In Pictures: London’s Queer Nightlife

Roxy Lee’s new photobook offers an insight into an irreverent and politically-charged world

Roxy Lee, Vinegar Sniffs, 2019. Courtesy: the artist 

Using a point-and-shoot camera with an unforgiving flash, photographer Roxy Lee documents every inch of London’s queer nightlife. Her candid snapshots stand in opposition to the sanitized veneer of high-fashion and Instagram images. Instead, she captures people as they really are, off-guard, dancing on bars or passionately kissing at the back of steamy dancefloors.

Roxy Lee, Vinegar Sniffs, 2019. Courtesy: the artist 

Since 2015, Hackney-born Lee, has been trawling London’s club nights (including Anal House Meltdown, Adonis and Inferno) in search of exceptional homespun glamour. She found outfits made from cleaning-sponges, mauled silver stilettos and elbow-length red latex gloves. Now, her pictures from the last six months are collected in a new biannual photobook titled Vinegar Sniffs (2019). 

Roxy Lee, Vinegar Sniffs, 2019. Courtesy: the artist 

Roxy Lee, Vinegar Sniffs, 2019. Courtesy: the artist 

Photographs of marginalized groups can appear voyeuristic, often taken by artists who are tourists in worlds that aren’t their own. Usually, intimate, revealing portraits arise from within the communities themselves, made by individuals who live similar lives to their subjects. 

Roxy Lee, Vinegar Sniffs, 2019. Courtesy: the artist 

Think of Lisetta Carmi’s candid glimpse into Genoa’s 1960s trans community, I Travestiti (The Transvestites, 1972), or Nan Goldin’s ode to New York City’s No wave scene, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (1986). Carmi, Goldin and Lee photograph their own lives, their friends and lovers, who share the same experiences and spaces.  

Roxy Lee, Vinegar Sniffs, 2019. Courtesy: the artist 

Roxy Lee, Vinegar Sniffs, 2019. Courtesy: the artist 

Roxy Lee, Vinegar Sniffs, 2019. Courtesy: the artist 

In the last ten years, London’s LGBT+ nightlife has taken something of a beating, with innumerable beloved venues, pubs and clubs closing in the face of commercial development and noise-complaining tenants. Lee’s version of London’s nightlife tells a resurgent story; the characters in her photographs are irreverent, hedonistic and politically-charged.

Roxy Lee, Vinegar Sniffs, 2019. Courtesy: the artist 

Just as Derek Ridgers immortalized the Blitz style and clubbing movements of the 1980s, Lee captures a small community that, in years to come, will define this moment in UK fashion and queer politics. 

Vinegar Sniffs is available via Lee’s website, Donlon Books and Fantastic Toiles, London.

Sean Burns is an artist, writer and frieze editorial trainee based in London, UK. Follow him at @sf_burns

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