In the 90s, Stuart Linden Rhodes was a teacher by day. By night, he was a photographer snapping thousands of photos of the northern queer scene. For 30 years, the photos have remained hidden – until now.
“When I found Stuart’s archive on Instagram it really touched me because that was my life!” says Steven Bishop, a regular on the 90s Manchester scene. “Going out Saturday night and coming back Monday morning – I’d finally found my people in places like the [legendary gay club] Paradise Factory.”
VICE talks to Stuart about the highs and the lows of the northern queer scene as the party – and a pandemic – raged on and why he’s finally dusted off his photo albums.
VICE: How did the archive come about?
Stuart Linden Rhodes: Lockdown. In the 90s, I had a side hustle as a photographer. It was a hobby that paid for itself because I’d get free entry into the best clubs and nights and then the photos would be published in the gay press. I’d kept all the negatives, but they’d been gathering dust for years.
When lockdown started, I needed a project. I started scanning the negatives. But they still weren’t being seen by anyone, that’s when I decided to start the archive’s Instagram account.
Did you have any formal photography training?
No, I learnt as I went along. I would scout the club before it got busy. Working out when and where the lights hit was very important. Then, having identified a spot, I’d begin lurking. Then in a split second everything would come together. Pause, click, flash! You’d have captured a moment.
What’s the reaction to the archive been like?
Unbelievable. There always a part of me that thought these photos may be important in years to come and the reaction to the archive has proven that. I’ve been inundated with comments and messages from people.
Some of them are funny, exclaiming horror at what they were wearing or spotting a first boyfriend or girlfriend.
However, there’s been some really moving ones as well. In the 90s, AIDS wasn’t over, it was still claiming lives. There have been many RIP tributes to lost loved ones as well as comments wondering whatever happened to those who simply disappeared.
What was that period like on the scene?
You can always rely on the gays to party! There were the flashy new bars like Mantos on Canal Street as well as the big super clubs in Blackpool. But as well as raves and events like Mr Gay UK, they were holding AIDS benefits and fundraisers for hospices.
You’d have an act like David Hoyle, Lily Savage, or the Pet Shop Boys stop halfway through a set to deliver a very serious educational message, the pubs and clubs were places of learning.
When that message had been delivered and absorbed, the Donna Summer would be cranked up and you’d dance your tits off, emptying your change into charity buckets and toasting friends who had died with cans of Red Stripe.
Has anything surprised you looking back at the photos?
When I was scanning the negatives, I noticed there was a lot more integration then there seems to be today. There appears to be a lot of self-imposed segregation now. Back then there was less of an agenda. The question was “’do you like sex with the same gender?’ If so, you’re in our gang.’” It didn’t matter if you were trans, bi, Black, female, white, male, whatever.
That’s what it was like in giant places like the Paradise Factory – where everybody was always smiling rather than gurning – but also in smaller places like Leeds where everyone would congregate at the local gay pub, The New Penny which had the stickiest carpets but the warmest welcome.
What’s next for the archive?
I hope people reappraise the northern gay scene. These photos and the scene which inspired them are important parts of gay history. I didn’t want them to die with me! I have hundreds more negatives to upload so there’s a lot more to come.