When Darrell Wagner, a theater costuming instructor at Casper College, came into the Casper Star-Tribune for a studio portrait of characters he would play in drag, newspaper staff photographer Josh Galemore had an eye out for a candid shot.
The paper was looking to preview “Casper’s a Drag,” in which men performed song-and-dance skits dressed as women. Out In Wyoming sponsored the event last summer.
Wagner was dressing up to pose under studio lights, but “I don’t like staged photographs very much,” Galemore said. The studio shot would meet the paper’s needs, but the photographer saw something more.
“I always try to find something real — something that captures that individual’s personality,” he said. The makeup picture, “it’s kind of halfway between Darrell as a person and [Darrell] getting into character.”
Wagner has played “Mabel Kane” for 37 years.
“You always want the person to feel comfortable with you,” Galemore said. The photographer was “getting him to kind of ignore my presence, getting him not to put on a show.”
Galemore used an 85 mm lens that allowed him to shoot in the low, moody light he likes. He metered for Wagner’s face and waited until his subject was expressive and not looking at the camera.
“Drag isn’t the most welcome thing in the state,” Galemore said. But his job is to connect the humanity of a subject with viewers, to help break stereotypes and promote discussion. His photograph, which editors titled Art/activism, won the top spot in a 2017 Wyoming Press Association contest among Wyoming daily newspapers.
“Maybe it made someone laugh,” Galemore said, “maybe it made someone think differently.”