Brighton Photo Biennial 2010: Molly Landreth on Queer Brighton at Lighthouse

By Ben Miller | 28 September 2010

Brighton Photo Biennial 2010: Queer Brighton, Lighthouse, Brighton, until November 14 2010

"I'd never been to Brighton. I started photographing the day after I got there. I was so jetlagged and I have a terrible sense of direction. I got the sense of the rich Victorian seaside carnival history, the sailor port…I kind of imagined everything as being very salty, but I'd felt like once I got there I would probably be disappointed by the reality of it, that it wouldn’t be as magical and mystical as I expected," says Molly Landreth, collecting her thoughts on her Transatlantic Biennial journey.

"I was thrown in at the deep end, man. But I had people turning up as vintage sailors and old English gentlemen. You could tell that people really carried this performative, very queer identity with them."

A photo of two young women on a motorbike by the seaside
Johanna and Anna, Brighton, England (2010)
Best known for Embodiment: A Portrait of Life in Queer America, a beautiful, funny and deeply personal series looking at the real side of gay and alternative Stateside culture made between 2005 and 2007, Landreth has repeated her survey to focus on Brighton for the Biennial.

After being approached by the Lighthouse in June last year, she put out a call on Facebook and Twitter to find subjects in the flamboyant Sussex city. "I get creepy and stalky," she confesses. "I would look for people who looked interesting that were friends of people on Facebook and email them.

"I feel like if people are putting themselves about in a big way on the internet they’ll probably be open to getting their photograph taken a lot of times. I said I was going to be creating photographs much like A Portrait of Life in Queer America, but I looked for gay bars and queer theatres in Brighton."

Respondents were asked to suggest a venue that they wanted to show Landreth. "I asked them to dress as they would like to be photographed but also suggest a venue that was meaningful to them," she says.

A photo of two young women sitting by a pier
Cara and Daisy Under the Pier, Brighton, England (2010)
"Everybody was so warm to the idea. I was kind of shocked by the costumes and the way people presented themselves to the camera – it was really cool. I always get worried, like 'oh, this s***’s gonna be so boring, I don’t know where we're going, they won’t know what they're doing', but it always turned out really well.

"Whether consciously or subconsciously, people always placed themselves in a situation that really resonated with them and created a complex portrait."

EJ Scott, Brighton, England (2010)
Landreth believes in placing "so much trust" in her sitters, devoting plenty of time to "just smalltalk and making people feel really comfortable." "I want to portray people exactly as they want to be seen," she explains.

"The whole impetus for this project, when I started it in 2005, was really that I was so searching for something that I could connect with visually. I couldn't connect with the stereotype.

"I loved The L Word and Queer as Folk and whatnot in this really superficial way, but I found myself hungry for visual representation that engaged me and excited me and made me question rather than just buying into the stereotype of these beautiful bodies, disco balls and drag Queens.

"My mission for the last five or six years of my career has really been to dig deeper than this two-dimensional view and create a really rich vision, not just of the queer community but also of different religious groups and ethnic communities."

Landreth shared a house with Zoe Strauss, her fellow photographer in Queer Brighton, during the project, but says they have "completely different approaches" and never stumbled across each other outside of their temporary home.

"It was two photographers, one house, one week. We would see each other for five minutes maybe at night and collapse. I knew of her work and I was a fan and I know that we have lots of mutual friends on Facebook, so it was fun to meet her, but if we had similar aesthetics then doing the same project would be really hard.

"She's hysterical – I think we both have a lot of humour in our work, but Zoe likes the grit and grime. She mixes the humour and the sadness in this really great way. I like rainbows and try to idealise things more than she does."

In the end, they both faced "a race against time" to assemble their work. When Landreth returns to see the results in person this weekend, she'll be eavesdropping on the Brighton public's verdict.

"I'm going to sneak around pretending I'm a reporter, actually, and just try and interview people about the work," she tells us. "Hopefully they won't be saying 'that was crap'."

Molly Landreth discusses her work at In Conversation: Talking About Queer Pictures at Lighthouse on Sunday (October 3 2010), 2.30pm-3.30pm. Admission £5, visit to book.

See Culture24 later this week for Molly Landreth's favourite shot from the show.

Logo for the Brighton Photo Biennial
Culture24 at the Brighton Photo Biennial 2010:
Martin Parr on curating the festival
Artist's Statement: Alejandro Chaskielberg
Inside The House of Vernacular at Fabrica
Video: Alec Soth on Brighton Picture Hunt
Our preview of the Brighton Photo Fringe
Five to see at the Fringe: Part One
Behind the Scenes: Three Views of Brighton
John Deakin's Gods and Monsters in Chichester
Laura Burgess on the education programme
"Cutting edge" programme announced for 2010
More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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