Nightlife photographer, cellist, Bostonian… Helix Pinecomb dishes on what makes his city special, what have been his career highlights, and what life is like as the partner of a Dragula gurl.
Thotyssey: Hello Helix! Thanks for chatting with us today! So, May is here!
Helix Pinecomb: May is one of my favorite times of year. We’ve all been doing our best here to stay safe and indoors, but being able to get outside in the open with warmer weather coming up and everything in bloom is more than welcome.
As a nightlife photographer, have you been struggling to get models and subjects during this downtime?
Now that things seem to be looking brighter in the future–and more and more people are getting their vaccines–I definitely am looking forward to returning to taking photos in whatever way possible. Going from working full time and exciting weekends of taking photos, to staying inside for so long, was quite shocking at first. My element as far as photography was definitely within the dark clubs, and the atmospheres of peoples’ energies and joys buzzing about.
I’ve seen so many gorgeous, colorful shots of yours, mostly taken at the vital and now shuttered Boston venue Machine.
Thank you so much! Yes, Machine was a magical place, honestly unlike anywhere I have ever been. The layout was amazing with a huge stage, and after the first time I had been introduced to it all on All Star Mondays through Violencia Exclamation Point I was hooked. It was such a unique place, filled with such amazing art and artists, that had such home base vibe to it.
Working on the 18+ Friday nights was a wild ride, filled with drag, pounding rhythms, intense dancing, and beautiful chaos. I’ve had the chance to work with so many amazing performers and celebrity personalities that I never imagined I would meet. Watching it go and not knowing when was so difficult. I am so lucky to have been able to spend my time there. Such a rabbit hole of delight.
[All photos by Helix Pinecomb]
You, of course, share a household with the lovely Violencia! Her looks are so extravagant, and from what I can tell rarely repeated… that must be wonderful for a photographer!
Her creativity and drive are unmatched! Keeping up is a challenge sometimes, but worth it. I feel so happy to have had the chance to take photos of so many amazing drag artists who work so hard on what they do, and have been evolving and entertaining and enlightening us all for years here. There’s so much talent here in Boston–and beyond, as we’re seeing more and more digitally.
Behind the scenes of everything, there’s always a lot that goes on for everyone. Which is why I’m so proud of Violencia! for really getting a platform going with The Serve Network on Twitch.
The Serve Network has achieved almost legendary status this year… it’s practically it’s own cable network starring Boston drag talent!
Yes, haha! It has shows happening almost every day of the week! Everyone really stepped up and joined together to put out some amazing shows and numbers this year.
What do you think Serve’s future might be, as venues continue to reopen?
It would definitely be a treat to see some of these new shows on the live stage someday, and even integrate the digital aspect of it all somehow. But The Serve Network isn’t planning on going anywhere, either. Digitally, sometimes there is also a uniqueness to certain shows that just work in both forms depending on the formatting of it all or themes. Examples that come to mind are the cursed “#NoFilter” show that would take place at Jacques, which translated eerily well digitally; as well as Coleslaw’s “Time Warp,” which I end up leaving with both nostalgic joy and a history lesson. Other new shows created over the past year–such Neon Calypso and Yune Neptune’s “Flava!” featuring an all BIPOC cast, as well as Majenta with a J’s “Full Spin,” Travis Ti’s “Full Throttle,” etc.–would all translate excellently to the live stage someday.
I’m sure everyone was disappointed that Violencia didn’t go farther as a contestant on Dragula, but you must’ve been at least somewhat relieved to know she didn’t jump out of that plane during that challenge!
She puts so much effort into her work, and I hope she gets another chance soon to really show off her talents further.
[All photos of Violencia by Helix Pinecomb]
Okay, more on our Boston babes in a bit, but first let’s get to our man of the hour! You’re from Connecticut originally… were you always into photography or visual arts growing up? And, did you study them in school?
All throughout childhood, I have always drawn and done visual art things through mixed media and impulse. I ended up taking every art class I could throughout school. But just like when it came to art, my photography came by impulse, too. To be honest, I bought a camera and started experimenting.
I was so enthralled by the art I was seeing [when I was] first coming to Boston in 2013, and began taking photos as politely as possible in the places that would let me such as Machine, Pub 47 Central, and Candibar. Rafael of Candibar was very encouraging, and I was lucky enough to get my start through working at Hot Mess Sundays.
And how did you come by your cool name?
It’s honestly just inspired by a glass snail I had a long time ago; the helix of the shell’s spiral mixed with the spiral of a pinecone. It used to sound like my mom would say “pinecomb” instead of pinecone, and I thought it also made sense in an abstract way; the combing of the pineal gland or the third eye. Spirals in nature are fascinating. It’s just what came to mind as a name for when I started playing cello out live, and then also for my photography.
Do you have a particular pic or photography moment from over the years that you’re most proud of?
There are a lot of memorable moments that I love. I love the pure moments of happiness or silliness or delirium such as at Sundays at Carrie Nation’s drag brunch, or really anywhere I’ve worked. “Drag-A-Thon” is such an amazing event by GMB at Royale that has been such an honor to be a part of. I love how many people I have had the chance to meet throughout the years from Dragula to Orange Is The New Black. My favorite photos are by chance, and usually end up being of Severity Stone, haha! I do really enjoy her feathered look on Machine’s red wall that she made into a shirt on dragqueenmerch. I just always wanted to give the amazing queer art and nightlife around here as much visibility as I could, because it deserves to be seen.
You touched on it a bit earlier, but what exactly do you think it is about Boston nightlife that makes it stand out as unique?
There is a lot of variety of performers here, but what they all have in common is such talent. Upon coming here, I hadn’t yet been exposed to drag up close–and was in awe of the fact that there was an open stage for people to express themselves and reinvent themselves through performance. What I found, firstly through All Star Mondays at Machine, was a bunch of people creating their own stories in such entertaining ways, manipulating audio to tell their own tales be it political, humorous, and or surreal. Amazing dancers, singers, visual artists, and storytellers. There is a lot of smart art happening here.
I’ve seen so many theatric masterpieces here, sometimes even just as a one time performance. But those special times stick with you along with the way they’ve made the room shift.
So as things begin to reopen in Boston and opportunities return, what might be next for you?
Not entirely sure yet, but keeping my options as open as possible! Looking forward to seeing how the nightlife will evolve once things are as safe as can be.
Here’s hoping for the best! Last question: did you have a song or album or any musical work from the past year that got you through Covid reality?
I’m listening to music as much as can be always! There are so many. Definitely a mixture of Lingua Ignota, Soap&Skin, Lisa Gerrard, Adult., Aisha Devi, Spellling, Jarboe, FKA Twigs, Joni Mitchell, Miss Kittin, Tori Amos for healing and Alanis Morissette’s new album were played a lot this year.
A fine mix. Thank you, Helix!