When we stumbled across Damien Frost’s latest photographic series ‘Night Flowers’ we knew we had to take five minutes to get to know the man behind the camera.
After getting lost in the abyss of your flawlessly presented Instagram profile @harmonyhalo we can immediately see that your subjects are some of the most interesting characters you could possibly wish to set eyes upon. How do you know where to look to find such gems?
I work in Soho and every day for a year I would wander the streets at lunchtime and after work seeking out the most interesting people I could find to photograph. As I stayed out later and later doing this I eventually started documenting the Night Flowers who mostly only coming out to play, just as most people are going to bed for the evening. Although it doesn’t look like it – many of the photographs are taken out on the street but eventually I started to get invited along to parties and was getting tipped off as to where I might find the most colourfully dressed people to photograph.
How do you go about finding your subjects and what does a typical trip out with your camera look like?
If I’m taking photos on the street it actually involves a lot of time spent waiting around and people watching – I probably look like a bit of a creep actually – checking out people as they all past hoping to find someone who has an interesting “look”.
There are certain clubs where I know I’m more likely to find people so I’ll generally wander past these places in Soho or sometimes ride around the streets of East London on my bike looking for people. I don’t use a flash (I’ve started to carry around a small portable lamp with me) so if I find someone we have to then find a suitable light and black background to shoot in front of.
These days though I’m just as likely to turn up and go inside a club where I know there’ll be some good looks and I’ll set-up a lamp and black backdrop and pull people aside and shoot people this way. But the shots are incidental and not planned so it’s a random draw as to who you’ll find or even if there are enough people with suitable looks. Even if it’s in a club though it’s all a bit random and i’m often getting bumped by people walking past or dancing behind me. What you don’t realise when looking at the photos is that despite the person in the image looking like they’re lost in their own world – they might actually just be in a corridor, foyer, or at the side of a crowded dance floor with lots of people watching their every move and yet somehow they manage to keep their composure and hold character long enough for me to take my shots.
The stylist approach you have given to your photographs almost implies make-up is the paint to this canvas. Are you personally drawn to the art world rather than that of commercial beauty?
That’s true – I come from a Fine art background and have a love for renaissance portraiture and in a way I try and bring some of this classicism to the characters I find in the clubs or on the street who you could argue are living a fairly bacchanalian life. What I love about the world of the Night Flowers is the ephemeral nature of what they do where they may spend hours on their makeup and even days creating and sourcing a look that they may only wear once and so if it’s not captured and documented then you’ve missed your chance. It’s very much an act of transient performance art. And some people creating these looks see their face as a canvas – going as far as to shave their head so they have more “canvas-space” to play with. I was once discussing this (with James Tailor who is also an artist) and in reference to his make-up techniques, he mentioned that he used to have a lot of problems applying make-up until he started to view it as if he was painting a canvas and then that freed him to be more experimental but also more comfortable in painting himself. In general I’m fascinated by our ability to reinvent ourselves, to become someone else – even just for an evening – and to inhabit different roles and to experiment with and explore the boundaries of what makes us who we are and how we are defined and many people I’m photographing are doing just this.
“In general I’m fascinated by our ability to reinvent ourselves, to become someone else – even just for an evening”
Your images tell a thousand stories, are there any stories behind any of these subjects that you can share with us?
There’s lots of stories of me chasing down people on the street – or them being nervous about me taking them down dark alleys in Soho for a photograph only to have friendly drug dealers also want their photos taken with the subjects. There was a time I even managed to foil a handbag robbery simply because I noticed someone with a shiny and glittery bag (as i’m often on the lookout for shiny and glittery things) who probably shouldn’t have had one on him. There’s also many little stories involving the particulars of the fashions and makeup since most of the people I photograph are both doing their own make-up and often making their own clothes or accessories and there are people like Daniel Lismore who will have multiple stories to tell just from the clothes he’s wearing – whether it be an item given to him by Isabella Blow or something he picked up on his travels in Africa or even a wallpaper that he’s fashioned into a dress and he’ll combine all this into the one outfit that is uniquely and utterly his own. And then there’s some people who will take current affairs and turn them into a look such as J.Aria when shocked at the tabloid treatment of Muslims after the Paris attacks recently turned up at an event in a burqa made of tabloid newspaper clippings of that week’s news and the associated shocking headlines.
There’s also little stories that can be decoded in people’s makeup where sometimes there will be subtle nods to another drag queen people admire in the way one person might do their eyes, contours or lips or even polite appropriation such as in the case of Luke Harris doing a look in the style of Boy George who in turn was mimicking Leigh Bowery – it shows a history and lineage but sometimes it might not be immediately obvious to the viewer that this is intentional or even thought through to this degree. But one story i quite like is stopping Dahc Demur VIII one night just before Halloween a few years ago, asking him for a portrait and i mistakenly thought he was en route to a Halloween party (and thinking he would be the most amazingly dressed person there) only for him to tell me that he was actually just going to a friends house for dinner and in fact he dressed like that every day – i felt terrible – but at the same time also like i’d just stumbled across one of London’s most amazing creatures and we’ve since become good friends and he continues to astound me in his inventiveness.
What in your opinion constitutes beauty and why?
I think in a very basic sense there’s beauty in anyone who knows who they are and knows how to carry themselves but there’s also a great beauty in fragility and in the unconventional too and above all there’s a beauty in honesty. I think with my photographs while on one hand I’m very interested in the external make-up, fashions and overall look what I’m most interested in is the person underneath that make-up and I try if possible to dig down and present that person with an honesty and dignity.
Many thanks Damien, we are super inspired by your work, the subjects and the stories behind each vision. Damien’s book
‘Night Flowers’ is now available through Merrell Books. Check out more images through the Illamasqua instagram page. Watch this video to find out more: