Late at night, after the last Tube has run its course under the streets of London, the “Night Flowers” bloom. When you see them, you know: a loose-knit community of drag queens and kings, club kids, alternative queer, transgender and gender-queer people, goths, artists, and cabaret, burlesque, and fetish performers in full make up and costume cavorting under the moon’s knowing glow.
Australian graphic designer and photographer Damien Frost began taking portraits of these incredible creatures every single day of 2014. As he remembers, “…no matter the weather or whatever was going on in my life—I wandered the streets of London after work in search of its most fascinating and vibrant inhabitants, seeking to photograph some of the people who give the city its character, charm, and edge.”
Indeed, what Frost captured was nothing short of In A Gadda Da Vida, twenty-first century flow. Using the city’s streets as his backdrop, Frost worked with the environment to create the effect of curiously cultured jewels against black velvet. Frost recalls, “I attempted to situate my subjects outside of a time and place; this gave rise to the dark backgrounds and increasingly traditional poses of the photographs. But frequently it meant convincing the sitter—whom I had usually only just met—to agree to walk with me until we could find a suitable background against which to shoot. Sometimes this would take the form of a dark wall (often down a seedy alleyway), but just as easily it could be a brightly lit shopfront or bus stop that would illuminate the subject and force the background to fade away.”
As he began publishing the photographs at @harmonyhalo on Instagram, the work generated a major following captivated by a world where the self becomes a work of art. Frost observes, “In a world where everything is packaged according to age-old market demographics, it’s east to regard these ‘Night Flowers’ as being the torch-bearers of an anti-establishment ethos of ‘true’ punk, as much as they are the precursors to many fashion and pop-culture trends. There’s a transgressive spirit of rebellion that’s inherent in many of the looks, whether its rebelling against binary gender roles or simply what’s viewed as ‘normal’ or in good taste.”
It is this escape from the mundane, everyday world of the known into a the ultimate flight of imagination that makes Night Flowers: From Avant-Drag to Extreme Haute Couture (Merrell Publishers) a captivating collection to behold. Featuring more than 300 photographs, the book is a whirlwind tour of the personalities who bring underground culture to the fore.
Night Flowers also includes an introduction by Boy George, the grandfather of the scene, who together with Leigh Bowery, redefined ideas about the relationship between beauty and art. Here, in Night Flowers, their legacy comes alive after the last Tube shuts down.
All photos: © Damian Frost, courtesy of Merrell Publishers.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.