Talking all things drag on Halloween with photography duo Drag Coven
Drag and Halloween have a long-standing history. Today we talk to drag photography duo Drag Coven about its favourite memories of the holiday and drag at large.
- Joey Levenson
- 29 October 2021
Famous drag queen Willam once said there are three key times of the year when a drag queen must be employed: Pride month, Christmas, and Halloween. Halloween’s inclination towards dress-up, costumes, and camp gives it more overlap with the world of drag than any other international holiday on the Gregorian calendar. Long since the days before RuPaul’s Drag Race has Halloween been a “gateway drug”, so to speak, for people everywhere to unleash their inner drag queen or king. As such, it’s standard for nightlife and Halloween-related events to put on fantastic awe-inspiring drag shows around this time of year.
To help celebrate this glamorous and rich union, we called on our favourite resident drag archivists and artists, J’amie Queen West and Courtney Conquers, otherwise known as the duo Drag Coven. Through years of dedication, Drag Coven has photographed drag shows all up and down the United States, leaving no stone left unturned. “When we first started doing drag in 2014, drag shows were not being documented as widely as they are now,” Courtney tells It’s Nice That. “Even just by fans, let alone by professionals and media outlets.” As general fans of drag who cherished the art form’s beauty and inspiration, the two set out to rectify this: “We started photographing and filming drag shows mostly for our own memories,” Courtney says. “We continued it when we realised that the artists were thrilled to have their hard work preserved and that other fans who weren’t as privileged as we are in terms of access to queer entertainment could still enjoy drag online through photos and videos, regardless of their real-world boundaries or limitations.”
Asking Drag Coven for a curation of favourite Halloween photographs was pretty easy. The duo’s genuine passion for drag leaves them with a fine selection to choose from, and each picture feels completely electric, highlighting a queen at her absolute best. “Our love of drag combines all the things we already loved and were involved in,” Courtney explains. “And drag was what introduced us to different aspects of queerness and therefore allowed us to start exploring our own identities.” Drag artists were people who Drag Coven could look up to, “regardless of limiting social norms” and the ways in which they were taught to look and dress like.
There are a few particular images from their Halloween curation which Drag Coven enjoy looking back on. Firstly, there’s Detox as Frankenstein’s Bride in Night of the Living Drag. “This photo was taken in New York City on Halloween night of 2016,” Courtney says. “We’d driven eight hours from Toronto to see Voss Events’ Night of the Living Drag show at Stage 48.” Detox stunned them as the Bride of Frankenstein, tearing off a “square-shouldered cloak to reveal a catsuit of stitches and bandages, all to a mix featuring Sia’s songs Alive and Move Your Body.” Next up, they highlight Violet Chachki in Night of the Living Drag at Meridian Hall. “This was the first live theatre drag show we saw at full capacity following Covid-19 lockdowns and the fact that we could once again be at an indoor venue for a large scale drag show was extremely exciting,” Courtney tells us. “We were attending as audience members but we were pulled inside and ended up working merch to help speed things along.” It was Violet Chachki’s aerial show as the Queen of Hell which ultimately stole the show, though.
As mentioned above, however, Drag Coven are more than just drag photographers – they’re drag artists themselves. “Women and other non-cis male people have been doing drag since its very beginnings, but that history underwent a lot of patriarchal erasure,” Courtney explains. “As a result, we were often the only audience members, particularly the only women, in drag in 2014 – and in fact, occasionally we were actually the only women present, period.” As a result, Drag Coven faced an air of confusion and defensiveness around them, facing rebuttal from a kingdom of drag fans who had gatekept the art form for one reason or another. It didn’t help that drag, when Drag Coven began its documentation, was still relatively in the margins of culture. “Many people still thought of drag shows like sideshows relegated to dive bars unless very specific conditions were met, so they were further confused as to what we were doing when we showed up with cameras and documented entire shows,” Courtney says. “The way queer venues still largely catered to cis gay male audiences made a lot of people assume that we must just be straight girls touristing in their space. So for a long time, we received backlash and mistreatment simply for dressing a certain way and attending certain bars or shows despite being members of the queer community ourselves.”
Now, the girls of Drag Coven are happy to see more progress has been made in widening the pool of drag. Cisgender and transgender women are currently competing on the fourth season of Dragula, as well as the current seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race U.K. and RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars (the latter of which just crowned its first-ever female winner). Drag is on the mainstream, too. “Our existence as both a media team and a queer fem drag presence is no longer uncommon, let alone weird or confusing, and that’s incredibly cool,” Courtney says. “None of this is to say that all of drag’s problems are solved; inequity is still an issue that needs addressing and transmisogyny has not been eradicated by any means.” However, the evolution which has already occurred is nonetheless “a really beautiful thing” for Drag Coven to “witness and be a part of.” Drag Coven has now set its sights on making “a living off the particularly unique intersection of drag that we operate from,” producing great shows, running smooth tours, and helping drag artists function at their best.
Drag Coven: Violet Chachki in Night of the Living Drag at Meridian Hall; Toronto, ON (Copyright © Drag Coven, 2021)