Van Sarki Unmasks Burlesque

Fashion photography, much like fashion itself, is about disguise—covering, obscuring and tailoring images. Kentucky raised, Brooklyn-based photographer Van Sarki is hardly a stranger to this field of work. A contributor to the Interview website and Dossier Journal, Sarki has spent his career photographing a seemingly endless stream of strikingly beautiful individuals, lit softly, groomed impeccably, and captured in ethereal dusty-light-bust-portraits, gazing gently into the camera. “I don’t like big productions,” says Sarki. “I think my strength is allowing my subjects to relax around me and ingratiating them in an environment.”

Sarki says that the concept for his latest project comes not from the clothing he is photographing, but rather what it suggests. “Oscar Wilde [said] ” ‘Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.’ ” In a series that will be comprised of upwards of 30 subjects, Sarki has photographed burlesque and cabaret performers in diptychs, the left image displaying a nude, non makeup wearing “natural” entertainer, and the right, the same individual in full performance getup. The juncture of the two images, says Sarki, shows humans in the “most complete state,” where their true being can be both emotionally and intellectually captured.

The portraits themselves are similarly rendered to Sarki’s fashion work. In the nude portraits, men and women are photographed bust up, with matte, creamy skin and soft glances. Costumed, they appear against the same black, matte background, their stage makeup notably prevalent and jarring, the vinyl, lamé and nylon of their chosen performance getups stretching awkwardly over their bodies. “I had this urge to strip all of the performers, and really take a portrait that I felt embodied a side most people don’t get to see.” Sarki says. “I needed the fashion performance portrait as a juxtaposition to represent their mask.” Often, the subjects seem more confident when photographed in costume, their gaze pointed and direct, challenging, or seducing. In the nude portraits, their eyes close dreamily and they brood downwards, in literal depictions of Sarki’s inner/outer, emotional/intellectual statement of intent.

Sarki is publishing the project, entitled “Burl Esque” later this year. You can purchase the book and help fund the publishing here.