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Dafy Hagai’s Spring
Tomer “Versace”Photography Dafy Hagai, courtesy Perimeter

The striking beauties behind Tel Aviv’s young drag scene

Photographer Dafy Hagai’s new zine leads us into the heart of the Israeli city’s emerging local subculture

Israeli photographer Dafy Hagai turns her lens on the drag and gender fluid scene in her hometown of Tel Aviv for a new zine titled Spring. While she lives in London now, Tel Aviv is still a major source of inspiration for the photographer. “I'm still a local, and I'm always looking at local scenes and how they evolve,” she says. “I'm very inspired by drag and I was very drawn to these performers’ artistry and personas.” Previously known for her exploration into female sexuality – see Sunset and Golden Showers – for Spring, Hagai headed to the urban spaces within the city, specifically Jaffa, Arad, and Furadis, to meet and photograph its drag stars Erika Kolosov, Tomer “Versace”Jonathan Trichter and Barbara "Admonit", Miss Plastico, and Asis D’Orange. The zine’s title, Spring, borrows not just from the seasons “but also the association with something that’s rejuvenating”, she says. With Hagai adding that she has chosen to focus on the younger queens or the ones who still celebrate a more DIY aesthetic in both their looks and performances. With portraits juxtaposed with shots of Tel Aviv’s striking scenery and everyday people, Hagai seamlessly weaves drag’s narrative into the fabric of Israeli culture. As the zine launched at Tate Modern’s Offprint last weekend, we caught up with Hagai to discuss Spring.

Can you tell us about drag culture in Tel Aviv?

Dafy Hagai: From what I've seen, it’s very open and accepting. Tel Aviv has a very vibrant underground nightlife and club scene which mixes with the drag scene in several places. I think this nightlife scene  tries to bring together all the open-minded people, from all different backgrounds, and so drag culture is getting bigger and more well known. 

How does it differ from drag culture you’ve seen elsewhere in the world?

Dafy Hagai: Because of it being so detached but also very creative, the queens and performers there created their own aesthetics, looks, and shows. It's also a place where there are so many religious and political issues and so a lot of the queens are activists and are very vocal about their opinions. It's not a huge or at all commercial scene – it's local, and people who do it are doing for their own artistic expression and for the community.

Who are the queens in the photos?

Dafy Hagai: Erika Kolosov is a funny, edgy and subversive performer, who isn't afraid to expose intimate parts. Tomer "Versace", has a pure, twisted, sexual and grotesque club persona and is the main performer of PAG TLV. Jonathan Trichter and Barbara "Admonit" both exist and create in their own universe, and are more into non-gender drag. They also like walking around in the street dressed like Kim Kardashian. Miss Plastico is a drag artist and burlesque performer who is inspired by iconic women throughout history and raises questions about the place of women in culture and gender stereotypes, with a little glam and humorous touch. And Asis D'Orange is of a new generation of drag queens that doesn't shy away from politics by radicalising queerness.  

Lastly, what do you hope people see or learn when they look at this series?

Dafy Hagai: Gender dynamics are changing and a lot of the current political issues are a result of a gender binary run society – toxic masculinity, for example, runs most things. I hope people will see this series and open their minds to more diverse perceptions regarding gender.

Spring is available through Perimeter books, here