Local drag photographer talks working during COVID-19 and ‘connecting with the art’

Ottawa drag queen, Devona Coe, in a green dress and green gloves.Ottawa drag queen, Devona Coe. Photo by Sally O’Callaghan.

COVID-19, Culture

Local photographer Sally O’Callaghan is passionate about photographing drag queens and shared her experiences with being a creative during the COVID-19 pandemic.

O’Callaghan is used to working with drag queens in person at different venues — she said the majority of her work is done at shows. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the shutdown of bars and clubs, O’Callaghan hasn’t been able to work the same way.

“I don’t actually work out of a studio space, I bring it with me so I’m very limited in terms of space,” she added. “I don’t wanna be unsafe and be too close to people.”

Over the last year, there has been a lack of opportunities for O’Callaghan to pursue the projects that the Ottawa drag scene would offer under normal circumstances.

“Ottawa’s also become in the last couple years a fire space for the bigger shows, so like girls from Ru Paul’s Drag Race coming in. When they come in there’s an opportunity, usually I’m lucky enough to do the meet and greet photos and the show photos which is super fun and it also provides the opportunity to the performers locally to perform on a bigger scale,” O’Callaghan said.

The pandemic has slowed down the momentum Ottawa had gained as a big hub for drag performers O’Callaghan said.

“I can only hope that when things go back to whatever kind of normal that you know, the community doesn’t forget about the drag queens.”

With the lack of opportunities to work, O’Callaghan said her work ethic has fluctuated.

“I would say the biggest challenge is probably connecting with the art,” she said. “You can definitely lose that drive and that ambition.”

“Part of me had moments where I wanted to prolong all the projects that I had for as long as possible just to keep something going, keep myself busy,” O’Callaghan said.

“Overall, I think when things kind of reopen and hopefully improve in the maybe near future, then it’ll maybe induce some renewed vigour for the art and working with the queens.”

O’Callaghan said she was first drawn to the world of drag photography by the queens themselves.

“Drag queens are just such beautiful people and I wanted to capture as much as that as I could and be involved,” she said.

“When someone’s made their own costume or you know, they’re portraying this character that they’ve created for a couple months or years or decades even. Just seeing someone in their element that you can tell they just passionately enjoy so much, it brings a lot more to the photos and it brings a lot more to the experience,” O’Callaghan added.

O’Callaghan’s photography Instagram can be found here.

Here is Sally O’Callaghan speaking with CHUO:

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