Genesis of StudioGrabDown (courtesy of StudioGrabDown): In 2006 James Barnett and Poppy French met on a train to Wimbledon on the first day at Foundation art School. She thought him loud. He thought she had big hair. It was during the summer at NU RAVE in 2007 that their friendship was sealed forever in an embrace of sweat and mud during Reading Festival.
They became best pals and had a really good time. After leaving Wimbledon they both needed cash for University. So they started work at a Mushroom Farm. And so University happened. Poppy went to Birmingham. James stayed in London.
It was fine though. They maintained a long distance relationship, meeting up occasionally. When they finished university, they did that thing that everyone does: Have a meltdown. And so this was the catalyst that led to the creation of a creative partnership specialising in photography and artistic direction, so called after a sign we used to always see at Mushroom Farm back in 2007.
Grabdown sign on the wall of the Mushroom Farm. Courtesy of StudioGrabDown.
The exhibition Queer Friends, on display at Dalston Superstore until July, aims to push the boundaries of gender by providing a genuine insight into East London vibrant queer community, featuring among others @anders44, @its_eppie, @hclaytonwright and @diogocmfreitas.
As James told me during a fun and eye-opening Bristol-Berlin Skype interview, the ongoing portraits series Queer Friends started with the aim of capturing long-time friends or new people met through social media.
To facilitate the sometimes daunting experience of sitting for a portrait, James decided to redecorate his flat in Bethnal Green to make it a welcoming and safe space for his ‘models’. Once the project expanded, Poppy and James started to shoot at subjects’ own homes and workspaces too.
It was extremely fascinating in my opinion to see such an intimate display of photographs in a venue such as Dalston Superstore, which has always been keen to curating a cutting edge and diverse queer events programme.
As James and Poppy stated in a recent interview:
‘Queer Friends’ allowed us to keep pushing and queering the expectations of our own gender, and the limitations which comes from gender conformity. We took the opportunity to have fun with ‘queering the norm’ of received notions of what ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ be photographed and how. The project is yet another exploration of queer visibility, but statistically, there are a lot less of us out there in the world, so we have to stay visible! People need to know we exist, we’re proud and we’re not going anywhere! The more visible, the better.
To conclude, I highly recommend this exhibition as it offers a fresh perspective on queer photography.
To know more visit StudioGrabdown website or Instagram page or James and Poppy private accounts. For the recent feature on Kaltblut magazine http://www.kaltblut-magazine.com/portraits-at-home-by-james-barmett-a-series-against-yellow/.
Ferranti, F. (2018) StudioGrabDown presents Queer Friends. London, Dalston Superstore.