Haley Varacallo is a portrait and fashion photographer who works with individuals of the more exotic/unconventional nature. Her work is often a commentary on the notions of sexuality and gender neutrality/bending, identity and individuality. Her work also lends as the documentation of the fantastically colorful and diverse subcultures that she finds herself so drawn to. Within her photographs she captures the glamor and the grit behind her drag queens, burlesque, fetish and cabaret dancers, erotic clowns, gender nonconforming, sexually translucent and frivolous etc. Her work aims to shed light and beauty onto what exists beyond the stage, back behind the scenes, and into the personal lives and aspirations of these individuals. Haley's fashion work is anything but ordinary. Unconventional fashions, models and mindsets are what Haley Varacallo’s fashion work thrives on. Regardless of the project's parameters; Haley enjoys utilizing her models individual nuances, running with a conceptual story and always exploring a brilliant color scheme to match.
Photographing people, in every shape, color and light, is her passion.
Read below the interview our Art Director, Finn Schult, had with the artist!
Finn Schult (Art Director): A lot of the subjects in your work are performers by nature, what lead you to photographing them?
Haley Varacallo: The extravagance. The consistency of over the top personalities, personas, interesting wardrobes, unconventional fashions and beauty. You wouldn't think that something always seen in such spotlight would be so, honest. But it is. The individuals that I have had the pleasure of working with are those I specifically sought out, because of their honesty, their true humanity that they express through their work. It started as just eye candy. I was so naturally drawn to the colors and the nightlife. The LGBTQ community has always been where I've found my friends, my entertainment, and surprisingly, most performers that I've come in contact with that also been a part of the community. It grew to be an ongoing infatuation with getting to know and see people, who didn't mind me looking. Performers are expressing themselves, openly, they want to be seen and understood, my job is to see and document them in their entire light, instead of just the partial light that most people view them in. I adore it.
Finn: Do you feel like the use of color in your work paired with the way you photograph them, which I feel is often rather heroic, lends to the honesty you hope to convey? Do you ever feel that it helps transgress the subject into something more than simply an interesting or “extravagant” person?
Haley: Hmm. The color is something that comes from within me, something I simply cannot do without. It's for my eyes, it's my eye candy. It's what gets me off. I have a background in painting and other mediums that I believe really drilled the importance of color schemes into me at a young age. My photos differ on how I choose to document my subjects, sometimes they are 100% romanticized and heroic, I want them to have their glamor power shot, that every performer dreams of having. That every great persona deserves. I'm paying tribute to their efforts and extravagance. But then I also really enjoy photographing them being less than the idealized concept of perfection, that's where the honestly pulls through. I typically photograph each performer at least twice, once in the studio where we can play dress up as simply make highly stylized and fun photos, and then behind the scenes, where they bare themselves to me. Where they show their torn stockings and dirty feet, their pores go Unretouched and their environments are never staged. My more intimate photos are definitely about bringing out the true soul behind the performer. I become friends with them, they trust me, and even though I'm showing the world that they are not perfect, even when I'm showing their stretch marks and other signs of insecurity, they trust and support my imagery, because humanity is and always will be what we most resonate with. The way I compose my images, will always be heroic, because no matter what sort of person or state of person that I'm photographing, I'm still honored to have them in front of my lens.
Finn: I feel like the way you photograph could be really interesting with subjects of a more mundane nature. Have you ever thought about trying to shine the light on or "turn the lens" so to speak, towards more banal subject matter?
Haley: Hmm... I suppose I have dabbled in it. But I became so in love with photographing people, I began not shooting much else. But my early work was nothing but those intimate mundane moments, those subtle but special nuances that I see all around me, that just need to be captured in that perfect way. I do know that I somehow seem to make them full of so much magic and so much more energy than might be seen by the unenthused eye. Which is reassuring, and which is how I knew I should explore the medium of photography way back in high school. Maybe I should start back up with that realm of work. I definitely do enjoy it, and know that I have the ability to make just about anything come to life, maybe I need to stop insisting that every image needs to contain a human in it.
Finn: It's definitely something to think about, I think it could also be fun to see how you photograph people that are less "aesthetically engaging" like doctors, lawyers, construction workers etc…
Haley: I've always said 'I could easily invest the same amount of dedication and find the same amount of magic in just about anything, even cowboys' haha, exact quote.
Finn: That’s amazing and I don't doubt that in the slightest. Have you been thinking at all about the next body of work you'd like to make?
Haley: Hmm, yes, and no. I've been in an incredible lull in all aspects of my life since moving to New York. For multiple reasons. I haven't felt any desire to do more persona-portrait work, so, I haven't forced it. I do believe I am ready for something new, something different. I haven't figured out what. My recent work has involved portraiture of non gender conforming individuals, friends, and self portraiture, out of convenience I suppose.
My next big journey will be heading back to the Dominican Republic for more of my documentary work, which I adore. I suppose that will be my next body of work. But, in the grand scheme of things, I see myself collaborating with multi media artists to create really whimsical, surreal, over the top photo-based work, that involves really utilizing my styling, art directing and set building skills. Taking the picture is just the cherry on top, I want to create images that just simply express my vision and my personal creativity, instead of capitalizing and utilizing on others.
Finn: You're going back to the Dominican with Batey Rehab Project right? That organization is great. But I'm really excited to see what you start working on next!
Haley: Yup! I love the organization, love Katie, loved my experience there, AND we are going specifically to focus on my project I'm thrilled and can't wait!