I’ve always been fascinated with the transformation of butterflies — how a baby larva eats himself into becoming an earth-bound caterpillar, which then bundles up on a leaf for a couple of weeks and emerges into an incredibly colorful, stunning being of flight. This makes absolutely no sense to me but in turn depicts the wondrous and mysterious ways of the universe. In 1774, French chemist Antoine Lavoisier was one of the first to express the law of conservation of mass, which implies that mass can neither be created nor destroyed but simply becomes rearranged in space. This brilliant and important notion has stuck with me since it was taught to me in junior high school, and, interestingly, it finds its way into many aspects and perspectives of my life and work.
The Metamorphosis project is about celebrating transformation and self-expression — how when the outside morphs, the inside follows. Often, when society views us a certain way, we feel and act accordingly, and we then tend to express ourselves creatively to craft the eye of others upon us. Our mass is ever-shifting, and our arrangement in space is ever-developing. As a photographer, I find that this human dynamic is always wonderful to explore and capture.
Meet Steven Rose, aka Detoxx Bustiáe, an Old Navy sales associate by day, performance drag queen by night. I met Miss Bustiáe in 2012, during the dark hours of the night, at a famous New York “extravaganza” held at Roseland: one of those wild runway-show balls, a scene straight out of the movie Paris Is Burning. One after another, fabulous drag queens and trans women fiercely strutted and vogued down the runway, and the crowd cheered in complete awe as I combed the massive room, photographing the most eccentric characters I could find. Cattily chatting with a fellow queen, Detoxx was gorgeous, rocking a long, black wig and a zipped-open, yellow jumpsuit, not so discreetly revealing a silver, sequined bra. I immediately knew I wanted to photograph her in the studio and that she would be perfect for my Metamorphosis project.
During the photo shoot, as Steven Rose quickly transformed into Detoxx Bustiáe, his free-spirited and fun-loving energy performed a swift authentic shift from male to female. As the makeup layered, a new being emerged: one that mutated from being somewhat reserved and shy to being a fiery, sassy drag queen. The outer and inner step-by-step transformation was phenomenal to observe and capture. He spent much time during the shoot sharing his exotic world with me: his excitements and reservations, his family secrets, his relationships and his love for the art of performance and transformation. “I love to show the transformation process,” Steven claimed confidently as he fixed his long, luscious, blond wig. “Drag is my art. It enables me to perform. It enables me to dance. It enables me to just be creative.”