Bailey is part of a new generation of photographers who devote the bulk of their practices to capturing drag. Magnus Hastings has photographed so many queens that he is the “unofficial-official” drag photographer. Gregory Kramer shoots elegant black-and-white portraits against seamless backdrops.
is a drag comedian who, in 5,000 pictures
, captured just a slice of New York’s drag scene in the 1990s. But Bailey’s pictures are raw snapshots of pop culture. What’s more, his behind-the-scenes shots seem to satisfy the public’s curiosity for what happens when drag performers aren’t onstage, beyond what goes into the dramatic makeup-and-wig transformations. “I get to go to places that [fans] don’t,” he noted of his access.
A drag queen, a photographer, and a pop star walk into a restroom. Though that may sound like the opening line of a raunchy joke, it was the setting for one of Bailey’s images. The drag queen’s name is Raja; Bailey is the photographer; and “the surreal bit for me,” Bailey explained, is that “Adam Lambert was there.” The trio was at the historic nerve center of queer nightlife, a club in London’s Camden district called the Black Cap, before it closed in 2015. As Bailey recalled, following a bomb scare, the trio was locked in the dressing room as a precaution. The dressing room led to the restroom, which led to a fire escape. Raja sat in the men’s bathroom, smoking; click, Bailey took a photo.
“Obviously you know nothing about [the backstory] from looking at the image,” Bailey said. In the picture, Raja wears a decadently ornamented pair of glasses that obscures her face. Her fingers are dressed in brass dance nails, and they fan across her face, holding a cigarette. But the picture wouldn’t have happened without the strange sequence of events leading up to it.