Article by Lauren Hurrell.
Just last year, Read The Muse got the chance to chat with London based photographer and artist, Holly Revell, who collaborates with queer performers and artists, and documents the iconic London queer scene, in spotlit portraits, behind the scenes candids, and all things weirdly wonderful in between.
Last night, we headed over to Bishopsgate Institute in London Liverpool Street for the archive launch celebrating ten years of Holly Revell’s photography, exhibiting a decade’s work of turning her camera on to those who inspire her, and capturing a golden age of London’s queer cabaret and club scene. Bishopsgate Institute started collecting LGBTQ+ materials in 2011, as part of their dedication to the recording and documenting of buried histories and ‘to preserving and sharing the history of protest and radicalism.’
“Along with making beautiful images, it’s the relationships I have built with my subjects over time, there’s something very special about that – photographer and muse/performer. Doing a photoshoot allows for an intimacy with a person you might only see out and about otherwise, it’s a great way to spend some quality time getting to know each other better and sharing ideas.”
In Holly Revell’s photography, anything is possible, and this archive will preserve politically important and creatively exciting documentation, in both photographic and video form, including queer performers she has collaborated with, from Lavinia Co-op and Nando Messias, to David Hoyle, Ginger Johnson, Jonny Woo and more, some of whom talked us through their very own experiences of collaborating with and posing for Holly over the years last night at the launch, in a joyfully warm, nostalgic and giggly setting.
Along the other side of the room at the launch, Revell had presented a beautiful table display of her earlier works, featuring prints of beautifully textured, black and white nudes using chiaroscuro, with some of Holly’s first muses, including adult performers Ashley Ryder and Mouse. In the modern age of apps like Tinder and Grindr and social media, making the exchange of nudes and selfies digital and instant, these pictures captured a romantic nostalgia for print photography while capturing the essence of her muses and showcasing the body in sensual, natural and candid ways, each possessing the fluidity and charm of an old painting.
These images formed part of Revell’s ‘Transformations’ series from 2016, made with performers reflecting their transition from drag back to original self in one photograph; her infamous ‘Darkroom’ installations from 2010, an experiential installation which invited participants to join a tableaux and make pictures in the dark; and the photobook ‘David Hoyle: Parallel Universe’, (published in 2017) which is the culmination of eight years working alongside and with David at his thrilling London shows.
These early works date back to 2008, and form the first few chapters in a body of work that will continue to grow and build as an important archive of the LGBTQ+ community captured through Holly’s lens and creative vision.
Through this intimate proximity, between photographer and muse, Revell perceives an underground world of the avant-garde, queer, and punk performance through her lens, and documents these moments into a tangible history for a community that has so often been erased, discriminated against, and scorned for its flamboyant, creative expression, and its daring to be different. In a time where hate speech and legislation has targeted and threatened the livelihood of the trans community, and has proliferated across the media landscape in the UK, there is no greater need for documentation and recording of the LGBTQ+ community’s history and presence than today.
Holly’s work enables her muses to reclaim historical moments, and reflect upon their lives as prominent figures in a powerful and political scene of rebellion. In the very act of documenting this, both Holly, the muse, and the observer, become mutually connected and implicated in the witnessing and chronicling of the community’s fervent history, a cycle in which the richness and power of each generation in the community is passed on to the next.
This archive is part of the LGBTQ+ collections at the Bishopsgate Institute, one of the most accessible and comprehensive archives in the UK to document lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) histories, and it is a testament to Holly Revell and the original quality of her work to be featured as part of this significant collection of archives.
As for what’s next for Holly Revell, the photographer has said she will now be taking some time out for reflection, with the desire to create a new photo-book based on the archive and other more intimate images for 2020. We can’t possibly wait to see what’s in store.
“I’m thrilled to find such a wonderful place to hold my archive – The Bishopsgate Institute have been so enthusiastic about my work and made me feel right at home with their warmth and welcoming. They have such fascinating archives on queer history and both me and the people in my images feel honoured to be included. They are also building archives on some of the individuals and troupes I have built relationships with such as Bloolips (with Lavinia Co-op) and Scottee.To have archived a decades worth of work and have it well looked after like this has been an intense but rewarding process. I caught a moment in time which was really unique, the scene has changed now of course, such is life, it was a more frivolous time perhaps when people felt free to do anything they liked and it was absolutely bonkers. I am still drawn to the absurd of which there is still plenty, but some of the work I am following now has a more serious edge perhaps – its all political though.”– Holly Revell