These days, Photoshop is almost synonymous with celebrity. Nearly every magazine and advertisement sharpens, brightens, smoothes, and slims the famous figures that grace their glossy covers and mega-sized billboards. The problem has gotten so bad that there’s even a bill before Congress to stem the flow of fake photos. But what happens when you do the opposite? Artist Danny Evans decided to explore that through a series of photos that made celebrities more like the rest of us…sans makeup, perfectly styled hair, and airbrushed skin.
In 2006, when Paris Hilton was at the pinnacle of pop culture, Evans “was getting frustrated with seeing all of these over-Photoshopped images of celebrities,” he told The Daily Beast. He wasn’t the only one to notice their widespread presence.
News outlets such as NBC and Fox began attacking the media industry for sizing down, and glamming up, the women in magazines and advertisements. CBS, for instance, came under harsh scrutiny after giving Katie Couric a more svelte figure in promos when she took over the evening news segment. Before Jezebel had launched to police false photos, image comparisons were springing up across the media.
So Evans decided to use the industry’s own “beautification” tool to create a new spin on the critique. Instead of tiny waists and perfectly even skin tones, he gave his famous subjects a complete make-under, transforming their bodies into a more “normal” standard—ones without the advantages of Hollywood’s glitz, glamour, and wealth. No personal trainers. No $2k-a-day beauty regimens. Just good ol’ home-grown American splendor.
“My intention wasn’t necessarily to age them, but to strip them of their ‘Hollywood’ façade,” Evans told the Daily Mail. “That has more or less been the general goal with this series all along.”
Paris Hilton was the first to get the de-beautification treatment in his series titled “Planet Hiltron.” “She sent me a message through her MySpace music account,” Evans recalls. “At the time, one of my profile pictures was her face on an 80s beauty queen and she asked me who it was. She knew it looked like her, but she thought it was someone else.”
Since then, Evans has transformed over a hundred celebrity images simply by placing their faces on pre-existing photos from what appears to be home photos from Middle America, or the low-budget studios of a local portraitist. They’ve all gone viral and been seen by many of the stars themselves. Kim Kardashian and Kanye West awkwardly embrace in color-coordinated pastel suits for their re-imagined Vogue cover. Prince William and Kate Middleton, in a traditional family portrait, seem to have eaten their fair share of cake, a far cry from their usually stylish personas. And Miley Cyrus’s teased hair and tight perm looks straight out of an ’80s glamour shoot from the local mall.
Through the L.A. grapevine, Evans heard that “the Lohans thought the one of Lindsay was funny”—he superimposed her face onto Elizabeth Taylor’s body just in time for the Liz & Dick Lifetime premiere.
Kathie Lee Gifford, on the other hand, was not so happy. “The Today Show did a segment on ‘Planet Hiltron,’ and Kathy [sic] Lee Gifford said I should be shot,” Evans says regarding a Today Show segment late last year. Aside from that, “99% of the feedback is positive,” the artist says of the project, which is not meant to be taken too seriously.
The same playfulness is seen throughout his other works.
Joansmacked, a short project that began in 2011, features a black-and-white Joan Crawford appearing on camera slapping people for making homophobic remarks. Her targets include Rick Santorum during a Fox News interview that same year shortly after the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” the military policy that prohibited gays from serving openly in the armed forces. “They are all volunteers and they don’t have to join in a place where they don’t feel comfortable serving.” SMACK. “There are people who were gay,” SMACK, “and lived the gay lifestyle and aren’t anymore.” SMACK. SMACK.
In the second clip, Anderson Cooper interviews a woman who is defending Pastor Charles Worley’s anti-gay sermon that all homosexuals should be put inside electric fences until they all die out. “I agree with what the sermon was and what it was about,” she said. SMACK. “It’s about the homosexuals and it’s wrong.” SMACK.
While both of these projects have rewarded Evans with widespread media attention, his cult following comes from Gay Carrington, a cosmetology head that vlogs (video blogs) and stars in spinoffs of classic tales such as “Bates Motel” and remakes of Andy Warhol’s factory videos. The fictional character, which began around the same time as Planet Hiltron, is inspired by the Hollywood glamour of the past. “She’s supposed to be a blogger, but a classic actress as well.” Her satire lies in racy tales of theft and murder, as she navigates her life as a washed-up actress. A new short, titled “Caller Unknown,” is set to be released later this week and promises to be haunting.
In his most recent success, Evans…or rather, Carrington, took home the 2013 award for “Best Celebrity Twitter” presented by World of Wonder, the parent company for Ru Paul’s Drag Race. “I was completely shocked,” Evans said. “I would have never guessed that they would have actually given her the award.”
Until recently, Evans maintained his anonymity on all three projects. “I had just gotten into Photoshop and was not so confident about my skills,” he said of releasing Planet Hiltron detached from his name. “You know the Internet can be really mean, so it was just better to be anonymous. With Gay Carrington, her fans like to think she is a real person and it’s almost like breaking the third wall. So I try to keep myself separate from all of that other stuff, because I don’t want to ruin it for the fans.”
As Evans continues to focus on churning out Carrington videos, he’s also keeping his eye out for clips of people saying outrageous things worth Joansmack-ing and “now [that] there is a whole new crop of celebrities coming through,” think Justin Bieber and Kendall Jenner, a new run of the Planet Hiltron series could be on the horizon. But, with a basic “normcore” get-up being all the rage in aesthetic this past season, will the transformations Evans attributes to the stars be any different than their street styles?