Hold that pose
Photographer Matt Ford has rounded up the biggest names in London’s queer nightlife scene for a print sale like no other.
From Drag Race superstars to trailblazing club promoters, Ford’s liberated world of Kings, Queens & non-binary performers were plucked straight from the stages they dominate. Turning out for the project caked in a flurry of powders and contour with their best smize, or delivering a truly jaw-breaking pout, Prints for Queers was devised in aid of Rainbow Road, a global non-profit whose mission lies in rehoming LGBTQI+ people facing persecution in their home countries.
Since being founded in 2006, the organisation has helped over 1,600 LGBTQI+ individuals (and counting) to safety through emergency relocation and support, making it the ideal choice for Ford as he points a celebratory mirror back to some of the most prolific stars and changemakers of London’s queer scene.
“I sat on the project for a few months, and then news stories about queer people fearing for their lives in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover started coming out,” says Ford. “It kind of put things into perspective and made me look beyond my own world.”
Opting for East London’s notorious queer pleasure palace, Dalston Superstore, as the project’s gallery space, Ford’s prints will be spread across the bar’s inviting walls in all their bold glory, commemorated by a short film to be shown on opening night. Ford will also be selling one-off polaroids from each shoot, with 100 percent of the proceeds going towards Rainbow Road. Below we caught up with the photographer himself, digging a little deeper into his ode to queer life and how he managed to pull it all off.
Bailey Slater: Let’s start at the beginning – what compelled you to start this print sale in the first place?
Matt Ford: The initial motivation for doing this project was after hearing a fourth queer person in a month had been queer-bashed in my home town. It was becoming a mini epidemic and made me fearful of being myself when visiting home. I knew I wanted to use my skill set to make some money to support a charity that fights homophobia, so I came up with the idea of selling prints of my existing work to raise money for a charity and also empower queer people in the process. The inspiration for the images is a celebration of our freedom to express ourselves in the UK and the subjects of the shoot are inspiring and unapologetically themselves. Whilst the shoot is joyful, I hope the images also serve as a reminder to the queer community that not everybody has these freedoms, freedoms are hard-won and queer people across the world need our support.
BS: How long have you been capturing queer life on camera?
MF: When I was first cutting my teeth as a photographer I documented two years of a queer arts festival in Liverpool called Homotopia. Through that, I realised queer culture (gay culture, to be more specific) was much more than just nightclubs and sex. I met and photographed so many fascinating people including one man from Iraq (the only speaker at the festival I wasn’t allowed to photograph for his personal security reasons) who spoke about how gay life in Iraq used to be a lot freer, but after the US/UK “search for WMD’s” the countries gay bars go closed down and you began to fear for your life if you were outed publicly.
“Whilst the shoot is joyful, I hope the images also serve as a reminder to the queer community that not everybody has these freedoms, freedoms are hard-won and queer people across the world need our support. “
BS: What does Rainbow Railroad mean to you?
MF: Homophobia and transphobia exists everywhere. Sadly, I think it always will to some degree. There are some countries though where presenting as queer is a death sentence. Queer people in these countries cannot and should not have to wait for public and government opinion to change. Rainbow Railroad offers these people an essential route out of danger and into a life where they can be their authentic selves.
BS: And why did you want to spotlight London’s queer nightlife scene specifically?
Queer nightlife is fascinating to me, it’s the place young queer people go to discover who they are, who they want to be, and what feels comfortable for them. It’s a place where any age can go to be unapologetically creative without fear of judgment. These places are vital to nurturing the community. Beyond that, it’s a place where I met my first queer friends, before apps, where else could I have done that?
A Man To Pet
“These performers and activists are pushing the boundaries.”
BS: Talk me through landing on Dalston Superstore as your ultimate choice for the installation?
MF: Superstore is one of my fave hangouts in London. It’s always friendly and a massive mixed bag of people from all walks of life. It just felt like the perfect audience and place to showcase this project and be able to invite people who don’t normally go to queer venues to come and still feel welcome.
BS: And how did you go about picking the stars of your print sale?
MF: I think I got really lucky. Lots of them are performers I’ve respected for a long time that I’ve never had an excuse to talk to or photograph. I was blown over by how many yesses I got right away. These performers and activists are pushing the boundaries. To me, they represent the fearlessness of the London queer scene. Their creativity is a constant inspiration and pushes me to stop hiding and be who I am.
“The initial motivation for doing this project was after hearing a fourth queer person in a month had been queer-bashed in my home town.”
BS: Is there a memory that sticks out most from the entire experience?
MF: The most beautiful part was having the subjects’ sessions cross over. At some points we had groups of people in the studio getting ready, fixing their outfits, chatting and cheering on the people on set. Even though some of the images are posed and performative, creating this atmosphere is a big part of being able to capture something spontaneous with a truthful energy.
BS: What can attendees expect from the opening night?
MF: On the night we will be joined by many of the stars of the show and lots of the behind the scenes creatives who were involved in the styling and sets. But I want to make the launch party an event for anyone to join. I hope we get some of Superstore’s regulars to come and see what all the fuss is about and meet some of their favourite performers in a different atmosphere to a late night club…
Prints for Queers opens Thursday 18th November and continues through to December 18th. Prices range from £25 to £300 plus a number of exclusive prints with prices available on request.