Scene photographer Chris Jepson, the Admiral Duncan’s management and a gaggle of gay London’s best cabaret acts have all pulled together to produce a drag calendar to help raise funds for an important HIV charity – and you buy one now, in time for Christmas! Here, Chris explains more.
Hi Chris, what’s the concept for your Admiral Duncan/Food Chain calendar?
I was shooting Boyz’s Halloween cover, which was an Admiral Duncan benefit for The Food Chain, and Karl mentioned that he had always wanted to do a fun drag charity calendar. These things usually take around three months to plan and produce but there is nothing I like more than a deadline, so I said sure, I can do that!
Where did the idea come from?
Karl and I batted around a few ideas and tried to theme each month while incorporating the character of the drag act we wanted to use. Some were easy like Cookie Monstar as a Snow Queen for January, Rose Garden for Halloween in October and Son of a Tutu for Christmas in December etc, while others took a bit more lateral thinking like Baga eating chips in a green dress for St Patrick’s Day in March, obviously!
Why The Food Chain?
The Food Chain is a great charity who exist to ensure people living with HIV in London can access the nutrition they need to get well, stay well and lead healthy, independent lives. They don’t just cook and deliver meals, but also deliver groceries, offer cookery and nutrition classes and communal eating opportunities to people living with HIV in London and their dependents. It’s great to raise money for a charity when you can actually see where it is going and the good it is doing and there are loads of opportunities if you fancy yourself as a bit of a Delia and want to get involved.
How did you pick which cabaret acts to use and how did you choose the month they’d represent?
We picked a date of Wednesday 1 November for the shoot then set up a Facebook group to ask who was interested and available from the roster of great cabaret artists that appear at the Dunky. We put forward our plans and asked if anyone had a preference for month or a specific costume, and within about four days we had a rough plan. Obviously it all changed on the day!
How did the shoot go?
Considering we only had a week to plan the whole thing it went remarkably smoothly. We had 13 shots to get in four hours and no one brought a diva attitude or ego on the day, and they all went the extra mile. We didn’t have time to plan big elaborate sets so I somewhat stupidly suggested shooting on a plain backdrop and I’d photoshop in a background after. I then literally spent the next 18 hours at the computer retouching faces, slimming waists, sourcing backgrounds and creating the calendar.
How much input did the acts have?
I had very strong ideas in my head of how I was going to light the scenes and process the images afterwards and what the backgrounds would look like. Some of the drag queens came with great costumes and ideas, others took a little more direction and we had to make it up as we went along. Luckily I have a HUGE dressing up box at home and I was able to rope in Carlo, Charles and Luca from the bar to provide a little eye candy and expose a lot of flesh.
And you seem to have discovered a brand new hot drag bitch…
Haha, yes, Karol Singer was a game old bird! When one of the acts dropped out on the day we persuaded Karl (it didn’t take much persuasion) to become Contessa Cioccolata our Easter cocoa lover. Sum Ting Wong did an amazing job on his face in just 30 minutes, we found a gown in someone’s bag, a wig in someone else’s, laced Luca in to a corset and stuck him in size 8 heels (he’s a size 9!) and the rest is photoshop!
And really that was the amazing attitude of everyone on the day. No body griped or was a pain in the ass and they all pitched in and did what was asked of them and more. Poor Carlo even ended up on the floor in my harness with a rope lead in his mouth and Rose astride him – that boy has years of therapy ahead of him!