No matter your star power or fanbase, a quick scroll through any celebrity’s social media comments uncovers the inevitable plea: “Come to Brazil!” The South American country has long been the butt of pop culture jokes for the seemingly frenzied Brazilian fans of, well, everyone, but what is actually going on amongst the country’s nearly 208 million people?
A hell of a lot of drag and, luckily for us, it’s being captured by photographer Fernando Cysneiros. With “The Drag Series,” the artist has painstakingly captured the show-stopping looks of over 200 Brazilian queens. From worldwide icons like Pabllo Vittar to local queens and even the occasional RuPaul's Drag Race queen when they make the trip down South, Cysneiros has taken their portrait.
Along the way, he’s shown the rich diversity of looks coming from Brazil. With no end in sight and plans to expand his project into the United States and internationally, we caught up with the drag photographing superstar to talk the project’s origins, where Brazil is in terms of LGBTQ equality, and when we can expect him to hit the runway in his drag debut.
OUT: You’ve been doing this series for nearly two years now. Who was the first drag queen you ever photographed?
Fernando Cysneiros: The first queen I ever photographed for the project was the female drag queen Maddie Killx. In the same night, the second queen I ever photographed was actually Pabllo Vittar. This was in 2016 when she was already popular but not as huge as she is now.
What inspired the project? Had you been interested in drag before the series began?
Throughout my career, I have always worked for clients, satisfying their needs for each job. I never had much space to do my own authorial work without being limited by my clients choices. I missed having a project of my own that allowed me to follow whatever direction I want. That want and my interest for the art form of drag led me to start the project. I had been interested in drag for a couple years prior to starting the project but didn’t know much about local drag scenes before starting it.
Tell me about the experience you had at your first drag show.
My first ever drag show was in 2014, when I was living in Vancouver, Canada. I was aware of Drag Race but never had watched an episode. A friend of mine suggested we could go to Shame Spiral, a weekly show held by Peach Cobblah every Tuesday at this local pub called 1181. It was so fun! I wasn’t thinking about the project back then, but it definitively sparkled my interest in drag.
How has drag culture influenced your life?
It has changed a lot of things in my life: my career, my hobbies, my relationships. The project completely changed the way I see and handle things in general. But mostly, I do wear a lot more makeup now (Laughs). And I’m definitively embracing more and more my “femininity” without being ashamed of it.
As we see from the photos, Brazil has a rich diversity of drag queens. Do you think the LGBTQ community is embraced in Brazil?
I think the LGBTQ community is taking large steps towards acceptance, but it’s nowhere near 100 percent yet. There is a lot of violence and persecution, especially by religious fanatics. It’s a country of opposites. We have the biggest pride parade in the world with three million attendees in Sao Paulo, yet it’s also a country with one of the highest statistics of hate-based LGBTQ murders.
What do you hope this series will do for Brazil’s drag community?
I hope to provide a platform that will connect drag admirers to the artists — introducing unique queens from a variety of cities and styles to a broad audience and increasing their exposure. Also, I want to show people how many different ways the art of drag can present itself. I want to start a conversation about the meaning of what is drag and show that anyone can do drag because, in Brazil, many conservative people still think that it is somehow related to prostitution or to being transgender.
Have you ever done drag yourself? If you have, how does it feel being in drag? If not, have you thought about trying?
I’ve never done drag myself, but the queens are always asking if I will ever do it. (Laughs) It doesn’t cross my mind right now but you never know! I’m more of an outside admirer.