Imogen Cleverley is a photographic artist based in London exploring queer eroticism and sexual fantasies through photography, visual codes and print processes. They are prompted by queer archives (and the expanding of), leatherdyke histories, SM practices and dyke/queer subcultures. They work within a DIY mentality, influenced by punk predecessors working within the margins. They have worked with organisations and collectives working towards sexual liberation within marginalised identities.

 

Tell us about you.

I’m Imogen, I’m 33, I’m a disabled artist- I have a chronic pain condition and chronic fatigue. I identify as a DIY leather dyke who is genderqueer. 

 

How did you get into queer erotic photography?

I’ve taken photos since I was a teenager. My sister is also queer, she’s trans, and we used to take pictures of each other just for fun. But then I didn’t take it seriously until I was 26 when I went to university. A lot of my work was about sex in university, but I got shamed a lot for it. The tutors always wanted me to conceptualise my work, and I always questioned why it couldn’t just be about sex alone. 

Now I’m in a space where I’m trying to undo all of the things that they instilled in me. I want to go back to my DIY roots, I don’t want to be elitist with my art, I prefer a raw approach to my queer erotic photograpahy. 

 

How would you describe the mood of your photography?

I’ve recently realised that even if I’m shooting really filthy stuff, it’s still  romantic, intimate and sentimental. Especially my documentary work, such as the things I have shot with Sex and Rage, because it felt like capturing such a historical and important moment. I felt it was so great to be a part of it. 

I’ve always been so obsessed with time, keeping memories, archiving and the question of who gets to be in the archives?  So my  queer erotic photography tends to link to those ideas.

 

Can you present 3 photos that you’ve taken?

 

The first photo is a picture of me fucking myself with a red stiletto. It’s from a series called ‘Coming to Power’ named after a leather dyke group in the 80s. I took a series of photos when I was bed-bound for ages. I was basically disappearing into a fantasy world and masturbating a lot. I couldn’t go to the dark room so I started doing a process where I peeled the polaroid off the back of the plastic and then printed it onto leather. 

 

the queer erotic photography of imogen cleverley

 

 

 

The next photo is a picture of Jay, one of the dancers at Sex and Rage. They have grabbed a non-binary person from the audience and put their bum in their face. I love how everyone in the audience is so full of joy, I’m obsessed with everyone’s reaction. Jay is amazing- they’re a massive force, so I feel really happy to have captured that moment. 

 

imogen cleverly queer erotic photography collaborating with sex and rage

 

 

The final one is from a series I shot in the first lockdown when I was living in a warehouse with my 2 friends. It’s from my Leather and Latex shoot. It took about a year to print the photos, because everything was closed, so when I finally got to print them in the dark room, it was a really magical moment. 

 

Imogen cleverley queer erotic photgraphy leather & latex series

 

 

 

In the queer community currently there’s a lot of celebrating joy and softness, but I like to be a bit more punk and promote having hard conversations, and to create stuff that’s more unfiltered, even if none of it can exist on social media.

 

 

What’s your mission in the queer community as a photographer?

I’ve been feeling a bit disparaged by the queer community over the past year. There seems to be a certain unspoken consensus that you’re supposed to follow in the kind of work you produce as a queer artist at the moment. I don’t feel like there’s been much space for things like rage or really uncomfortable conversation, because people are scared of being cancelled or saying the wrong thing. 

In the queer community currently there’s a lot of celebrating joy and softness, but I like to be a bit more punk and promote having hard conversations, and to create stuff that’s more unfiltered, even if none of it can exist on social media.

 

I’m also really inspired by looking at queer archives online and DIY queer-core from the 80s and 90s, and seeing how so many of the people featured might be forgotten and unknown now, but how at the time they had such a strong political message and they were putting work out there because they knew that they needed to. 

 

 

Who are your inspirations?

Nan Goldin is one. I have always loved her photography. Me and my sister used to re-stage some of Nan Goldin’s photographs. I love how she’s always been politically active. She uses her platform to try and make a difference. That’s punk. 

I’m also really inspired by looking at queer archives online and DIY queer-core from the 80s and 90s, and seeing how so many of the people featured might be forgotten and unknown now, but how at the time they had such a strong political message and they were putting work out there because they knew that they needed to. So I’m trying to soak up that mentality and just put my work out there, without obsessing over perfection. I just want to say what I’m saying through queer erotic photograpahy and not apologise for it. 

 

How do you think queer erotic photography has evolved since the 80s/90s?

I think the main thing is that it’s more accepted by institutions now. For example, Tate has queer erotic photography now hanging in their main halls, whereas they didn’t used to even have any photography whatsoever until about 8 years ago because they didn’t believe it to be an art form. 

 

Do you prefer spontaneous photography or shoots?

I think I prefer spontaneous. I always try to set up shoots but it causes me so much stress. I get panicked about organising everything. I think the hidden treasure is in spontaneity. I like when a shoot doesn’t go the way I intended, it always ends up being better that way. 

 

As an erotic photographer, contacting people sometimes feels uncomfortable unless you know them, so I try to only contact people who I’ve spoken to online before or who I’ve met. A lot of the people I photograph are close friends or partners.

 

How do you approach people spontaneously to get photos?

If I’m going to do a shoot, I do a call out so I know that they definitely want to work with me. As an erotic photographer, contacting people sometimes feels uncomfortable unless you know them, so I try to only contact people who I’ve spoken to online before or who I’ve met. A lot of the people I photograph are close friends or partners.

I also like being hired for events because it means that there already is this level of consent where I’m introduced and everyone knows I’m going to be taking photos. I’m quite an introvert, so I do struggle with the aspect of approaching people. When I do an event for the first time I take less photos, but when I take photos again for the same event I tend to take more because there’s a higher level of comfort between myself and the guests. 

 

Any areas in London where you get good photos?

I take most photos in my bedroom! When I worked for Sex and Rage at a lesbian strip night, that was an amazing experience. I also used to take photos for Harpies, the queer strip club years ago. It’s less about places and more about people, what they represent and if I feel a certain akinness to them.

 

I print everything in the dark room, and that is such a beautiful experience, especially with erotic photos, because you have the red lights and the chemicals…it feels like a meditation. I take my time with it because I appreciate it so much.

 

 

What’s your favourite thing about your work in queer erotic photography?

I love the process. From absorbing all of the things that inspire me, to shooting and then eventually printing. I print everything in the dark room, and that is such a beautiful experience, especially with erotic photos, because you have the red lights and the chemicals…it feels like a meditation. I take my time with it because I appreciate it so much. I get so much energy from being in there. 

What’s the biggest challenge about your work?

Financially, everyone’s struggling at the moment. It’s hard to get inspired when the climate is so dreadful. Bodily, I go through phases of not having any energy for months. In the queer community, there’s a lot of people who are happy to work for free, but I can’t really do that because I feel that my body really pays a price for a day or two spent being quite physical.  I have to think ‘Is it worth being in bed for 2 days after if I’m not getting paid?’ So there’s the sense of people undercutting you is also a bit of a challenge. 

 

I think my sex drive makes me really curious about everything. It gives me energy, it makes me feel mischievous and willing to take risks. I guess having a high sex drive feels like you’re always flirting with the world. When that’s gone I just don’t feel really myself, I feel awkward in my body and I don’t really have any motivation to work.

 

 

Do you have to feel sexual yourself when you’re making erotic photography?

I normally have a high sex drive, and I think my sex drive makes me really curious about everything. It gives me energy, it makes me feel mischievous and willing to take risks. I guess having a high sex drive feels like you’re always flirting with the world. When that’s gone I just don’t feel really myself, I feel awkward in my body and I don’t really have any motivation to work.

I only realised all of this because of a point where I did go on medication and it completely killed my sex drive, and I didn’t feel like I could really make any art during that time.  So, I guess my answer is that yes, I do have to feel sexual, but only in the sense that my sex drive is part of who I am and my energy, so without it I’m not me.  

 

I hate that there’s this differentiation in the art scene between art and porn. I hate how institutions try to put those things in boxes. I don’t understand why art and porn can’t overlap. I think it would be more interesting if those world’s collided more. 

 

What do you think about the current art scene’s attitude towards erotica?

I think it’s improving, but I hate that there’s this differentiation in the art scene between art and porn. I hate how institutions try to put those things in boxes. I don’t understand why art and porn can’t overlap. I think it would be more interesting if those world’s collided more.  When I was in lockdown I got a PinkLabel.TV account. I felt that all the porn I watched was truly art, it was really incredible.

 

I don’t think we live in a sensual society, especially in this country, we’re all so prudish. I realised recently that I haven’t ever really been connected to my body. From speaking to other people about it, I realise that most people are the same. In order to be a sensual person you really need to be connected to your body.  When we’re growing up we’re not really told how we’re supposed to do that.

 

 

Do you think that we live in a sensual society?

I don’t think we live in a sensual society, especially in this country, we’re all so prudish. I realised recently that I haven’t ever really been connected to my body. From speaking to other people about it, I realise that most people are the same. In order to be a sensual person you really need to be connected to your body.  When we’re growing up we’re not really told how we’re supposed to do that.

Even in sex-positive circles, there still a certain prudishness. People don’t always want to talk about certain things in certain settings. Sometimes I feel like I bring something up in a certain setting, and people react in a sort of ‘hush-hush’ way. And those are the kind of experiences that make you feel ashamed. There’s still a big discomfort/nervousness around sex. 

For example, there was a time where I was going through a bad break-up and I got asked to do a performance at this event where I got publicly spanked, and I was so happy to be doing it and thought it was wonderful, but people sort of reacted by saying that I shouldn’t be doing that when I was in a ‘vulnerable emotional space’.

I sort of responded by saying ‘I’m doing this actually because I’m going through a bad time, and because I want to, and that should be enough’.  I’m allowed to experience excitement over the things that get me off whether I’m going through an awful time or not. 

 

What are your thoughts on Sensuali?

I think it’s great to have a platform that showcases sex workers, because I’m a big advocate for people hiring a sex worker to explore their kinks and desires, if they have the money. I like how there’s no shyness or shame around that.

I’m using it to look for more experiences with other leather SM people. I’m first looking to meet people just for experiences, but if that then leads to them being my muse (!) and me shooting them, that would be cool. 

 

Check out more queer erotic photography by Imogen Cleverley

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Iso

Iso

Author

Iso is a writer and filmmaker based in East London. She is passionate about all things erotic and leads a sexy, shame-free life in hope that she can inspire others to do the same. Originally from a Northern seaside town, she is naturally drawn to the best things in life: candyfloss, trashy karaoke bars and heart-shaped sunglasses.


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