian border police left we drank it all like monkeys. Ended up in English garden in Munich with him, and have no idea how…
Anything you’d like to add?
Work hard, make friends, and don’t give up.
Kellyn Willey, owner of Pin-Up Girl Cosmetics, talks poorly blended foundation, places to visit in Atlanta, grapeseed oil, human disco balls, and owning a business before she owned a car.
Q: Pin-Up Girl Cosmetics is a full concept unlike any we’ve seen in the country. You have a storefront location, with regular business hours, and on site photographers, make-up artists, and stylists, in addition to a retro clothing boutique. How was the idea born in 2006, and was there a “model concept” or “model store” to look to for inspiration?
There was no model for the shop. The original owner was an extremely gifted makeup artist and hair dresser. She wanted to have her own shop where she could express her talents. Eventually she met up with an equally gifted female photographer and opened the shop together in June 2006. It was just 2 talented young women expressing their creativity and passion of vintage culture and fashion.
Q: Your site mentions that the pin-up shoots were almost an afterthought, to document the fabulous makeovers, and now you have three full time photographers on premises! Tell us about the evolution of that aspect of the business.
Yes, in the beginning the first owner just wanted to have a cosmetic boutique but then she met, who would be her co-owner, a local female photographer and they decided to join forces and make a store front together. Now, in our new location, photo shoots compete with the cosmetic services, but the shots win with a few steps ahead.
Q: How did you go from “working at the shop in 2007” to “proud owner in 2009”?
Well I was hired in November 2007 as a makeup artist but predominately a shop girl: just very simple tasks with little to no real responsibility. Then the owner decided to go in a different direction when she realized that I was also a budding photographer and graphic designer. She cut the staff back 3 months after hiring me and made me store manager. Then by the end of the summer, we moved the shop out of Little 5 Points to Grant Park due to issues with our original landlord. It was the best thing we could have done. Eventually after a few months of being in our new shop home, the owner told me she was feeling overwhelmed by running the shop and taking care of her new baby, not to mention to the global recession being upon us all. She asked me if I wanted to be the owner…I said no way! I’m only 23 years old and I don’t even own my car!
Eventually I realized that if I wanted to keep the ONLY job I’ve ever loved and ever been good at, I was going to have to own it. So, in late July 09, she signed the entire company over to me. It was so terrifying and I had no idea what I was doing in the beginning…except pay the bills on time and advertise online. But with the support of my staff, family and friends and a lot of praying and midnight panic attacks, it all panned out over time.
Q: Your shop has recently tripled in size from its original location, and is now located in the hipster paradise that is Grant Park (Atlanta’s largest historic neighborhood), and become the “talk of the town”. What are passerby’s reactions to the entire pin-up thing? Have you noticed an increase in folks familiar with, and inspired by, the look recently? Do you ever get walk-ins?
Oh yeah the neighbors really were shocked when they first saw us…they still are. Oversized paintings of nude women hang in our pink and red store front with corsets and stockings lining the walls. We’ve heard it all before, “What is this place? What kind of pictures do you take? What the hell is a Pin-up girl?”
We have many walk-ins every month, typically clients getting their brows done or shopping and then we have the Frequent Flyers! These are our clients who get multiple services a year…over several years. We have about 4 die-hard ones who are moving into their 8th and 10th shoots since 2007. It’s pretty incredible to have support like that in a business that’s not considered a necessity but a luxury. Not to mention having our newest addition to the Pin Up Girl family, “Lucky Starr” a fantastic vintage clothing and accessory boutique. Christine Starr Cookus is the brilliant owner and she was one of my clients years ago when we first moved into the Grant Park space. Christine is a breath of fresh air to our business, bringing with her tons of new clients and a positive attitude. She has only been with us a month and I can’t imagine the shop without her. Groupon has also brought us boat loads of new clients…219 new faces in 24 hours to be exact! We’re very blessed and more than thankful.
Q: In fact, you’ve been getting so much attention that you we’re named “Critics Pick- The Best Reason to Dolled Up” in the Best of Atlanta 2009 Issue of Creative Loafing. What was your reaction?
To be honest, I cried. I had only owned the shop for 3 months and was stressed all the time due to low revenue from the recession. I remember that day so well. My best friend, Shellie called me up about 7am screaming, “You made the Best of 09!!!” I didn’t even know what she was talking about. I remember people voting for it online, but everything those early months was a blur. Then she emailed me the link…and I almost died. I felt like we won an Oscar, and in a way we had. It’s such an honor. I was and am still so proud of that. My staff deserved it for all the long hours they put in every week. They’re so patient and passionate.
Q: On your list of services you also include theatrical and special effects make-up. That’s unusual! Were you or Kiah [Kiah Clark is the other make-up artist at PG!] formally trained in make-up, or are you all self taught?
Kiah and I both studied makeup under our perspective high schools. Theatrical makeup is something we do in our freetime…when we have it. Kiah does make-up for the local Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Plaza Theatre here in town when she has the chance. While I’ve done dozens of local, independent films and photo shoots with special effects makeup like zombies, severe bruising and gashes. Yes, we are self-taught and we have learned a lot of techniques from other makeup artists from around the region.
I would never call myself a special effect makeup artist, but I do believe a true makeup artist can pick up any cosmetic tool or product and figure out how to apply to any skin type in a matter of moments. I’ve done so many crazy makeup applications from making someone into a human disco ball, pageant and drag queen makeup to making myself appear as a zombie with buckets of blood pouring out of my mouth. I love it all!
Q: What are your biggest make-up or pet peeves, or common make-up mistakes?
Poorly matched and blended foundation….Yuck! A bad quality foundation whether it’s a powder, cream or liquid, is even worse when not blended into the face a neck well. If it doesn’t match your skin it can make you look old and dry to say the least. My favorite trick to well-blended foundation is to apply the makeup to your whole face with a brush our sponge then use your hands to blend the makeup into your neck and edges along your hairline and ears.
Too much undereye liner gets annoying to me too. Unless you have HUGE eyes, it can make you look decades older and tired. Try applying a small amount of liner to the inner bottom lid by your bottom lashes on the outside corner. Add a bit heavier of a stroke on the farthest outside point of that line wear your eye ends for added drama. You can even do the same technique on the top lid. It’s very Sofia Loren!
Q: What are your five favorite specific beauty products?
1) A great moisturizer! At our shop we love blending aloe vera gel and grapeseed oil as our face moisturizer. Grapeseed oil is packed with antioxidants, has natural SPF 15 protection, is closest to the oils your face produces and is a very neutral/mild emollient great for all skin types PLUS extremely affordable. If you have the drier or more mature skin, add more grapeseed oil. If you have oilier skin, use more aloe vera. Always moisturize when you have freshly washed skin that is still damp. You only need a nickel size amount of this moisturizing blend.
2) All-natural lip balm! It’s a secret to the perfect lipstick/gloss application. My favorite is Burt’s Bees original formula. Dry lips make you look dull, dehydrate and yes, old; all things we fear as women. Many lip products are made with mineral oils, parabens, alcohols and other petro-based ingredients and they only moisturize temporarily. I apply lip balm 3-5 minutes before I apply my lipstick and I make sure to bloat of any extra balm I have before I apply the lip color to ensure a lasting application.
3) A truly dramatic mascara! I don’t leave the house without it! There are so many great brands out there I can’t name them all, but I’m wearing Rimmel’s Glam’ Eyes Flirt lately and I love it. My old tried and true favorite is Physician’s Formula Plump Potion mascara. Try a heated lash curler AFTER you apply your mascara for even more drama. They really work and your lashes stay curler ALL DAY! Mine has a silicon strip instead of a metallic, bristly wand, and I can sanitize it after ever use. It was less than $10 from Ardell at Ulta.
4) A fantastic red lipstick! I fought red lipstick for years until I found PinUpGirl! I didn’t believe that it would look good against my dark skin. But I soon realized that it looks incredible on all skin types and ages, you just have to find the shade last works best on you. Cooler tones, like a more blue-based red, look better on fairer tones: think of red like a deep candy apple red. If you have darker skin tones, try a warmer red with more yellow tones like Coca-Cola red with a darker red or even a plum/ violet lipliner. ALWAYS line your lips first when applying a red lip. If not, it can bleed, feather and make your lips appear smaller than they truly are. For that true retro pout, heavily line the 3-dimentional line of your lip (slightly outside) and feather in the liner then apply the red and blend with a lip brush. Our favorite red are the ones we sell in the shop through our private label but MAC has some incredible shades especially in the Pro Longwear LipCreme shades!
5) A great teeth whitening system! It’s more affordable than you think. So many of us love lipsticks, especially those luscious reds and a bright, white smile will make all the difference in that sexy kisser of yours. I recommend a pre-brush whitening rinse, then a whitening tooth paste with fluoride using a good electric tooth brush (Oral-B makes the one I use and it’s less than $30..I’ve had mine for 4 years), a post-rinse with great restorative properties like enamel strengtheners to keep your teeth in shape and they even have whitening floss to brighten up in between your teeth. I guess I’m obsessed with pearly whites…but it’s a great way to always look your best without wearing a stitch of makeup!
Q: In just a matter of weeks, Atlanta will be filled with tourists checking out the Southern Fried Burlesque Festival. If you could only recommend five places to visit while there, what are your picks for vintage minded visitors?
1) The Starlight Drive-In on Moreland Ave. It’s worth the drive to enjoy a great movie under the stars with your honey. Sometimes you can even catch a retro flick if you review their schedule.
2) The Clermont Lounge on Ponce It’s where strippers go to die and party before they hit the ground. Yes, I just said that This is a must-see experience that EVERYONE (over 21) has to partake of. Not for the faint of heart. Seriously, it’s a blast, especially on Karaoke night!!!
3) Holy Taco on Glenwood Ave Some of the absolute best flash mural designing in the city, incredible cocktails and the food is truly amazing! I LOVE GREAT Mexican food and this place has INCREDIBLE Mexican food!!! I have had many a mid-day margarita there and I’m looking forward to my next!
4) Liberty Tattoo on Ponce or Grant Park If you need to bleed, you’ve come to the right place! Just ask for Shay or Kaki or anyone holding a tattoo needle for that matter. Tell ‘em Kellyn sent you!
5) Anything in Little 5 Points I can’t list everything I love in Little 5 because there is so much but stop in Libertine for awesome accessories plus cosmetics, the Porter for their Belgian fries and a Lemon Gingerade (my favorite combo), Stefan’s for some hard-to-find vintage apparel, and Rag-O-Rama for great second-hand trends and finds!
Atlanta based conceptual photographer Dangerously Dolly talks signature styles, copycats, and being overly optimistic.
Interview: Shoshana Photos: Dangerously Dolly
Q: Your bio mentions after years of experience with post production, at 23 you made the switch to focusing on your own projects and shooting. What was your previous gig, and how hard was the transition to being self-employed?
My previous gig was simply being a kid, but I took an interest in web graphics and design at 12 years of age. Being a self-employed photographer is really hard because you need to make it all happen. It takes a lot of marketing skills on top of the list of skills you need to simply be a photographer.
Q: Are you formally educated in photography (lighting, shooting, and post) or self-taught, more trial by fire? What are your thoughts on the two camps?
Self-taught is the way to be. No one should be taught by an instructor on how to create art. It’s in your blood!
Q: Tell us about the early days. What was your first shoot?
My first little shoot was with my little sister. I had finally gotten my first camera and was eager to play around with it. My first shoot with someone else was actually shot in a dirty motel room, haha! As wrong as it sounds, at least she wasn’t naked. I still love those pictures, but I’ve come a long way since then.
Q: How did you evolve to finding your own conceptual & high key style?
As I was getting into the whole pin-up scene, I realized as much I loved it, I couldn’t find a true create outlet through it. I was doing what others wanted to do and wasn’t really doing what I was capable of doing. My move away from pin-up and into a more alternative pin-up style which would be more of what someone considers “my signature,” I suppose, was when another photographer would accuse me of taking their ideas, when all I would be doing is referencing from the 1920′s-1960′s. I don’t understand how someone could point their fingers on something that has already been done time and time again. Of course shortly after my move away from that, it was like a breath of fresh air. The pictures I take might not be a true representation of what pin-up is, however I combine and mix all the spices together. I take a little from everything I like.
Although the pin-up photography world is large but still pretty small (if that makes any sense,) I would like to say that I do not involve myself in others business, or try to sabotage any kind of opportunities for anybody. I’ve had a real rough time with things like that and I’ve never understood why people like to pick wars on each other, for whatever reason. To be honest, it looks unprofessional. With that in mind, I stay to myself, I respect people, I keep it professional, and just simply ignore people I am aware of that like to create problems for others. I didn’t get into this to be stepped on or to further find misery sitting next to me. Photography should always be a fun and exciting thing, even when you’re hard at work.
Q: What is your favorite specific piece of equipment?
My computer, all the way. For too many reasons I can’t even list!
Q: There’s a quote on your site that says, “After investing in my shoot with DD my bookings went from unpaid work to paid work. She has a way with images that make people want to stop and look. Not only did I receive quality images worthy of my portfolio, I also received them in a timely manner! She doesn’t take pictures she creates art! “— BillieJo
What is your advice for gals who are looking to break into pin-up modeling?
If you want to be a pin-up model, just go for it. Don’t be nervous, don’t think you can’t do it because you can. The best way to start something is ALWAYS with a positive attitude.
Q: Think of the models you love to work with, your muses. What qualities do they possess that make you want to work with them over and over?
A good connection is first, and being able to be open with my ideas, because that’s extremely important. If I don’t see a little bit of me in the picture, then there’s no Dangerously Dolly.
Q: What does the future hold for Dangerous Dolly?
I truly dislike being overly optimistic, but I really do see something big coming my way, I don’t know what it is exactly, but all I do know is that I pray it’s not a train or a bus because I have a lot left to accomplish and a lot to offer to many, many people. The best thing would be is to remain positive, and look forward to whatever great and amazing things may come out of my project.