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Maria S. Varela’s Badass Dames and Vexing Vixens

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The photographic work of Maria S. Varela is not only inspired by vaudeville and burlesque, but mimics it so closely that one may assume that what they are looking at is vintage. The 1920s style makeup of her models, moody palettes, and supreme editing skills do well in taking classic imagery and inserting modern faces within. We would be lying, dear darklings, to say that we were not thrilled when we discovered that these old Hollywood images were, in fact, relics of our own time.

left: Story Heather | right: Bianca Nevius

Spanish artist Varela works mostly out of Bavaria, Germany, where she creates genre-bending pin-up photography. Though she has only been a professional photographer since 2009, her work exhibits a level of stylistic understanding that surpasses our wildest expectations.

Patricia Egea

Perhaps what is most stunning about her work is that it is, when placed next to burlesque photography of the 1920s to 1950s, indiscernible from those vintage pieces. Using modern measures, Varela is able to create new imagery that appears to have fallen from the time that it depicts. It is almost surreal to gaze upon her work and intellectualize that the model depicted is a woman from the 21st century. There is such obvious time spent in achieving this look, from the costuming and make up to the composition of the photograph itself, or the gorgeously mauve color palettes applied.

Vicky Butterfly

Her photography features washed out reds, powder blues, and mustardy yellows which soften the scenes in a way that is often difficult for the high resolution cameras of today to achieve. She poses her models in front of geometric backgrounds, peeling wallpaper, and lush curtains that appear to be breaking open at times. There is a gloominess to all of Varela’s work as a result, a feeling of mourning for what once was, for the style and grace of the early 20th century. However, her artwork does not feel aged. Rather, it drips with discernible potential.

left: Euridice | right: Bianca Nevius

There is something fitful about the women that Varela poses, their posture often stark and powerful. These are women who know themselves, their bodies, and the power that they hold within. Not merely appearing in these scenes of yesteryear, the subjects of Varela’s work command the viewer to look at them, really look at them, and at all that they have ever been. They are clad with tattoos and atmospheric sexual energy. They stare into the camera with eyes that reveal nothing but spirit. It is because of this that Varela’s work is (perhaps unintentionally) a song to all of the women who have ever been. It speaks to the vixens, the Hollywood starlets, and the moody dames of the early 20th century, and it does so with a shocking level of skillful admiration.

Vicky Butterfly

Care to take a leap into a past filled with badass femmes?  Visit her website

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About The Author

Liah Paterson is a Queens-based freelance illustrator. She spends her days polishing up her knowledge of occult objects, destroying canvases, and trying to coax her cats into liking her. Her apartment is filled with piles of books, sculptures, and paintings of disembodied hands, and a partner who plays scary video games for her so she can watch them like movies. Find her on Instagram (@atenderwitch) or on her website (

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