Author: Deborah Nelson
Thomas Evans has spent the past eleven months working with HIVequal creating stunning photos that help fight the stigma associated with HIV. He loves that work passionately but decided to use his vacation time to create art that would take him on a different path. “The stuff that we (at HIV Equal) are doing is amazing, and it does bring me to another level, but there is another side of me that needs to be creative in my own direction,” he said.
Thomas approached Dragaholic with the idea of doing an exclusive, movement-based photo shoot in New York and, of course, we jumped on the idea. Thomas had very kindly invited me to ride on the HIV Equal float in the New York City Pride parade earlier this summer so I was fully familiar with the energy and drive he brings to his projects.
Thomas recruited fierce NYC queens Maddelynn Hatter and Adriana Le Glam to participate in the project. He also brought in stylist and designer Nick Stryker, whose “fetish couture” clothing and accessories brought that extra “omph” of flourish to the look and feel of the set. Also helping out were “eye candy” models Gregory Nalbone and Zachary Wade Daniels. My job, as I saw it, was to stay out of the way, capture some stills and videos and to make sure everyone had enough snacks and drinks. Well, also to provide overall collaborative energy and project management, and to make sure I got everyone’s phone numbers so I could interview them later.
Having seen Thomas’ boundless energy released on the streets of New York during Pride, I couldn’t wait to see what he would produce when that force field was contained within four walls. I wasn’t prepared for the supercharged energy Maddelynn and Adriana would bring as well. The results of the shoot are electrifying – the type of photos that make you want to dance, laugh, cry and go into cardiac arrest, all at once.
The name and concept of the shoot is “Aura Movement,” something that is very near and dear to Thomas’ core. “People’s aura is really important to me. Energy, the soul, the spirit is really important. I believe everybody has a soul that shines through. So it’s my job to bring that out and to show another side to people,” he explained.
This is exactly the same concept I employ in my writing. I always seek to find the cracks in the foundation and get to the real person beneath the makeup and costumes. So I knew that this collaboration was going to be a magical combination that would produce stunning results.
Drag queens can tend to be so “armored-up,” using drag to mask insecurities or to bring out an inner fierceness that they possess but are not comfortable displaying in their “everyday” looks and lives. Whether it’s through a camera lens, or a sense of observation, some chit chat and a keyboard, the challenge is to get inside, gain trust and help them feel confident and comfortable displaying the vulnerabilities that everyone has. As I have said many times in articles (paraphrasing Michelle Visage) vulnerability is the key element that makes an audience fall in love with a drag queen, be it on the runway of RuPauls Drag Race or in a photograph, an exhibit or on a website. No one likes a cold-hearted bitch. Not for long, anyway.
Thomas agrees with this philosophy but takes it to a higher level. “It’s really about showing another side of you, because every person has so many different sides and it’s up to that person to decide which side they want the viewer to see. Photography allows me to show another side of both the subject and of myself.”
One of the most enjoyable things about working with Thomas is that he loves to collaborate with both his subjects and his team. “Art is a collaboration,” he explained. “It’s not just me by myself. That’s why I love direction. Maddelynn, during the shoot, said ‘I hope it’s okay that I give suggestions.’ And I was like, “That’s exactly why we’re here, to feed off of each other.’ I live for that. Everyone feeds off of each other. Just by you saying something and being present in the moment it does energize other people around you. It brings them up.”
Thomas is a spiritual person and has been so for as long as he can remember. He has struggled with addiction in the past but has been sober for 13 years. “Using drugs brought me close to God,” he said. “Getting clean brought me even closer to God.”
In 2009 Thomas traveled to Brazil for intensive treatment from a spiritual healer. “I’ve always been a seeker,” he explained. “Asking these big questions like ‘Why are we here?'” Thomas has also struggled with anxiety in his life, which the treatment in Brazil, as well as his daily meditation practice, has helped quell.
“Meditation helps me in how I react to situations. If I completely go off the handle and act like a crazy person, that only hurts me. That doesn’t hurt anybody else. That leaves me filled with guilt and regret. I know that if I don’t react that’s the greatest revenge.
Thomas’s spirituality clearly has led him to a place where he is able to see “more” than the average person. The images from this shoot are beyond this dimension. They resonate with a vibrancy and and a 3D-like quality that feels like it is from another world. An image shows all at once several different versions – “sides” – of a subject.
Here is a full gallery of all of the images from the shoot with quotes, from both Thomas and myself, elaborating on a few of the shots. After you check out the gallery, take a look at our “behind-the-scenes” video from the “Aura Movement” shoot:
Maddelynn Hatter: “Three Faces of Maddelynn”
[quote]Thomas: When I get to know somebody and spend time with them I can get a sense of that person. For example, in Maddelyn’s picture (with the three heads) there was the good and the more anxious. Everybody has that. It’s like the committee in our head. One side is telling us to be calm and relaxed and another side is telling us to act out.”[/quote]
Maddelynn Hatter and Adriana LeGlam “Smoke Kiss”
[quote]Thomas: I personally hate smoking. My body actually rejects it. But I wanted them to do a little bit of smoking in the shots. Back in the day smoking equaled glamor and still does. There is a glamorous yet dirty vibe to both smoking and to this photo.
Deborah: I also hate smoking but I think this is a super sexy shot!”[/quote]
Maddelynn Hatter “Rainbow Glam”
[quote]Thomas: This is just a real beauty shot. Maddelynn’s skin is flawless. Her hair has another life to it. It lives on, with this energy field around her. Her hair and her eyes really pop in this picture. I’m not getting Matthew (Maddelynn’s boy name). I’m getting Maddelynn. Maddelynn is very out there and provocative and dramatic. So that’s really what’s coming through, is more of a dark, dramatic feel and vibe.”[/quote]
Maddelynn Hatter and Adriana Le Glam “Colorful Boys”
[quote]Thomas: Maddelynn and Adriana were great together. You can tell that they like and respect each other.
Deborah: I was so in love with the energy and connection between Maddelynn and Adriana. There was no awkwardness or competitiveness between them. Pure synergy.”[/quote]
Adriana Le Glam: Striking
[quote]Deborah: I met Adriana on the morning of the shoot. She was already at the studio when I arrived. We both got there really early – before Thomas! We had a good chance to chat and get to know each other, as we were the only ones there for a while. (Maddelynn was not booked to come until later in the day.)
“Adriana was in full boy clothing as Andrey (her male name) when we first met. I got to watch her completely transform into a woman. She was so open and easy to talk to. I learned so much about the process while watching her paint. She is so upbeat and really made the day fun for me and for everyone. I love the variety of looks that she brought, from full on Shangela to this complete genderfuck mind-blowing delight. Her skin is flawless too, in this photo.”[/quote]
Maddelynn Hatter: Rainbow Kickback
[quote]Deborah: To me this is the definitive shot of the project. Maddelynn has a super-charged kind of energy that really comes out when she gets into drag. Even in this laid back pose she is not still, she is vibrating with a dynamic effervescence. I think she feels and lives life more strongly than others and this photo certainly captures that quality.”[/quote]
Adriana Le Glam: Hair is Everything
[quote]Deborah:I remember how much time Adriana had to spend in front of the fan to capture these particular images. Never a complaint from her. The results are breathtaking. She’s like a warrior from a ‘Game of Thrones’ set in a future century on a different planet.”[/quote]
Maddelynn Hatter: Different Madd
[quote]Deborah: Another sickening hair shot, this time from Maddelynn. This is a completely different side of Maddelynn than the crazy redhead. With different hair and from this angle, she has a stillness and a that suggests a completely different character. She is still as intense as ever but, to me, more powerful, more in control.”[/quote]
Adriana Le Glam: Serving Pure Shangela Realness
[quote]Deborah: I actually spent several hours with Shangela just two weeks before the shoot and I really thought Shangie was back in the studio with us that day when Adriana put on this look. She is completely beautiful in this gown and I told her I wanted to wear it myself!”[/quote]
Connect with Thomas Evans on Social Media
Watch Behind The Scenes Video from the “Aura Movement” Photo Shoot
Special thanks to Matthew Jay for editing the video.