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This LA Photographer Captures the City’s Most Intimate Moments

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Since its very beginnings, art has provided viewers inside looks at intimate moments. Be it a reflective self-portrait or a scene backstage, far from the audience. LA-based photographer Wednesday Aja takes a similar approach to the medium, capturing scenes that inspire a second, deeper glance. “I’ve always loved documenting my world. And photography is a way for me to explore other worlds, too” she says. Born in East LA, the UCLA grad has also lived in NoCal, Austin, Texas, and Paris. Now, she resides by the beach in Orange County, but her work, which showcases drag, burlesque, and circus performers, takes her all over the city.

In DTLA, visitors can see Aja’s photos here on the walls at Hotel Figueroa, where she’s our second Featured Artist of 2019. We caught up with Aja to learn more about her unique take on photography.

When did you first start taking photos?

I was about eight. I would dress up my baby brother in my old party dresses, and I had a large collection of great costume jewelry from my grandma—rhinestones and scarves, cocktail rings. Those are my first drag portraits.

Much of your photography is in black-and-white. How do you decide whether an image or series will be in color or in black-and-white?

There is something very emotionally evocative about black and white. It has a timeless quality that I love. I like that you can’t necessarily tell where or when in history my images were made… maybe they were taken last week, or maybe they were taken 30, 40 years ago…Color is wonderful, and sometimes the subject really wants to be in color, but it also tethers the image a bit to a time in history.

You’ve focused on drag, burlesque and circus performers, all with fabulous costumes. What are you hoping viewers take away from seeing these subcultures of entertainers?

The same thing the performers want, I suspect: to offer a moment of fancy, fantasy and escapism.

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Your photos often capture the entertainers in intimate or behind-the-scenes moments. What draws you to show these hidden moments?

These are my favorite moments… the private world that the audience doesn’t see. Those moments of reflection, and anticipation.

Ten years ago, cis-straight individuals might have never seen a drag queen. Today, Rupaul’s Drag Race is on national TV, and even straight people show up to drag brunches. Has this evolution changed how you seek to capture drag culture?

Ten years ago I shared a taxi in Paris with Ru Paul. He told me about a new drag competition show he was getting ready to film. I wished him luck. Who knew that he would change the world of drag? Today, drag queens are like Disney princesses: kid love them, young girls look to them for fashion tips, and everybody wants to take a selfie with them. I can find a drag show, even in Orange County, 3 times a week. I love watching the performances, but now I try to get to know the drag queens, make a more personal connection, and shoot them at their homes or backstage. I’m also looking for drag queens or kings who have a different take on the genre.

On the flip side, minorities of all stripes are facing increased threats under the current political climate. Does that affect how you decide who to photograph and how to photograph them?

I photograph people who want to be seen. I’m not out to exploit anyone or make anyone uncomfortable.

Discover More

Aja’s works are now on view at Hotel Figueroa through June, and you can learn more about her online, plus follow along with her updates on Instagram.

We’re continually inspired by the creative energy of Downtown Los Angeles. For local recommendations—and to hear from the diverse individuals who make DTLA what it is today—head to our Meet You Downtown blog.