Last year I got to sit down and talk with one of my favorite queens, the eternally busy Pissi Myles. Now I’m getting to talk with her better half. Or is she his better half? Well regardless, they can sort it out themselves but I am thrilled that I got to talk with a man that has emerged as one of the best drag photographers in the business, the fabulous David Ayllon! Warning, spoilers for Buffy the Vampire Slayer abound. Enjoy!
Hi there David. Do we need to make a pledge right off the bat to not make this interview all about Buffy?
I can’t make any promises.
You’re right. The world needs more Buffy, especially in light of what is going on in our country right now. So anyway, how are you doing this evening?
I’m doing great! Just editing photos, doing some grad school work. Just a typical Sunday night.
Okay, now this should be interesting! As you know, the majority of my interviews are with drag queens and when I ask them what they went to school for, the answer, almost every single time is “musical theatre” but I have a hunch that won’t be your answer. What are you studying?
You’re a jerk.
Kidding! I’m getting my MFA in graphic design.
Where did your interest in photography come from?
It actually came from grad school in a weird way. I was doing a project two years ago, and the stipulation was that if we were using photography it couldn’t be stock photos. So I figured I knew enough Photoshop to fix any disaster of an experiment I might come up with. I bought a really cheap kit off of Amazon, and my now husband was starting to really build a name for himself in drag so I asked him to be my model. It didn’t suck, so we did more shoots, started including some of our drag friends in shoots, and the rest is history!
“It didn’t suck”, Sounds like most people commenting on my writing,
Laughs It’s what I strive for most days.
So you really didn’t have a background in photography before that?
No, I was actually terrified of photography before that project. It’s a big part of why I began using a lot of illustration in my designs.
Well that is ironic considering you are now one of the most respected drag photographers in the business now!
Am I? That’s pretty cool to hear. I’ve always been very particular about studying and practicing graphic design to get really good, but photography has just been a happy accident that I’m allowing to grow organically. And now it’s growing like Audrey II! I’m also constantly in awe of other photographers and I’m always trying to learn more. I’m such a fanboy it’s ridiculous.
Are there any unique challenges you find to working with drag queens?
I think the hardest part is the editing. I’m always straddling the line between their actual face and the face that’s painted on when I’m editing the photos later. But other than that, I love it. I’m actually really spoiled and am hesitant to photograph anyone who DOESN’T have a larger-than-life persona. I actually have the same problem when I’m illustrating queens as well. It’s just finding where the two faces overlap.
Who are some of your favorite queens to shoot, aside from the missus of course?
It is obligatory husband duty to say Pissi Myles is my favorite queen to photograph. But aside from Pissi, I have so many! I love working with Sasha Velour, who I met as a fellow graphic designer/illustrator before I knew she was a queen. Her illustrative style totally shines through and we’ve got a lot of overlap in our creative ideas. I also always have fun shooting Bob the Drag Queen. Kari Kerning is another favorite because her looks are so playful and fun…I’m missing so many right now! Judy Darling is lovely, and both Shea Coulee and Alaska were daring enough to let me do any crazy idea I wanted, which I hope turns out as cool photos! I’ll stop there since I could literally go on all night. Every queen I’ve shot is amazing and I’m just a dork who gets to share a teeny tiny piece of their creativity.
Very diplomatic of you! I guess I will skip the next question about who the worst queen to work with was then.
Ha! Maybe Pissi only when his blood sugar is low.
Let the record show I gave you an out and you still opted to answer that!
Laughs You did. In all honesty though, Pissi is really good about letting me try out the most ridiculous ideas on him first. Like that color by numbers photo we did took four hours of makeup, and we only shot for about 10 minutes. That’s love.
It was worth it though! That shot was amazing, truly one of my favorites of your work!
Earlier in the year, you had campaign called Posters for Pulse, using prints of your work to benefit the survivors of the Pulse massacre. What made you decide to do that?
I was super emotional, as I’m sure a lot of us were, about the Pulse shooting in Orlando. There was a very distinct helplessness I was feeling that I just couldn’t shake. Posters For Pulse was me trying to shake that off and do something productive to contribute to the victims and their families. It made sense to me to do a portrait series since the drag scene has given Pissi and I some of our closest friends in the LGBTQ community. I’m hoping in some small way it helped.
I’m sure it helped. Every bit helps. You should be proud of not just sitting on the sidelines.
I appreciate that. The queens did most of the work anyway, I just pressed the button.
Pissi says you push her buttons all the time.
Well she’s not wrong about that. Laughs
Okay, I think we should be commended for holding this long, are you ready to talk some Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
Saddest Buffy moment ever: Buffy’s mom dying, Tara being shot, Angel killing Jenny Calendar or Riley debuting?
LAUGHS! First of all, I had a total crush on Riley. I actually had a crush on most of the men in that show, with maybe the exception of D’hoffryn. But definitely Buffy’s mom dying was the saddest thing. It was beautifully shot and so mundane! I think that’s why it stuck out so much for me in an otherwise very fantastical world. What about you?
Well Buffy’s mom’s death was so real, honestly maybe the most real handling of death ever on TV. Tara’s death was shocking but for anyone who knows Joss Whedon, maybe not THAT shocking. But I think Jenny Calendar hit me the hardest only because Angelus murdered her just to be cruel.
Also Jenny never got the chance to be as fully developed as the other characters. She left us way too soon. I like to keep a yellow floppy disk on hand at all times in her honor.
Stop trying to make me cry David!
Who was your favorite Big Bad?
That’s a hard one! Would it be a cop out to say The First, since it was ALL the Big Bads?
Yes. It would.
FINE. Then definitely The Mayor.
That is the correct answer.
He was so nice to Faith that it made his evil-ness more evil-er.
Harry Groener was really amazing in the role. Likable yet irredeemably evil at the same time.
In a very weird way his relationship with Faith was one of the most stable relationships on that show…which says a lot Laughs
Well I love me some Faith but she wasn’t exactly the poster child for sanity.
No, I guess she wasn’t Laughs
So one of my life goals is to put on an all drag queen version of “Once More With Feeling”, the Buffy Musical episode. What queen would you cast as Buffy?
Legally I’d have to ask Pissi first.
But he’s not a big fan of Buffy, so I actually think he’d have more fun playing the demon.
The demon was so good though!
I’m gasping over “not a big fan of Buffy”.
Oh yeah, he’s not a fan. That doesn’t stop me from forcing him to watch it all the time though.
Well I should hope not!
I might cast Astala Vista as Buffy. It just feels right. She’s got the right amount of innocence and ridiculousness to her.
I got bored one night and post an entire cast of NYC queens on Twitter……in case anyone is wondering why I am going to die alone.
Oh I’ve gotta hear this!
Oh gosh. I had Chelsea Piers as Buffy, Holly Box Springs as Dawn, Sutton Lee Seymour as Willow, Alexis Michelle out of drag as Xander, Paige Turner as Anya, Dusty Ray Bottoms out of drag as Spike. The one bit of casting I could never get was a Giles.
Oooohhh that’s tough. We should audition some queens by just having them take off a pair of glasses and putting them back on again over and over until we have a winner
All while faking a British accent?
Yes, but we only need to hear them say “Oh dear.”
Okay, I think I’ve indulged my Buffy sweet tooth enough for one life. I wish I had a smooth segue here but I don’t. So I will just say that I heard your work is featured in the new upcoming issue of Velour Magazine?
Yes! I’ll have a photo and an illustration in the newest issue!
How cool is that? What is the photo and the illustration of?
I don’t know if I’m allowed to say, but I will say that it’ll be wonderfully weird and everyone should get a copy! Johnny and Sasha have done amazing work on the magazine and I’m so pumped to be part of it.
Boo! And here I thought I was getting an exclusive scoop
The undead may or may not be involved.
So it’s a story about my career.
What queen haven’t you worked with yet that you would really like to?
How much time do you have. I would love to work with Bianca del Rio and Sharon Needles. I’m also a big fan of the Boulet Brothers, and speaking of which there are so many queens from Dragula I’d love to shoot like Vander Von Odd and Meatball. Also Detox, Sissy Spastik, Vicky Vox, Milk…The list goes on and on.
I don’t see my name on there David. You know that portfolio needs a good “Before” picture.
Of course! How could I forget Chiffon Dior? But only if it’s a Harmony-themed shoot with you wearing all pink with vamp-face.
That’s me before coffee in the morning.
Laughs I bet!
But I will work on putting that look together for you. In the meantime, where can people find you?
Thank you so much for your time tonight honey. Do you have any final words of wisdom to share with the WERRRK.com universe?
If the apocalypse comes, beep me.
Editor’s note: We don’t want to suggest Chiffon was drinking during this interview but she was remiss in not congratulating David and Pissi who tied the knot last year. Best of luck you crazy kids!