Heather Glazzard, Photographer
Reading Time: 4 min
Social Impact: Rethinking queer visibility and representation in a culture of tokenism with boundary-breaking photography
As we stand in the wake of another Pride Month and London’s first ever Trans Pride; the city’s queer community have proved themselves as one of the most formidable and boundary-breaking in the world. A movement is nothing without its key artists within it, making the change through work that challenges society’s perceptions. One such artist is Heather Glazzard, whose powerful, vulnerable and introspective look on the queer community has made their name. Their work has challenged perceptions and rethought queer representation, with their portraits earning features in DAZED, Vice, Vogue Italia and TANK magazine.
When I visit their house one summer afternoon I’m greeted by the eye-watering smell of photo developing liquid. They’re in the downstairs bathroom developing their negatives in the sink. I help them to carry them up to their room (their leg is broken) and we watch as they flap and shift in the sun:
“That would have cost me £60 to do in the photo-shop”, they say as we watch the film dance in the light, “I’ve spent £3k there this month, there’s no way I’m doing that anymore, I’m only doing it myself.”
If there’s one sentiment that pinpoints Heather’s rise to notoriety in the art world, it’s self-made. Hailing from Manchester as a self-taught photographer; they stand head and shoulders about their well-connected and privileged peers at Central St Martins, where they’re currently studying for a Masters in Photography. I learn that it’s not always a job they saw themselves in:
“I wanted to be a footballer, can you tell? [Laughs] But I stopped because I was constantly told ‘girls can’t play football’, so I went the other way and studied beauty therapy, from one extreme to the other. Photography was something that made me feel at peace.”
When did you start with photography?
“I learned from my dad, he used to do photography in his biology job where he’d take loads of photos of plants which he’d develop in my granddad’s pantry; he’d use that as his dark room. He used to teach me how to take a good photo, he’d always say ‘a good photographer can take a good photo on a shit Nokia phone,’ that was really embedded in me.
I was still studying beauty therapy because I had no GCSE’s and I spoke to my tutor and told them, I don’t want to be giving the massages, I want the massages to be given to me, so I decided to study photography. I went to Salford University where I studied it.”
“[Photography] wasn’t my passion at all back then… Actually, no; I think it was, but you when you’re young and you’re messing around because you don’t care.”
When did you start to take it seriously?
“When my dad died, something changed me. I told myself ‘how can you expect to be anything if you don’t care? So I started caring: I’d spend days on end in the scanning room and the dark room just getting better.
I started photographing the girls I was sleeping with; I always found it so funny the daft and weird things people would do when they had a camera pointed at them, I’ve always lover that.”
Is that what your series ‘Queer Letters’ was born out of?
“Queer Letters was actually sort of born out of ‘Moist’, which was an art event and space I used to do for the queer community; but it just got ruined. It turned into a piss up, people stopped caring, they wanted to make it something it wasn’t and introduce things like speed dating; but I started Moist with the goal of celebrating the things we were doing that was more than our sexuality.
So, I decided to start Queer Letters because I could decide who could be involved, the kind of people who would take it seriously. David Hoyle was one of the first portraits, a performer that’s been around for years, I always remember what he said, that everyone just thinks we’re having sex all the time. It’s what the outside world associates us with and how they perceive us; but I think we should have the right to say what we are.”
Do you think current queer representation lacks that kind of dignity in the art world?
“Well, there’s people like Munroe Bergdorf and Jamie Windust who are changing the way we’re perceived in the UK for sure, but I think for women it’s still so different; men always stop and stare if my girlfriend stops to kiss me. An example of this is the last Pride cover for Vogue Italia; they featured a gay male couple, a gay female couple and a heterosexual couple on three versions of the cover: every couple was kissing properly except the women, who weren’t even gay. The difference in portrayal is so huge because the patriarchy is still so present in the queer community. It doesn’t matter if you’re gay; if you’re a man you’re instantly more privileged.”
What are the next steps for you as an artist?
“Right now I’m applying to British Arts Council for money to fund the Queer Letters book, but if I don’t get it, I’ll not carry on the series.”
“In a weird kind of way, I feel like while it’s been so successful, that’s all people associate with me. I want to do more than taking portraits and putting text next to it now, I want to move onto something more intelligent and thought-out. It’s why it would be nice to get the funding and do the book because I can put a line under it. I can move on and be known for something else.”
I ask them what they do want to be known for, and they look out of the window into the quiet of Bethnal Green, illuminated with September light:
“Someone who documented the queer community. Someone who will be in galleries way after I’m gone.”