In Conversation with Brady Pappas
“Creating has never been more natural or instinctive than it is right now.”
At the cross-section of fashion and fantasy, you’ll find Brady Pappas. A non-binary artist and creator, Brady uses the camera as their tool to highlight and uplift the queer culture in the small towns and cities throughout South Central Pennsylvania. With the goal of immortalizing the underground queer life in the 717, Brady has made a staple of themself as the it-photographer documenting the joys and celebrations that take place in the nightlife scene at drag shows, dance parties, and gay bars.
We're glad to have been able to chat with Brady to further discuss their artistry and life. Read the profile below.
As a photographer, where did you find your beginnings? Who/what inspires and drives your creative work?
I took an Intro to Photo class when I was in 11th grade. I enjoyed it, but back then it wasn’t safe for me to explore my identity, making it hard to imagine what creation could look like in the form of self-expression. I got my first camera when I was 18 and spent a lot of my time online watching photography tutorials and behind-the-scenes videos of photo shoots. Because college wasn’t an option for me, I learned how to shoot by running all of Pennsylvania for a year and photographing my friends.
Annie Leibovitz's art and career are very inspiring to me. Her Disney Dream Portrait series was one of the first things that made me want to be a photographer. It’s theatrical and the colors are so real. I loved how tangible her work feels, and I like having a lot of moving parts within my scenes because of her. At 19, I was in New York City staying with an aspiring model in exchange for my photography. It was giving America’s Next Top Model but quickly came to an end. I returned home with my big city dreams and inspiration and began to make my dreams reality in the small city of downtown York.
I think my work began to get recognized in York because of how amazed people were when they realized my images were shot in the everyday places they frequented. Soon I was taking photos for models, small business owners, and events in the area as well as beginning a career in digital media and content creation. I remember filling my days exploring the 717 and really enjoying forming my own opinion on life here. It’s a playground of opportunity. I chose to see the beauty. Photography flowed so seamlessly into my life and it’s a guiding light for me still.
As far as my style, I’ve always been someone to make the most of what I’ve got. I’m crafty. That has really informed my creative process. I love transforming overlooked landscapes in Pennsylvania, I love creating images with dollar store supplies and I love redefining the label of a small-town artist. But the heart of my work is empowered by the queer experience.
Let’s talk more about queerness. Tell us about Tulle Queer. What sparked this idea and how has it been developed over the past few years?
Tulle Queer is an ongoing series of photographs that aims to increase queer representation in fashion, beauty, and media by celebrating LGBTQ+ icons of small-town life and anyone who’s ever felt too queer. I shot the first volume in May of 2022 and it opened that following June at Waldo’s & Company for Gettysburg Pride. I was first approached by Waldo’s at the end of 2021 and I instantly knew that I wanted to begin a new journey as an artist.
I’ve been using tulle in my photography since I shot my first editorial in the fall of 2019. I instantly fell in love with the material and continued to develop my style with it leading up to Tulle Queer. Tulle is so expressive and works with each person differently to complement their beauty, uniqueness and power. To me, it is the perfect tool to illustrate the magic of the queer community. I’ve always loved seeing it on runways and it’s also very affordable. This accessibility makes me feel like my work contributes to the fashion industry without having direct access to it.
At this point, what makes it so special to me is that it feels like I’ve returned to how I first started photography but as a whole new person. I’m just running around Pennsylvania photographing my friends. I’m currently releasing the second volume of Tulle Queer digitally because of all that’s to come later this year. Creating has never been more natural or instinctive than it is right now. I’m looking for queer creatives, designers, and talent to join me!
Tulle Queer has a very diverse cast of models. Different races, genders, and other identities. Do you view your work as advocacy, in terms of inclusion and representation?
Absolutely. I know firsthand how transformative it is to see yourself represented in the world, especially when your existence has historically been erased and uncredited. Queer people are reminded every day that our representation is slim to none and that the world isn’t safe for us.
"Celebrities get put on the cover of magazines to be recognized for their career highlights and I believe queer people deserve that same celebration for simply surviving each day."
For continuing to shine despite what we wake up to on the news and despite the many ways society tries to dim our light, deny us our rights and harm the most vulnerable people in our community. That resistance, that strength, that love deserves to be celebrated so that we can hold each other tighter, we can help others find their way to us and we can begin to create a safer community.
Tulle Queer is about creating the biggest, most fabulous space possible for self-expression to thrive. I have a limitless approach to photography. Who cares where we live? Baby, this is fashion! We’re gonna give the full fantasy in the park. We’re creating our own rules and giving ourselves permission to shine. I’m just happy that I’m here to document this time in the 717 and that my art can reach our community around the world.
I hope Tulle Queer will create more opportunities for LGBTQ+ people to thrive in spaces that prioritize the safety of our community. And I pray that every single person who sees my work gets inspired to better love, advocate for and celebrate the queer people in their life and those who they encounter everywhere. The magic you see in my photos exists in us all. We need to give people their flowers. I love how it feels like I get to do that through my work.
One of the biggest themes with Tulle Queer is the idea of a chosen family. What does chosen family mean to you? What advice would you have for someone trying to find theirs as a queer person?
I have a bit of a distorted view of family because of how my home was structured while I was
growing up. I learned at a very young age that in order to be safe in the world, I had to be as watered down as possible and suppress anything about myself that received a bad reaction from people. This really sabotaged my sense of self and my ability to connect with others. It wasn’t until the winter of 2021 that I felt seen and safe and truly loved by a group of people for the first time. That love transformed me forever. A lot of queer people are on that search for community and acceptance for so long that it’s life changing once you’re finally in good hands. You can breathe, and you begin to heal and explore who you are safely and encouraged by those around you.
There’s this pride I feel every time I’m with my people. When I can scan the room and see people I love in every corner and know without even being told sometimes, how much it took for each of us to get to that exact moment. The hidden battles we face each day makes you wanna love so much harder and truly see time as a gift. It’s revitalizing, effortless and truly divine every time we’re together.
I appreciate that now I can bring new people into this existing dynamic and witness how transformative chosen family love is over and over again. If you’re part of a chosen family in your community, call people in. If you’re still searching, put yourself out there! Explore queer events in your city. Shine your light. Remember it’s the quality, not the quantity.
What do you think sets Lancaster apart from other queer hubs? How would you describe our scene to someone on the outside looking in?
It’s really the people here. Lancaster is full of incredibly talented leaders who make this city a better place through their passion and dedication to uplift artists, create change and keep queer nightlife sacred. While Lancaster is small, it’s full of opportunities to be a part of something bigger.
"There’s a lot of overlooked magic existing in this area that’s just been waiting to be seen and getting to highlight that feels like a responsibility I have as a queer artist that’s empowering."
It’s really important to me to celebrate the diversity of queer culture today from a small-town perspective. The LGBTQ+ community here is large and needs more spaces to exist and thrive in. That growth happens when we come together to uplift the missions of those who are fostering change and support the queer structures and events that exist. Lancaster is full of hidden gems that would benefit from the love and support of the community.
High Fever and The Angel Hour are two of my favorite nightlife events that I look forward to each month. Come out!
The lead up to 2023 has seen some trends regarding manifestation, vision boarding, and setting intentions. What are some of your visions for 2023? Where do you see yourself at the end of the year?
I hope more people return to their art and leave perfectionism, hustle culture and self-doubt behind. For people to pass the mic and create seats at the table for marginalized voices to lead and be heard.
"My hope always is that we make progress in the protection of trans people, the safety of LGBTQ+ nightlife, and the legacy of queer culture."
I’d really like to see the 717 uplift and celebrate our community beyond Pride month by creating a lasting commitment to support queer artists, business owners and activists.
For myself, my only hope is to be happy. To be surrounded by my friends and to be creating limitlessly.
Thank you again Brady for joining us. We greatly appreciate the work you do and the spaces you make available for Lancaster's queer community. 2023 is going to be a very big year for all of us!
Visit Brady's website here: https://bradypappas.photography/portfolio