In these days the ninth season of RuPauls Drag Race is aired on VH1. The show drew almost a million viewers to the premiere and once again did not fail to surprise when Ronnie from New Jersey turned out to be Lady Gaga in disguise. “Drag for me has been an opportunity to leave myself when I didn’t wanted to be me” Gaga told the contestants after revealing herself and reminded us of the fact that drag isn’t about imitation but about creating a space to explore and challenge the confinements of gender and identity. London based photographer Niko Mitrunen has examined the transformation process in drag art through an ongoing series of photos portraying club kids in Helsinki. “For me, the phenomenon of drag is incredibly inspiring, because it’s about an ultimate freedom of expression.” Mitrunen explains. “I first met these boys in the Helsinki club scene where they put on intimate and visual club nights. The manner in which they had transformed into these striking characters, referencing their favourite current fashion shows and make up looks made a lasting impression on me.” However, it wasn’t the before/after aspect that mainly appealed to him. “I was curious to capture the transformation, i.e. those moments whilst the performers were getting stage-ready. It was an opportunity to photograph them candidly, in an environment where they were unaware of the camera. Although a completed drag look is an amazing creation, I find it almost too perfect. I’m more interested in the half-way; where a transition begins from a “real” person into a character, whilst still being imperfect and rough.”
Pietari Kaakkomaki, Jan Koskinen, Vesa Kemppainen and Miika Kemppainen are members of the collective La Perse. Together they boost the Helsinki night life with the stage names Jean Michelle, Mr. Cunt, Miss Lil 2.0 and Kinky Ricky. They mention New Romanticism, art history, African tribe cultures, Blitz kids, Electroclash, London names like Pete Burns, Princess Julia and Leigh Bowery and Vivienne Westwood as some of their go-to sources for aesthetic inspiration. “Fashion is very important for us. It is life-enhancing and, like everything that gives pleasure, it is worth doing well. We have realised that you have a more interesting life if you wear impressive clothes.” Jan Koskinen says.
Answering the question about how the Helsinki club scene differs from elsewhere Pietari Kaakkomaki says: “Helsinki really encourages subcultures. Finland is the last outpost of everything. Everything after our country is ice. What comes from here is bizarre, weird and kinky. I was the pink sheep in the society when I grew up as a young crossdresser in a small homophobic village in the Southern Ostrobothnia. But in mid 80ś when I moved to Helsinki I managed to turn it into power. Now I don’t mind what anybody thinks about me. Freedom belongs to everyone.”
Words by Ulrikke Bak
Photography by Niko Mitrunen