By Anthony Costello, December 2016 Issue.
If there’s anything local drag photographer Scotty Kirby excels at, it’s serving glam and high fashion with natural talent, collaboration and a little DIY attitude.
Make no mistake though, this is the winning combination that kept gals and gays gagging last year at his first-ever drag photo exhibition spectacle KIRBYGIRLS 2015, and it’s a combination that Kirby plans on bringing back and expanding upon at KIRBYGIRLS 2016 by taking drag theatrics, culture, performance and photography to the next level.
“This year is going to be a lot bigger [with] more production value. I’m doing full wall projectors for the queens to perform in front of,” Kirby said. “Last year I didn’t have a solidified concept or theme for the photos. This year is more honed in on a theme for each photo collection.”
Fourteen queens will perform on stage as Kirby debuts a new series of photos on the giant screens as well as the venue’s walls.
“I learned a lot from the last one … I over prepared too much last year, otherwise it went seamless,” said Kirby. “The biggest part of preparing for [this year] was shooting 14 girls – two photos each – and deciding what looks they’ll wear, what song they’re choosing, that sort of thing,”
Much like mama Ru of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Kirby is all about perfecting an idea and pushing his Arizona girls to the next level.
“All these photos are full-on concept shots,” Kirby said. “This year is going to be more high-fashion driven and I gave each girl an assignment to pull off.”
Kirby expressed that he wants his show to be an equal focus on his work as well as the natural talent of the queens and the performances they deliver.
“My biggest pet peeve in a lot of shows similar to this is the hosting and talking in between, which can slow down the energy of performances sometimes,” Kirby said. “This event is just about keeping the energy going with the performances … It’ll be kind of like BS West’s ‘Elements’ show, but on steroids with a 20-foot runway and spiral staircase the queens will descend from.”
Kirby broke into mainstream drag by shooting Drag Race alum and current Tucson resident Tempest DuJour for LRI Talent and Management, a company founded by “Drag Race” veteran Latrice Royale after a chance meeting in 2015 with LRI’s Senior Booking Agent and General Manager Mike Tafoya in Chicago.
“After shooting DuJour I just sort of started meeting girls from the show in other cities, and they became more familiar with my work,” Kirby said. “I developed a really close relationship with Coco Montrese and working with her opened up even more opportunities with other girls and with more assignments from LRI.”
Kirby’s work with LRI and longtime friendship with the owners of CULT Hair Studio & Spa, conveniently located in Phoenix’s Melrose District paved the way for him to finally open his own studio space – where Kirby proudly houses all of his equipment and personally hand-stitched backdrops.
“My original goal of opening a studio was simply to have my own stuff, leave it set up for convenience reasons, but it’s also been a life goal of mine,” Kirby said. “With it, I hope to be part of the gayborhood and help contribute more to the LGBTQ scene.”
Despite Kirby’s growing portfolio and increasing demand in the drag world, he still remains accessible to local drag queens, kings and regular folks, too.
“There are so many queens here that are underestimated or under looked,” he said. “I feel like doing solid, impactful photography puts them in a light for how creative they are. Like, ‘Check out this girl she’s from Arizona, she’s doing this cool, unique thing with her drag.’ It’s cool to be a part of someone’s art and helping them out with it.”
Kirby feels that his accessibility and collaborative nature while working with his subjects is what strengthens his craft.
“A lot of photographers know what they want to do and execute it, but my creativity is better enhanced by the collaboration aspect,” he said. “I’ll always be the first to say I don’t like an idea, or a particular concept the minute I feel it and the queen, king or model will say the same back to me when they feel that way.”
Close friend and burgeoning Arizona drag queen Piper M’Shay, who Kirby shot for an Ariana Grande/1980s Katy Perry-like photoshoot to help properly break in his new studio, personally attested to Kirby’s work ethic.
“Working with Scotty forced me to become more aware of my style, what I contribute to the Arizona community and what makes me … Piper,” M’Shay said. “When I come up with a new photo idea, whether it’s a specific look or conceptually, or just an era of my drag I want to set in stone, Scotty works with me to get it and we nail it every time.”
For M’Shay, who performed at KIRBYGIRLS 2015, it makes a world of difference.
“I loved being a part of the first [event] because it was a creative endeavor. It was Scotty’s baby, but he would still come to all of us and ask us for thoughts and opinions on what we wanted, the flow of the show, what the audience might want to see,” M’Shay said. “We all get along, respect each other and work together creatively. Hopefully that’s something that is communicated in our performances.”
Lip Service with Piper M’Shay
Echo caught up with Piper M'Shay, one of the original KIRBYGIRLS, to get a queen's perspective on how Scotty Kirby's work is bridging the gap between celebrity drag culture and local drag stars, and here's what she had to say.
Echo: Is “RuPaul’s Drag Race” ruining the experience for regular drag queens by creating a status quo culture of celebrity drag queens?
M’Shay: I agree and disagree. I agree because so many people copy what they see. They want to be a copy of this character they see on television and not be their authentic selves, which is what drag is really about. It’s hard not to be compared to people on TV when you have your own style. But I disagree too because I started in the generation that happened after drag race. Because it’s so current, it makes it easier for us to do what we want to do, because they’re (the public) familiarizing themselves with it, think it’s cool and supporting us in turn by coming to our shows. It’s a tough call to make, but it’s doing more good than harm.
Echo: Do you feel that Scotty's work helps close the divide between celebrity drag and local, upcoming queens by providing an equal opportunity for queens to bring attention to their art?
M’Shay: It’s cool that he’s more accessible to local queens, helping make us more visible, but it’s also great for him to expand and develop his own brand. It reminds us that, at the end of the day, we’re all doing the same thing – working toward the same goal and expressing our art in different mediums. So, in a sense, yeah, he’s closing that gap.