New York-based photographer and makeup artist Ryan Burke has long shared his fantastical creations on Instagram, but in a recent Vogue video (below), he explains the inspirations and philosophy behind his looks. In the video, we see him transform into a bejeweled outdoor nymph (almost like a human Pokémon) and then he drops this bombshell: Drag isn’t about gender.
Some background on Ryan Burke:
Burke didn’t grow up around many other gay people. He grew up as a very quiet and shy boy in Fairfield, Virginia — a small, sleepy countryside town full of farmland. “Literally nothing but cows and pigs and things like that,” he said. He wasn’t allowed to watch TV, so his brother and he spent a lot of time playing dress up and climbing trees outdoors.
As a result, he takes a lot of inspiration from nature. He admittedly improvises many of his looks without any clear idea of how he’s going to look in the end — often his end result looks much different from what he originally intended.
Mostly, he just plays with shape and color to see how he can change his face and “glam out.”
Here’s the Ryan Burke Vogue video about drag:
Drag isn’t about gender??!?
Although many forms of drag originate from men playing women’s roles onstage and so-called “female illusionists” of the cabaret era, Burke says that he doesn’t consider drag to be married to the concept of gender any longer.
“Beauty is … people being themselves, showing their individuality,” he said. “Beauty is just playing with things and taking them in a different direction.”
In an age when people call drag a form of misogynist “blackface” — Burke says, that gender isn’t really at the forefront of his creations.
“Some looks end up being more female, some more male,” he says. He doesn’t try to make his creations particularly appear as one gender or another. “Drag, to me, really made me feel good about myself and gain confidence and be more social, more outspoken.”
Amid the modern day explosion of drag queens — arguably a result of the international popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race — Burke says that there are so many more people playing with makeup and concepts in ways that really expands the conception of drag.
He doesn’t think that the future of drag is necessarily about people being able to conform to a certain set of rules. Rather, he imagines that drag will be about helping a person become “an ultimate version of themselves, not necessarily about being a woman, not really gender specified.”