Rhythms From The Metroplex: A Poetic Snapshot into a Pre-lockdown world

A tale of two cities: New York and London, circa 2017 to 2020 – this is the setting for Jermaine Francis’ Rhythms From The Metroplex. The photography book can be read as an anthology that takes the viewer on a journey through a pre-pandemic world, a world that is innocent and yet to be consumed by Covid; it acts as a prequel to Something That Seems So Familiar Becomes Distant (Francis, 2020).

Rhythms From The Metroplex, photographed by Jermaine Francis, 2017-2020

Francis’ work illuminates the different cultural parallels between New York and London – the ways people choose to communicate and fill the space (or lack thereof) and the somewhat theatrical essence between the two major cities.

Rhythms From The Metroplex, photographed by Jermaine Francis, 2017-2020

Each image is taken from a selection of frames, all layered together to create the narrative: some faces blurred and others in direct focus. The pictures play with a sense of closeness and distance, speaking to how people used to interact and exchange with one another.

‘In many ways, this book is about time and its intrinsic relationship to photography, but it is also about the poetic mystery of time. Time courses through us, like a heat wave in a vortex. It is a warm kind of whiplash, as life flashes before our eyes.’ – Oliver Kupper

Rhythms From The Metroplex, photographed by Jermaine Francis, 2017-2020

Rhythms from the Metroplex is a 106-page visual experience that encapsulates a time before now – one that shows the unbridled hustle and bustle of everyday life.  

The book was released on September 13th 2021 and be purchased on Francis’ website jermainfrancis.co.uk and clairederouenbooks.com.

Sorry If I Look Interested, I’m Not: A Whistle Stop Tour Around Scotland With My father & His Jack Russel, Jumble

This summer, I did a five day road trip around Scotland, visiting the Isle of Mull, Iona, Staffa and the surrounding countryside of Edinburgh with my father, Peter, following the death of his brother, Jamie. I had felt compelled, after this sudden and tragic loss, to connect with my father after many years of near-estrangement. Before our trip, the longest time we had spent alone together was never usually more than a single day.

Peter is eccentric, formidable – a man who marches to the beat of his own drum and no one else’s. The only one who’s kept up is Jumble, his closest companion, a 14 year old Jack Russell.

The trip was a chance for me to try to understand, and appreciate, my father’s unique, challenging and complex character. I wanted to keep a record of it, to capture our attempt at reconnection, to document the memories we made along the way.

The trip was emotional, beautiful and exhausting. My camera became a saviour, through it I could observe him – he was my muse. Though his reaction to being photographed was often in the form of a scowl, the interaction it created became a form of communication and connection between us. This was new ground for us both.

Peter Van, Edinburgh, (Olympus Mju 35mm Film) photographed by Lara Monro

Who is my father? Do I understand him? How well do any of us know our parents as entities beyond the role of mother or father? Does understanding his life better vindicate him of the mistakes he made as my parent?

Isle of Iona, (Olympus Mju 35mm Film) photographed by Lara Monro

I hope that these images have captured some of what I learnt: that Scotland is beautiful, that my father is strange and brilliant, and that my time spent with him has helped me to make sense of, and heal from, a complex family past.

Header image credits: Peter on Staffa Island, (Olympus Mju 35mm Film), photographed by Lara Monro

Drag in the desert: A photo series by Jane Hilton

Of all the people and places photographer Jane Hilton has documented over the past three decades there is one location that she can’t quite shake – Nevada. The sweeping desert state in America’s west is of course home to the brash and bawdy Las Vegas, but beyond the neon lights there is a grainier side of life she is drawn to.

The London-based photographer first travelled to the States in 1988, sparking a fascination with all things Americana that would become a hallmark of her career.

“I just fell in love with it,” she says of that first visit which took her to Tucson, Arizona.

 “It was like being in a film. It was those 180-degree, blue sky vistas, and the sunsets, and the light – it was the light! I’m so passionate about lighting and they’ve got it there, “god’s light”. They might not have got other things right but they’ve got the light.”

In 1992 she first visited Nevada on a job shooting the desert landscape, which covers the majority the state. Nevada is home to both Las Vegas and Area 51, with a transient allure that, beyond the casino tourists, attracts a myriad of characters often looking to either get rich or get lost. Over the past 25 years the photographer has documented many of the people that often inhabit the fringes of the place, including burlesque dancers, cowboys and sex workers.

“It’s in stark contrast to the way I was brought up in English suburbia. I think had I gone to New York first, I might have a different relationship with America. I’m more interested in the American west and the way that genre (of Westerns) has played out.”

It was the Western genre that inspired her latest project, Drag Queen Cowboys, which was recently shortlisted as a finalist in the prestigious Sony World Photography Awards. Drag Queen Cowboys is a series of black and white portraits of Las Vegas drag performers in Western-inspired costumes shot out in the desert. Hilton was largely inspired by 1961 film The Misfits, written by Arthur Miller and starring Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable and Montgomery Cliff. In it, Monroe plays a recently divorced woman who meets an aging cowboy, Gable, and his friend, played by Cliff.

Since its release the film has been trailed by a macabre notoriety due to the death of all three stars within five years of its release. Gable died of a heart attack ten days after filming wrapped; Monroe of a suspected drug overdose some 18 months later; Cliff’s health deteriorated and he was dead by 1966. It was the last film Gable and Monroe ever made, and it is said that Miller’s marriage to Monroe was also a casualty of the film. Despite the playwright specifically writing the part for her, their relationship disintegrated during the lengthy and over-budget shoot.

“Arthur Miller himself went to Reno to get divorced so he could marry Marilyn. There were all these divorce ranches on the outskirts of Reno where people wait and have a good time while they are waiting,” Hilton explains.

“In the thirties and forties they were full of mostly housewives because their husbands had sent them there to get a divorce within six weeks, which was unheard of. They’d do that, then party with some cowboys while they had left the husband at home with his mistress.”

“So Miller went there because he knew about getting a divorce in Reno and the strange displacement of people who go to Nevada looking for a new life. Whether they are hiding from something, or trying to find something… In all my experience that is how Nevada is for me too; it’s people searching or trying to cover something up.”

After discovering the strange legacy of the legendary film, in February 2020, just before the pandemic hit, Hilton drove a handful of drag performers in their stage makeup and Western outfits in her ’66 Mustang to an isolated stretch of desert on the outskirts of Vegas.

“I was looking for another community, a different community, that I could document, one I didn’t know much about,” she explains of the process of choosing her subjects.

“I started to go to drag bingo in Vegas and got to know some of the girls. I was thinking about how they are perceived and how post-Ru Paul, social media has gone mad with drag queens. They are always literally lit with flash, it’s so artificial, with so much retouching or a filter, so that their imagery looks almost homogenous because of the way they all photograph themselves. I decided I wasn’t going to do that.”

Instead, Hilton photographed each performer in natural light, shooting on a 5×4 plate camera and black and white film, with no flash or retouching. Rather than just being passive subjects the performers worked with Hilton on creating the visuals, each creating their own Western-inspired outfit for the shoot. By removing the drag performers from their usual environment, that of a dimly lit bar or nightclub or karaoke stage, the portraits subvert the type of image often associated with drag performers and create a contrary energy that is both powerful and poignant, and typical of Hilton’s work.

Jane Hilton, United Kingdom, Finalist, Professional competition, Portraiture, Sony World Photography Awards 2021

As a documentarian she has long been drawn to sub-cultures; in 2000 the BBC commissioned a ten-part documentary from her about two brothels in Nevada, the only US state in which sex work is legal. She has spent the past few years filming the ‘The Last Lion Tamer’, following a family’s fight to save their livelihood as the government moves to outlaw the use of wild animals performing in circuses. Currently the photographer is riding out lockdown in her London home working on various projects, eager to start shooting again. As always, there is one place in particular she is waiting to revisit.

“I am doing a book about the state of Nevada because I’ve spent a lot of time here – almost too much time! No matter where I go, I seem to end up back there…”

Jane Hilton is a finalist in the Sony World Photography Awards 2021: Professional Competition. Overall winners will be announced on 15th April 2021. www.worldphoto.org/

Header image credits: Jane Hilton, United Kingdom, Finalist, Professional competition, Portraiture, Sony World Photography Awards 2021

The Photographers Capturing Ireland Through a Queer Lens

Ireland has undergone tumultuous social change in the past three decades. The queer creatives who have come of age during this period are seeking to change the narrative when it comes to documenting LGBTQI lives.

The nineties were punctuated by a slew of queer pop culture moments that are still referenced today for their bolshy, unashamed arrival into the mainstream. KD Lang and Cindy Crawford indulged in a homoerotic barber shop sitting on the cover of Vanity Fair; talk show queen Ellen came out live on TV, and even the soaps, that most pedestrian of pop culture institutions, featured the first gay character and lesbian kiss on Brookside in 1994.

These iconic moments gave the impression that queerness was slowly but surely creeping from the fringes into a suburban sort of conventionality, but real life for LGBTQI people was far from that. In Ireland, still a social conservative country in the hedonistic nineties, homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1993. The Catholic church had an iron grip on many institutions (and indeed, still does) including the public school system and many hospitals.

Conservative and liberal ideology would continue to clash for the next few decades, culminating in the 2015 referendum that brought in same-sex marriage, and the 2018 one that legalised abortion. It was against this backdrop of seismic social change that a generation of queer kids were brought up, sort of as changelings of the Old and New Ireland. Now in their twenties, Gen Z and young Millennial creatives have a particular viewpoint of how they want to document and express the experiences of LGBTQI people.

Donal Talbot, 25, is a model-turned-photographer whose work has featured in publications including i-D and The Face. Most recently his portraits were chosen by Benjamin Wolberg for his latest book, new queer photography, which showcases work from breakout and established queer photographers from around the world.

Home project, photo by Eoin Greally

“My work tends to challenge how we, as a culture, see things like intimacy and queerness, and how those things correlate. There’s a softness and stillness that I try to capture in my portraits that aims to rewrite a narrative about how queer people communicate and interact with each other,” Donal says.

“I find a lot of inspiration from meeting people in gay bars and queer spaces but I’m interested in seeing what happens past that; the still moments of capturing someone after the lights go down in the club, or the day after a party in someone’s house.”

The photographer studied at Ireland’s foremost art school, the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, and it was in his final year that he found his medium.

“For my final project I knew I wanted to do work around queer narratives, but I didn’t have an idea of how to do that. I was in drag going to a boxing ring, then I started to take pictures and realised that was what I like. The project came together in the last two months and it was a portrait series of around ten different LGBT and queer people I had met. I photographed and interviewed them and that springboarded me into the art I make today.”

Eoin Greally is a 23-year-old from rural Ireland who has already carved out an impressive career in fashion and portraiture photography. While back in the family home during lockdown, the young photographer began working piecemeal on a project that has evolved into a cathartic reflection of his own journey as a young queer person. His rural upbringing, once something that he feared, has given him a unique perspective on how he has evolved both creatively and personally.

“At first I didn’t know it was going to be a project, they were images I was simply collecting. It’s a lot of portraiture, and also trying to capture the essence of my home. There’s that idea when people ask, are you going home, or are you going ‘home home’?” he explains.

“Now I’m piecing together the images I have realised there is a huge queer perspective but it’s not the typical gay male perspective from a gay mecca like New York. It’s all about a place I was afraid of growing up. I was in rural Ireland and I was afraid of being queer.”

“I was lucky, I always had support from my family about being queer but it still came with its discomfort. A lot of the focus is on my dad – he’s my favourite person to photograph, but also because he was the only person I was afraid of disappointing by being queer. I never received that sentiment from him, it was totally coming from what I thought I had to be afraid of. This project definitely has helped getting rid of some of that discomfort. It was something I largely put there myself, and now I’ve been able to take it away but it needed time. It’s been a healing project.”

While lockdown has given rise to a lot of creative output, it has also stalled many planned projects and events. 22-year-old photographer and sociology student Niamh Barry was on the cusp of launching her exhibition, ‘Queer Hearts of Dublin’ last October until yet another lockdown was announced. The exhibition is a range of portraits of queer people Niamh met mostly through a casting call on Instagram, with the aim of documenting as diverse a group as possible; “It was about reconnecting to my queer community but also so that people knew it wasn’t just a white male perspective (of queerness). The image is different to what people think. I wanted to collaborate with people who wanted to tell their story but it was also intersectional- it was a new narrative but yet one that’s always been there,” she says.

“I reached out people on Instagram and that’s how I met one of my subjects, Mimi. Her story was really interesting. She is a black queer woman and hearing her experience was amazing. She’s two years younger than me but so confident; I was almost surprised by her confidence in those moments because at the same time she was telling how hard it was to grow up where she lives, which is a small country town, very inward looking.”

“She told what it’s like growing up as a black woman in Ireland and what it’s like to not really have representation, especially also being queer. That experience made me realise that this type of story is not being told in Ireland.”

The resulting portraits are intimate and raw, quietly communicating what it means to be queer and young and living in Ireland at this moment in time. It’s a sentiment that Eoin echoes when considering his next chapter in his work.

Home project, photo by Eoin Greally

“I have realised my privilege within the queer community – I am a white, queer, cis gay male. I don’t by any means think that’s a bad thing but being a photographer gives me an opportunity to uplift other sides of the queer community that didn’t always get the limelight.

“What’s important to me now is focussing on the groups in the queer community that don’t always get the opportunity to speak. It’s still a work in progress, but that’s what I want to dedicate my time to now.”

Header image credits: Ming and their significant other Aisling, photographed by Niamh Barry

Join the mailing list

Search