Step Inside The Fantasy Land Of Richie Shazam

Richie Shazam is the American multi-hyphenate whose firmly queer opus has metamorphosed over the past half decade into an increasingly microcosmic manifestation of her essence. A downtown artist, model, photographer, writer, muse, creative director and television host – she does it all, and she does it with ferocity. “My creative brain allows me to do all of these things. It is my voice, my eyes. I’m a one-stop shop, I’m a machine that can do anything. And I want to be a machine! The girl’s gotta work ten times harder,” she says. Now, the powerhouse 32-year-old is dipping her toes into the curious world of publishing with a poignant autobiographical photo book entitled simply, Shazam. 

Take it from us, it’s high-time to get your hands on a copy and feast your ravenous eyes as Shazam arrives on the back of Idea, the London-based residence of book shopping nirvana. Dreamt up by Angela Hill and David Owen, the vintage dealer turned publisher, operates out of Dover Street Market London, New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, so of course it’s a vendor of supercool, super-interesting, super-limited-edition reads – the perfect place to envelope yourself such a esoteric tome. Idea even describes the publication as its “most exciting, extrasensory, super-visually energised book” that it’s ever made. 

Given carte-blanche, Shazam took roughly six months to complete and brandishes 190 zany self-portraits shot on film, produced by (and featuring) Shazam herself. Unfurling across 176 pages of pure, visual ecstasy, it’s the culmination of 50 shoots, almost all of which were shot in her studio on Bowery in NYC – her sanctuary – and a tried-and-true team effort, complex yet spontaneous, that engaged with Shazam’s vast community of creative friends and chosen family as collaborators. 

Bound by a hellish red hardcover with embossed foil graphics by Justin Hager, dozens of iterations of “the doll” are featured within, showcasing Shazam’s apex subject: herself. Shazam reconciles her fascination with the art of self-presentation and self-portraiture through a beautifully chaotic optical fantasy. In one set of portraits, she shapeshifts into the Bollywood royalty she dreamed of becoming in her adolescence: draped in scraps of an orange sari with elaborate South Asian gold jewellery and a custom-designed orange wig created by Jimmy Paul. Elsewhere, she poses alongside her partner, Ben Draghi, who describes the volume as “quintessentially Richie”. “It’s such an honour to create intimately with my partner and to help bring her vision to life… it really captures the uniqueness of her spirit,” he continues. “It’s chaos, and all the beauty that ensues. Making things in the pursuit of beauty, of something new and true. And then making sense of it all afterwards. Letting fantasy take the wheel.”

All dolled up in another vignette wearing custom looks created by longtime comrade and stylist Briana Andalore – who’s stylistic contribution spans the length and breadth of the entire book – Shazam poses alongside longtime friend, Julia Fox, who, for good measure, wrote the book’s eclipsing foreword. Inside, the unconventional actress and no-fucks-given anti-fashion muse writes: “As I sit down to write this foreword, I cannot help but feel a sense of pride in being given the opportunity to introduce you to Richie Shazam, although let’s be real, she needs no introduction… In this book, you will have the opportunity to experience a glimpse into the mind of a complex multi-dimensional creative spirit. You will be transported on a journey of self-discovery, transformation and creative evolution. You will see firsthand the power of living free from the shackles of societal norms, and the infinite beauty that results in defying the binary.” 

And indeed you will become enraptured, because at the end of the day, Shazam incontestably has quite the knack for conjuring pure, joyful fantasy. The characters she spawns are one part fantasy, one part authentically Shazam. Fully in charge of her own image, her savage individuality is hardly contained by the sanguine covers. 

For Shazam, who was disowned by her biological family, the book is a celebration of the creative chosen family and artistic haven she’s built up around her. It rejects the anxiety of perception and the scrutinous eye of others, instead harnessing and refracting who Shazam truly and unapologetically is. It’s also political, but it is the current state of affairs in her home country, America, that makes it so oppositional. “The book launches on the brink of Pride, and Pride this year has to be a protest, because everything has gone quite draconian on a global level against queer individuals,” Shazam explains. “I want the book to highlight the beauty of family and community especially during these strenuous, horrible times where our rights are being stripped away and they are trying to kill us – but not kill our spirits. The book is essential now as the queer utopia/dystopia: this is us, we’re here and we are going to constantly be ten steps ahead. You need to find your tribe of people who will support you and help you to… exist.” 

Above all, Shazam was created for her community, in hopes that it would inspire people to express themselves authentically through her trans joy. At its heart is a girl on her own, vulnerable and vehement. Shazam is for herself. “This is me reclaiming my identity, taking back the power of the lens and showcasing my skill for photography, being able to tell all my stories,” she says. “It is almost a F U to the powers beyond. Like, Ebony Magazine used to do ‘Flavour Of The Week’ – I am always going to be the flavour in everyone’s mouth, every week. I can do anything!”

Photography by Richie Shazam.

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