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  • Victoria Applegarth

Uninhibited Queer Joy Captured Through the Lens of Alexander Atherton

© Image by Alexander Atherton

Meet London-based photographer Alexander Atherton, whose Instagram presents an archival space that captures and celebrates the euphoric, unprejudiced spirit of queer rave culture.

Amongst the throng of bodies, in the midst of the sheen, haziness, and perspiration of London’s queer rave setting, you’ll find Alexander. Clutching an Olympus Superzoom 120TF in hand, he has come to be an ‘archivist,’ as some may say, documenting charged instances of closeness and liveliness - instances that are all the more important in today's increasingly fragmented society.

He never envisioned himself as a photographer, having studied history at university, but after witnessing a friend capture a candid moment with an analogue camera, he felt inspired. As he told us: “This started with me just documenting my life and taking pictures of friends.

Since then, Alexander has been effortlessly emphasising the people at the heart of London’s current pioneering queer nightlife scene. These spaces are a world away from the exclusive, ostentatious clubs of Mayfair, but rather present a safe realm for expression, exploration, and freedom where a dynamic and jubilant subculture flourishes.

© Image by Alexander Atherton

For me, it’s a safe haven for me and all my friends to dress how we want, be our most authentic selves, and meet other people in the queer community. Sometimes it's just a great place to forget about all the awful things going on in the world right now and just have fun.”

Taking inspiration from the portrait work of artists such as Nan Goldin, Cindy Sherman and Gillian Wearing, Alexander has been able to define a photographic style that he describes as “candid, queer, and irreverant.”

There is a magnetic sense of togetherness epitomised within his shots; nothing is rigid, but rather they seize junctures of passion and rapture - of ravers consumed by the music, their reservations long vanished. They almost record a period that already feels sentimental; a plethora of mesh tops, glitz, latex, and strobe-lit dance floors.

“I want my photos to capture people at their most authentic, which is when I think people are more beautiful. I’m always taken aback when I’m told my photo makes someone feel good about themselves or even that it helps affirm their gender identity, as I couldn’t ask for more than that from what I do.”

© Image by Alexander Atherton

His work is all the more poignant, in the face of a rapid decline in historic LGBTQ+ venues over recent years, along with anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes being on the increase. The importance of the liberal, utopian concept of the rave to the queer community, hence, cannot be underemphasised, and Alexander’s work has become an archive of recollection, showcasing “queer joy and self-expression,”

“As the pandemic showed us, these spaces can be taken away from us so quickly…Parties and raves like Riposte, P*ssy Palace, Rat Party, KUNT, and Loose Change provide a safe nightlife space for a lot of people who aren't accommodated in the mainstream LGBTQ+ nightlife scene. They create environments where people can explore their sexuality, gender identity, and self-expression in an uninhibited environment without judgement.”

Crucially, these spaces are a haven for many, and why trust and consent are also a key part of Alexander’s photography process, ensuring that people are always comfortable with their photos being taken and shared on social media. In many cases, this interaction and approval come naturally: Alexander explains that there is “ a shared sense of belonging and understanding between everyone who attends.

© Image by Alexander Atherton

So, what's next for this talented up-and-coming photographer?

“Currently, I am working on making my own photography zine and additionally, I have been experimenting with videography lately and I am hoping to release some exciting video projects shortly!"

In addition, Alexander hopes to complete a series on queer protest and political resistance, particularly in response to the UK mainstream media’s ongoing onslaught against the trans community. As he says, “it's crucial for queer people to lead our own narratives about our community… we are at the forefront of social change and political resistance, and it is important to document that.”

“Photography, like any form of art, has the power to make people think.”

Alexander’s images are like joyous snapshots of what's happening around him - flitting encounters turned fervent on disco-lit dance floors. Follow him on Instagram to stay up to date with his work.

© Image by Alexander Atherton


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