By Tony Martins
A biology student by day, Ottawa burlesque-dancer-cum-photographer’s-muse Audrey Hipturn seems both biologically blessed and touched with a talent for characterization.
Since first getting semi-nude on stage back in 2009, Hipturn has grabbed the attention of scores of local photographers eager to capture her flair for gender-bending performance combined with photographic concept. Here we focus on three such shooters: Andrew Balfour, Darren Holmes, and Cherry Valance.
“I first got into burlesque over some drinks of whiskey and talk of my love of not wearing pants,” Hipturn explains. “I have also always loved dancing, retro things, and celebrating all women’s body types, so it just fit really well.”
Hipturn (so named for her pleasing resemblance to Audrey Hepburn) says she has performed some 150 times and initially was quite into “gorelesque” pieces that involved things like artificial blood and fangs. She’s not so much into gorelesque any more but a dark side remains quite pronounced in her photo work.
“With burlesque and modelling, I love being taken out of my comfort zone and trying new things,” adds Hipturn. “Some days I feel beautiful and some days I feel like a monster, some days feminine, some days very much in a more masculine mindset. I think it’s neat to capture different sides as they all have merit and are parts of me.”
Hollywood Studio Star
Photos by Andrew Balfour / Makeup by Christie Millen
Andrew Balfour first encountered Hipturn when shooting shows and promotional images for Rockalily burlesque and Capital Tease. He’s done several shoots with her, the latest organized by make-up artist Christie Millen.
“Audrey wanted to look like a boy for this shoot,” says Balfour. “When I pointed out that she still did not look at all like a boy in the photos, she replied ‘I tried my best to be a boy … didn’t work out. My hips don't lie'."
Balfour clearly sees the intriguing contradiction that Hipturn can conjure: “She is sweet and funny in real life, always with a huge smile, but when she builds a character she really owns the stage. Of course, having great cheekbones and flawless skin helps too.”
The Weeping Messiah
Photos by Darren Holmes
Darren Holmes has acquired a reputation such that models often seek him out.
“I think Audrey might have tracked me down,” Holmes explains of how the shoot happened. “I had worked with a mutual friend, Koston Kreme, to contribute to a show in San Francisco. I tend to do a lot of talking and it takes me forever to get down to shooting. So after months of occasional back and forth, we finally got to work.”
Despite all that preparation, Holmes’ plan for the shoot did not pan out during the actual shooting.
“This turned out more like an illustration of what Audrey is capable of as a performer,” Holmes explains. “I photographed many people that day ... the weeping messiah, the constrained sex object, the woman trapped in social convention, the calm goddess ... Audrey became all of them. As time passes, I tend to ask more of people I work with, more pliability and freedom and lack of self-consciousness. Audrey was all of that.”
Into the Void
Photos by Cherry Valance
Photographer Cherry Valance and Hipturn are roommates, conveniently. “We are familiar with each other’s style and it was only a matter of time before we collaborated,” says Valance, who is herself also a model and performer.
“The bathtub frame has always reminded me of an aedicule [a structural framing device from classical architecture that gives importance to its contents],” says Valance. “Our ideas for the shoot were nonrestrictive and focused more on atmosphere than with trying to construct a predetermined image. Photos taken from above a bath are not always innovative, but we hoped to create something unique.”
The goal with the photos was to “incorporate elements like uncanny eyes and liquid voids to bring in a sense of the unnatural,” explains Valance.
Valance knows well how Hipturn is a natural at the unnatural.
“What fascinates me about her work is her ability to express macabre themes contrasted by her own beauty,” Valance says. “This push and pull of the abject and the attractive is a delicate balance that she has perfected.”