From wild nights in Manchester’s queer clubs to sun-dappled afternoons with friends, Gracie Brackstone’s photo series captures the total joy of being alive
The dancefloor is a uniquely sacred space, a neon-lit utopia punctuated by the promise of pleasure. To queer communities, these spaces extend beyond temporary escapism – Harlem’s ballrooms were a sanctuary for queer performers, clubs from the 1980s merged AIDS activism with riotous dance parties, and a bar in Greenwich Village became the symbolic battlefield for the Stonewall riots of 1969 – representing a long history of resistance that isn’t confined to the picket line. Instead, balmy nightclubs and queer raves establish joy and abundance as a form of resistance. They become spaces immune from political and social hostility, where queer kinships can be formed, and pleasure can be pursued.
Gracie Brackstone’s photo project, Life’s a Parade, is rooted in these ideas of joy, freedom, and performance. For the young photographer and founder of the art-based collective Art is Coming, the project began as a way to capture her own life on film for the benefit of her younger sister. However, it soon evolved into a time capsule and a celebratory record of her finding community, purpose, and love through queer nightlife.
“I felt uncomfortable in certain spaces of South London after my mum passed away and, in many ways, moving to Manchester and going out in the gay village in Manchester – in clubs like White Hotel and Hidden – felt like coming home,” Brackstone tells Dazed of her own experiences of queer liberation. “Manchester is the land of the free. Anything goes. It is a hub for creativity. It is a community. It houses so many different scenes, genres, and clubs. Anything feels possible here. I couldn’t have been 22 and seen my best friend have their first baby anywhere else.”
“Everything is beautiful if you cherish it” – Gracie Brackstone
The photographs in Life’s a Parade refuse to make a distinction between joy and liberation. Each moment, whether it is a picture of tangerines glistening in the sunlight, a shot of a friend bleaching their hair, or an image from a protest against the cost-of-living crisis, is afforded the same care and affection by Brackstone. “Everything is beautiful if you cherish it,” she explains. “The book is a reminder that despite the tears and the breakdowns, my life is so wonderful and precious that it would be a shame if I didn’t shove my camera in my friend’s faces every day.”
“Our flat is open to all. After a night out, gays come back to ours for afters, try out all my clothes and wigs; we partake in mud dances and group showers,” Brackstone says as she reminisces on the home she shares with her best-friend Usman. Her flat – a central fixture in her photographs – has become a sanctuary that allowed the pair to heal and grow as artists and people. “I’ve taken so many photographs in our home that it’s become a joke with my friends.”
Creating the book has influenced the photographer monumentally, she’s realised the importance of taking photographs with love, but it has also allowed her to experiment more with her identity. She now lives her life in wigs and heels, creating alter egos of herself and reproducing those versions of herself on camera. According to the artist, performance isn’t about concealing your true self but rather “becoming an adaption of yourself”.
Brackstone adds, “I read the phrase ‘life’s a parade’ some time ago, and it’s stuck with me ever since. I realised that with all the hours my friends and I spent getting ready and making outfits, with all the walk-offs, the singalongs, and duets. Every day in Manchester feels like a parade. To me, Manchester is the home of freedom; moving here and finding my community felt like joining my own self-built circus.”
Follow Gracie Brackstone’s ongoing photo projects here.