Max Mauro has been taking photos for nearly a decade, focusing on his queer family and community of fellow drag performers. He studied photography at SUNY Purchase, where he first began doing drag. Since moving to NYC he has continued both pursuits, performing as Sherry Poppins at LGBTQ+ clubs in Brooklyn and Queens.
We asked Mauro to document his personal experience during the 2019 WorldPride celebration, and he chose to focus on the community he has found through drag performances. Mauro shot two shows on Pride Sunday: one very early that morning at Gold Sounds in Bushwick, at which he appeared on stage, and one that night at Icon in Astoria.
How would you describe your work as a photographer? MM: For the last few years, I’ve been making portraits of people that I identify with in the sense that they are queer misfits. Family has always been a really big part of my work—not necessarily a traditional nuclear family but more of a queer, Paris Is Burning–style chosen family. It’s exciting to find that familial intimacy and community with people you don’t share blood with.
Your work also focuses on the drag community, of which you’re a part. MM: What makes it slightly unique is that, since I’m also a drag artist, I have a foot in that world. A lot of times when people shoot that kind of subject matter, it’s as a spectator. I try to dive in and question how my being a member of this community comes out in the photographs.
Were you in drag when you took these photos? MM: Yeah—I brought my camera with me to my own show at Gold Sounds, and I was photographing before and during the show.
Shooting in a space where you know a lot of the people allows for more intimate photos. Was that your plan? MM: That’s definitely what I wanted my focus to be. The assignment was to photograph Pride; for me, my pride is in my community and the family you forge as a queer person. I consider my drag sisters and nightlife friends to be part of my queer family.
Was there a different energy at those shows because they happened on Pride Sunday? MM: Yeah, it was wild. Our crowd [at Gold Sounds] was much bigger than usual. There’s a different kind of excitement on a weekend like that. It had its own challenges when it came to photographing, but it also came with some really cool opportunities.
What were those challenges? MM: Both places were pretty packed. Luckily I had the luxury to be able to push forward and get a better perspective at my show. You had to accept it and let that sort of busy environment be part of the backdrop.
One picture that stands out is the person with the tickets. MM: That was our “raffle girl,” as we call them. I’ve always been attracted to the people working these drag shows who aren’t the actual performers. On one of the breaks, I wanted to catch her outside the bar. I didn’t even have to tell her to pose. I love the color blocking of the green eye with the orange tickets. It just worked out so great.
Most of your images focus on drag and gender fluidity. How does that fit into your idea of Pride? MM: What I really wanted to focus on is that drag is punk. It’s super punk. Drag is very nonconforming to heteronormative rules, at least at heart. These descriptors can be applied to queer people as well. Pride is so much more about liberation and things holding us down and kind of rebelling against that in a cool way.
There are photos of performers getting ready where they’re between genders—masculine and feminine in the same space. MM: I think a lot about that transformation. I’m always most interested in what’s behind that curtain. When you catch those in-between moments—or even those looks that aren’t finished—there’s a bigger window for vulnerability.
What other images are you excited about? MM: There’s one with a friend of mine in drag who is bearded and has these vibrant red earrings with this bright green sheer bow. I like it for the sense of color blocking, but it also feels really punk to me—super genderqueer and fluid and rambunctious. There’s another of one of the girls, gluing the lace down on her wig at the bar. It’s a shallow depth of field, and she’s looking into a small compact. It’s a behind-the-scenes vibe.