Images by Audrey Blue
1 Democratic Unionist Party are a socially conservative unionist party in Northern Ireland, founded by an evangelical minister in the 1970s, and were the only major political group in Northern Ireland to oppose the Good Friday Agreement - they remain opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage.
In February 2020, following years of extensive activism and direct action from the LGBTQ+ community, the first legally recognised same-sex marriage took place in Belfast. It was a landmark event that represented the recognition of the ongoing shift in the cultural understanding of LGBTQ+ rights in Northern Ireland, paving the way for a new era of queer acceptance. While this is a step towards progress, collective efforts towards positive change are still, relatively speaking, only getting started. With the DUP,1 a right-wing conserative party holding the most seats in Northern Ireland executive, queer art and activism has never been more vital in creating and driving positive change. An example of this vitality can be seen in the work of Northern Irish photographer Audrey Blue. Blue’s photography is strikingly frank. Documenting transient moments of youth, bathed in fluorescent light and artistic urgency, her work neither attempts to hide, flee-from or masquerade the truth – even when sometimes, the truth hurts. In her multimedia series, ‘This Hurts’, the artist blends the mediums of analogue photography, painting, and silk screen printing, in what feels like an attempt to immortalise fragments of early adulthood.
There is a rawness to her imagery, reminiscent of Nan Goldin’s portraits of the New York scene, fused with Davide Sorrenti’s stylised hue. She captures her subjects through hazy, unpolished 35mm analogue film, often layered one on top of another, with the distorted lights of the outside world seeping into frame. From unearthly imagery of angels at night, to everyday encounters with friends, this series captures and subsequently invites the viewer to consider the vibrant — and often turbulent — lives of queer youth in Northern Ireland. A burgeoning wave of artists and activists are beginning to archive the everyday lives of their community, revealing the struggles that young queer people face today, but also highlighting their victories. In this series of works, Blue artfully encapsulates the queer experience during a time of cultural and political turbulence and change in Northern Ireland, and begins to chronicle moments of her and her friends’ lives, however fleeting they may be. Blue’s use of light and colour evokes the emotional turmoil and utter exhilaration that comes from being a part of a subculture on the fringes of society. Her subjects often pose defiantly, as if portraying a new age of potential and resilience. Once shunned for their non- conformity – they are now celebrated through Blue’s romanticised lens.
From public to private spaces, this series allows us to peek into scenes of varying degrees of intimacy. Each space photographed is warm and rich with colour, highlighting the importance of safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community – in one shot we see the subject sitting in the bath, gazing out from the water in last night’s makeup, safe, comforted. Another shows a couple together in a club, enveloped in blue lights. In a way, these images feel intrinsically linked – as if they were taken on the same night within the space of a few hours. These moments invite the viewer into this world with them, asking us to consider the importance these spaces hold for the LGBTQ+ community. Blue’s ability to seamlessly investigate elements of queerness, anxiety, fragility, and hope are all parts of what makes this series so captivating. In a time when being authentically one’s self is an act of resilience, ‘This Hurts’ feels like a new visual chapter in the progression of queer identity in Northern Ireland.