Holly Revell, whose archive we hold, is an artist-photographer who has a keen eye for collaborating with other queer artists, making images which document and explore performance and transforming identities.
Notable projects include ‘DARKROOM’ (2010-14), ‘Transformations’ (2016), ‘David Hoyle: Parallel Universe’ photo-book (2017) and her current project ‘People Like Us’ which is exploring queer masculinity from AFAB (assigned female at birth) perspectives.
In this Lives from the Archives we ask Holly how she started photographing queer performance, and how photography can be a way of archiving and documenting history.
How did you start photographing Queer performance and LGBTQ+ culture?
It was all an accident really, I never set out to document other artists, coming from a fine-art background I wrongly thought this was the lowest form of so-called art back then! I was experimenting with my photographic installations on the queer club and cabaret scene in London, setting up tableaux for guests to join and make long exposure images, working alongside these brilliant performance artists such as Scottee and Jonny Woo, one thing led to another. David Hoyle invited me to do my DARKROOM installation at one of his shows during the Hot August Fringe at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in 2009 and we soon built an intimate photographer-performer relationship which resulted in our photobook published in 2017 and I still document his shows now. Scottee was the first person to employ me officially and I had to step it up, developing my photography skills on the job while having a lot of fun and gaining insight into the making of queer performance, I also learnt the importance of good creative documentation for this kind of work.
Who have been your favourite artists/performers to photograph?
Scottee and David Hoyle obviously as they have both given me so much over the years, both are geniuses who continue to inspire. Ginger Johnson who I collaborate with regularly is a constant source of inspiration and ridiculousness, we both enjoy making bonkers pictures and are working on something very messy at the moment! Nando Messias is another artist who I’ve built a strong creative relationship with, they are so talented and always really appreciative of my skills. I have developed a beautiful relationship with Sabah Choudhury from my current project ‘People Like Us’, they always bring some extra campery to the concept, which I love. Someone who constantly surprises you and brings that little extra of themselves is the perfect muse! I’m also really excited to be shooting Lucy McCormick’s show ‘Life Live’ at Battersea Arts Centre this July, another messy one! But really too many to mention, I have to pinch myself sometimes to believe I’m working with such amazing people!
We are honoured to hold your Archive here at the Institute. How important do you consider your role as an archivist and documenter of history as well as a photographer?
I think it’s so important and part of the drive to continue to document queer work which not only needs to be preserved but must be good quality. Once upon a time not so long ago this culture was barely documented let alone archived and shown publicly. So much queer history has been erased or forgotten. Now everything is over documented one might say but how much of this is actually any good, made with care and looked after properly for future generations? I’m so happy for our work to be at the Bishopsgate Institute where I feel confidant of its safety and security, you guys are doing a brilliant job taking care of this history and making it available for people now and in the future so thank you, I am honoured to be included in your collection. Visibility is really important for LGBTQI+ people, to be seen & be able to see others like you is affirming & can be life changing.
With your portrait work, do you approach with a set idea or are the final images a collaboration with the artist or subject?
It’s always a collaboration, I want to show as much of the person I am photographing as possible. There will be conversations and sharing of ideas before we set a shoot date and I may well lead on this but during the photoshoot the sitter usually brings something else to it and I spend time observing them and trying to find them, punctuated with laughs and experimentation. It’s a process and the stuff leading up to the shoot and the pressing of the shutter button is really important to gain the intimacy and trust required for a great portrait, it takes time and is not a just that split second!
Tell us about your new project 'People Like Us'.
People Like Us is a participatory photography project exploring AFAB (assigned female at birth) trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming (GNC) identities and experience; queer masculinity, gender-euphoria, gender-dysphoria, visibility, rituals, nuances of GNC bodies, and individual complexities. It was initially inspired by conversations with a friend who was beginning their transition process back in 2017 and from seeing other friends properly as they came out as non-binary, GNC or trans. The project presents a positive outlook and sees participants for the vibrant humxns they are, aiming to display the rich gender diversity that exists within our community in an honest and fun way. We also aim to counteract some of the fear & negativity that exists around trans people and their representation, making work which promotes empathy & understanding. It will become a gloriously queer photo-book in 2023 and an exhibition. The completed project will be archived in a number of collections including here at the Bishopsgate Institute and the Museum of Transology. You can see more from the project here. Last year I made a zine featuring a series of 12 participants’ portraits and quotes from the project which is available to buy here.