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Teenage Takeover: Circus Nights

Vasilisa Forbes, 16, photographed her nights out to Circus at the Soho Revue Bar and self published a photo book "In Silence are Shadows".

It was around the beginning of 2008 when I first started spending every Friday in Soho’s Revue bar, still only being about 16. It didn’t faze anybody, let alone myself. After all, nobody really knew or asked, I was just another face and the one they knew hardly anything about.

The time I started going it’s popularity was on the rise. It was my friend Harry who first took me there, and we saw it through its growth and right to its decline, how from Friday to Friday gradually the queues would get bigger and bigger and more and more people would fill its floors, being packed out to the full at 10.30 in its high-days.

So I started going, initially, with Harry’s gang all the time. They’d always wear something amazingly outrageous, that I would never comprehend or expect the night before.

We didn’t ever queue; they dressed up too damn well to queue, and they knew everyone. What was exciting was that half of them weren’t ‘trannies’, gay or even camp, but just flamboyant and doing it for the ‘scene’. They rolled in wearing tutus and man heels with their girlfriends tottering along behind, and then me, with my camera in bag and drink in hand. I felt like a female Paul Hartnett or an attempt at Christer Stromholm. But while Hartnett documented (probably a lot better than I did) and exposed, I tried to mystify and explore. It felt like a flashback to the high-glamour high-mayhem of the late 70’s and 80’s, like a Nan Goldin episode that I was living through. In my naivety I almost felt like a witness to Studio 54 but in 2008 instead of ‘78.

I wanted to see myself as a bit of a Goldin, and I did for a period of time. I had my day time shots as well as night time ones; boys in silver glitter pants walking through Stepney Green at 9 am in the morning was certainly a fun sight. I couldn’t deny the photographic quality of all the characters.

All periods end I guess, and as the number of exciting people stopped filtering through the doors, the point of going wavered. It seemed to slide back into the underground it rose from. I couldn’t really find it in myself to wear extravagant gear anymore, though I didn’t really have any to begin with. It was time to wear black again and fade into the morbid pretension of silent and still contemplation.

I started to photograph everyone in black and white, my outfits were all black and white. But it was still Circus after all, no matter how much Black and White I tried to wear it was still Soho, a gay bar, the need for extravagance and Pink Flamingo. I think I was just saying subtly to myself that it was time to go. Go somewhere, anywhere.

The outfits of Circus did make amazing images though, striking images of insane characters. Too much after a while and it's an overload, like a very sickly pick n’ mix, with a bit of ketamine thrown in. Thinking about it, it was rather sad. I always had to be crazy drunk, I wasn’t a fag hag, or a Circus dresser, so it was never really that appealing to mingle with the more extreme types, but I did anyway, and what came out was worth keeping. It was interesting to witness the glamour, the joy, the wanting to be ‘seen’. In a way I didn’t understand it but I knew the feeling.

I saw them all through a light they couldn’t see, a slightly perplexed, intrigued teenage curiosity sort of light. I didn’t care about the ‘party’, I cared about my photos. My camera was shit and embarrassing, but it was always there in all the crucial moments.

Text by Vasilisa Forbes
"In Silence Are Shadows" published by Blurb available now.