We’re so excited to announce that this Halloween issue we will be bringing back the legend himself— Neil “Nez” Kendall! To celebrate, enjoy this interview featured in our Halloween 2020 issue! Keep an eye out on our social media pages for news about the Halloween 2023 issue.
Q: Hello Neil! I’m so excited to be featuring your work—seriously, a dream come true. First off, how did you get into photography?
I am happy to be here and be in your Halloween issue! BOOOOOO!!! I am right behind you readers.
It was my Granddad he gave me a beat up old film camera and that was it love at first sight. I just took to it and started shooting people and making these mad little sets its grown over the years but the principal is the same.
Q: Do you strictly photograph burlesque babes, or do you also work with models outside of the burlesque scene? I have become so synonymous with Burlesque that it’s all I am booked for . Of course I do other things like theatre work with clients but I get booked months in advance with clients from al over the world. So I now have a sort of infamy and people seek me out on instagram all the time. I have shot fashion I used to do all these fashion layouts and they were always saying to me ‘’its too theatrical ‘’ or’ its ‘’too vintage ‘’ of course ,I was shooting these models in old theatres and ballrooms when the style at the time was minimal backdrops. But I just went with what I loved and I did get into Vogue and other magazines. Burlesque was my home it’s where I am most creative and free.
Q: Your sets are always very detailed. How do you plan out sets and props? Are the models ever involved with creating the ideas? I have a concept its nearly always informed by old movies and B Movies in particular , you will see bits of Skull Island from King Kong , mad scientist labs from Frankenstein so I run with my ideas. I am so well known now that it’s a case of ‘ if you build it they will come’
Q: What inspires you to create all these magical sets?
It’s just a pure love of vintage film and Old Hollywood. I have these pencil sketchbooks so I create these drawings and create these sets out from my head. I love that they are real so its all painted and hand made by as I have a little team ,we are like the Addams Family and I have little cocktail parties in the sets when they are done . I get lost in time making them .
Q: When you’re done shooting with a certain set, do you store everything for later use or are they only used for a limited time and retired? I have a studio in an old Sunday school at the top of my street So It’s a great space but its like and Aladdin’s cave . I keep hold for a few months and then some crazy burlesque star buys them .Its so funny ,the half Moon went to Paris on an Easy Jet flight when I did the last shoot in it with two crazy French girls. I would love to keep them, but I love that they are only here for a season and then it inspires me to make new things , it keeps it fresh for me and I want my clients to have a unique experience in them too .
Q: Are you constantly on the “hunt” for vintage props to use? If so, do you have a favorite shop to find these amazing vintage pieces?
You know it. I do road trips to all sort of odd places to find things in fact today I am chatting to my artist friend Russell Kirk as I found a giant 1950s paper Mache Rocket, its huge and its wonderful that was sin a junk shop and its from the 1950s. So we are putting fins on it and a sputnik to make it more atomic. I have two old University friends and we do these mad road trips, England is amazing for weird vintage markets so I always find things and my house is like a museum. I am renovating an old dolls house that’s super gothic so that will feature in shoots too it is going to be like the Munster’s home
Q: When did your love for burlesque begin?
I went to the Exotic World Ranch and met Jennie Lee the Bazoom girl and later Dixie Evans the Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque out there in the Desert they still guide me and my career from beyond, they were amazing women!
Q: You’ve worked with so many amazing people throughout the years. Do you have a favorite photoshoot you’ve ever done? Whether it be because of set, burlesque star, outfits, etc. Dirty Martini and I met in 2007 I did her spider web act in the Slipper Room in New York and that was great we instantly became firm friends.
Q: What is your favorite memory (so far) throughout your career? That is a hard one as there are so many great memories I literally have travelled the world as a Burlesque personality so have had some very wild parties and met some amazing performers.
I drank champagne with Dita and shot her in her glass in Hollywood up in the hills and we were both laughing as she swirled around in the glass that was special, we are still in touch.
Q: Have you photographed live burlesque shows as well? I don’t anymore as I prefer to experience it with my own eyes and I produce shows too so I have pro photographers who come in and shoot them
Q: If you could work with any 3 burlesque stars, who would they be and why? I have literally shot so many of the worlds greatest burlesque models so I would go old school and say Lilli Christine, the Cat Girl she was tiger like and exotic in every sense of the word. Blaze Starr in her prime was pure heat on stage so would love to catch her energy with my camera, she did a number with a real panther and his pieces f meat in her stage wardrobe ! Then I love Mosh ,from our era, she is a pure fifties bombshell with that Jayne Mansfield look.
Q: How did you get into producing burlesque shows? I couldn’t find a show with all the elements I wanted so I produced my own, I remember the first night sold out and there was such a buzz about it as Burlesque was new then ,that was 2004 so they have gotten bigger and better and I run them with the photography so often its like an art project and I will shoot the acts as well as having them perform. Its now the longest running show in the UK and the Halloween Edition is sort of legendary. They call it the ‘spookiest show in the world ‘For that one, I fly acts in from all over the world and I produce it in a 12th century church so the dressing room is a crypt !
Q: When you’re not doing photography, what else are you working on in your “spare time”?
A book about my encounters with burlesque legends is my latest project . I pretty much work seven days a week so always working on a new project or endless edits for my clients . I love kicking back with a cocktail from my tiki bar and watching vintage films I can be extrovert but also love my quite space. I get to travel to far-flung places when I can .
Q: While browsing your Instagram, I saw that you like to travel. Do you have a favorite vacation spot?
So many places I am very lucky to have been around the world . I have tobogganed down active volcanoes in Chile , explored lost cities in Cambodia, and seen the sun rise over the Pyramids in Egypt so each one is magical. I love travel , new cities cultures and people it’s my plan for the future to keep exploring our incredible planet.
Q: 2020 has definitely been a weird year, especially with all events being cancelled for most of the year. How have you kept yourself occupied?
Its crazy I know. But so far I am super productive and creative. I made a socially distanced musical on my street I created a tropical garden in the heat wave we had here, lots of reading worked on my photography book and built props, lots of zooming of course and I made little films about my work . I opened up again last month so thank goodness, it’s busy with work again its hell for self-employed artists. The Rona is a bitch .We all have to keep our heads up and know if we each do our bit to keep ourselves and others around us safe this will eventually be over but we are all in it together.
Q: Last question—how do you typically celebrate Halloween?
My house is Halloween all year around , so it’s a hot spot for trick and theaters. I love Halloween and am so passionate about it so it’s a sacred time for me, I have vintage decorations, lots of carved pumpkins I light the candles all over the house so its dark and spooky and light my real fires and have a small cocktail party it always finishes with a double bill of classic films like the Wolfman or Bride of Frankenstein .
Halloween is like Christmas for me and there hasn’t been a year including this one where I don’t do something . So whilst there wont be a show your gorgeous readers can follow me on instagram at Neilnezkendall where all my favorite glamour ghouls will be appearing and I will be doing a very special October 31st post too .Happy Halloween to you all.