In the picture
Deborah Gigliotti ‘s “Backstages” exposition
published on 19 November 2020
"Backstages" presents the backstage of Brussels' burlesque, transformist and drag cabarets. For 5 years, the artist has had the privilege of capturing what happens behind the curtains, partitions, stairs and walls that separate the stage from the backstage area.
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“La photo bleue”
We are one of those days in September when the days get shorter, when the heat comes on, making us enjoy an Indian summer. I walk along one of the most prestigious streets of Paris, heading towards the Manko Cabaret. In front of me, in the distance, the Eiffel Tower intermingles in this bright pink sunset.
I arrive in front of the Manko, I climb the steps as if I wanted to savour every moment. This place is magnificent, I am looking everywhere, the detail, the luxury is omnipresent. Here, everything is perfect, chance has no place, many celebrities have come to watch the show, like Olivier Rousteing and Céline Dion. Jean Biche welcomes me with all his usual kindness and benevolence, he introduces me to each of the artists. They are 6 in total that evening. The dressing rooms are put on, each one in its place in front of its mirror. It’s an important day, very important. You can feel the palpable tension, and yet it’s as if it doesn’t exist. After the last make-up and checking every detail that makes the difference, I follow him, crossing the many corridors that lead to the stage.
He stands back in front of the stage, a margarita in his hand. He observes the painting meticulously in front of his eyes. I shoot the scene, and then at one point I turn around, I see him, I capture the emotion, and stealthily take this picture. Back home, I wanted to put it in black and white, but no impossible, this blue was so powerful that it engraved the magic of the moment.
We are at the Cabaret Mademoiselle in the first few weeks following the opening, I discover the backstage area after a swinging door such as in the salons, that we like to push hard but are always afraid to take them in the face.
Despite the young age, the backstage areas are already full of life, full of characters, full of life where you can imagine the magic moment that will be reflected in all of this. The brick walls bring a warm light, the ceilings are low, which adds to the atmosphere.
Jean Biche has put on his leather skirt, his waist is beautiful, perfectly underlined. He approaches the point of light and turns as if to check something on his skirt. Around him, many objects exist, bring a touch to the decor, but under the light there is only him.
We are at the Archduke of Brussels, a particularly mythical place in Brussels, where great names have come and are still coming. You see, Deborah, that was Barbara’s piano. Objects, when they have a story, a soul, when you touch them, when you allow it, they add magic to whoever uses them.
At the top of the winding stairs are the dressing rooms. This is the first time I photograph the Golden Age Society and the beautiful Lolly. Lolly is a well of light, she has an aura, I don’t know how she does it, but an almost unnatural luminosity comes out of her face, which makes her radiant at every moment.
At the end of the presentation, she looks at me and says “come on, tell me what you want, this is new to me, the photos I have taken are never posed, so I don’t know what I want”. But I do know that it is important to freeze this gift that she gives me like a piece of paper that we read over and over again, a wish that has been granted.
We are in the backstages of… in Brussels, during an event created by… just before the Belgian pride. Here it’s different, it’s a long corridor, where the dressing rooms follow one after the other, the walls are white, the ceilings are high and in the corridor, you can find tags that tell us the passage of a story whose secret is kept by the walls.
The transformations are done, the make-up is tuned, the jackets adjusted, the top hat delicately put on, it’s time to post on social media. So, in the background, I photograph this moment around a door. I photograph the ephemeral moment to let it freeze forever like two women approaching the kiss of an eternity.
In the series of photos I will take that evening, this is one of the first. I arrive, I hug everyone, I bid them “my darling, you’re here, you’re beautiful, you’re sublime, you’re going to be sublime”. They always are, here time is just an experience, you don’t get older, you improve, you gain experience.
Around maman, in her dressing room, a crowd is growing, between Laura (the photographer), Camille (the cameraman), me, the hairdresser and the privileged, those who are family, friends, we know more but without them, all this would be less luminous.
Maman is staring, she doesn’t pose. When Maman is posing, she has a smile on her face. It’s her trademark, but this mouth, these eyes are those of visualisation, preparation, concentration. I love this image because it represents for me the madness of the beehive, the queen, and then we will harvest the honey that will be the result of all this work, symbol of a harvest of the fruits of a lifetime.
“Une grande dame, cette Demoiselle”.
Ah Miss, a great Lady, this Miss.
Boop handles brushes and colours with great talent, the fruit of hours of work and perfection. I see her do it again and again, checking and rechecking if the result obtained is indeed the one desired. Here she is ready, with her peculiar gait in her pencil skirt, mounted on these heels that I watch from afar but announcing to me that even a furtive try could be the result of a shame at best, a broken leg at worst.
Sublimely valued in this ensemble, she starts to play with me. I know that time is short, so I multiply the clichés, she poses as the biggest deus mannequin and I try to reflect all that the inner and outer beauty have given her.
“Le crayon qui définit “
In this maze of corridors, I pass my head to check which is the most opportune moment to capture the moment. Facing me, Soa de Meuse delicately outlines her lips with a pencil. The gesture is soft and precise. Her wrist accompanies her hand, orienting it. Her gaze is fixed, time stands still. The mouth is the final touch before the perfume, as if it were the revelation of all this transformation. Once it is finished, he will blow a kiss towards the sky that I will be happy to intercept.
In the basements of Brussels there is a place full of warmth and stories, the Os à Moelle. When I discovered this place, I fell in love with it. It’s not the first time I’ve been there and yet the sensations are always the same.
Soa is there, facing the light that makes him shine, he stretches out his arm towards it, so that it delicately rests on him to reflect all his beauty…
In the dressing rooms of the Manko Cabaret there is a star: “Allanah Star”. Some encounters impress more than others, Allanah is one of them. All evening I took few pictures of her, for fear of disturbing her, afraid of capturing what she doesn’t want to reveal. In that moment in between, I remember sitting on a chair with as much delicacy as a feather, and I took the picture she gave me.
We are in the dressing rooms at Maman’s during the Belgian Pride. The time has gone by, it’s the last few moments before getting back to the train from Maman’s. The world comes and goes in the dressing room but slowly it gets lighter, to give way to the last strokes of lacquer, the last brushstrokes before the pride…
Marla, her tiara proudly placed on her head, takes a step back and applies hairspray to fix her partner’s and lover’s hair. They turn together towards the mirror, smiling, everything is perfect, they are ready.
My dear Edna, because she was the first to trust me, she will always remain a special person to me, whom I love to encounter. You know, she is like the first person who believes in you more than you do yourself, there may be others… but she will always be special because she is the first. Edna is funny and expressive, she uses every expression on her face as if to reveal all her emotions, all her potential.
So when she freezes her reflection I laugh, I smile, a bit like her.
The show is over, the pressure is off. So in the Archduke’s dressing room, time is relaxed. Lolly poses in front of me and in the madness of the moment her sidekick is added, the last one. As time goes by during this improvised photo shoot, other artists will be added later on. Once this moment has been captured, it’s time to remove make-up and tidy up, leaving only a few sequins in the dressing rooms, symbols of an evening where magic has worked.
“Etirement en légèreté”
Julie is one of the artists performing at the Manko Cabaret. I remember having photographed her in front of the mirror and seeing a real intensity in her eyes. I alternate my triggers between her and Jean-Biche who is in the same dressing room as her. When I turn around, I see her like a cat stretching all the way down, her hair settling in her arch. During the evening, I will see her twirl in a hoop on the airs of the Manko Cabaret.
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