London-based photographer Heather Glazzard didn’t have the best time growing up. Glazzard was bullied at school for being queer, including a violent incident at 14 that left them bleeding all over the hallway of their school in West Yorkshire.
Barring one chaste lesbian kiss on Eastenders, Glazzard didn’t see anything that reflected her own sexuality as a teenager – which is what led them to create Queer Letters, an intimate photographic series of LGBTQ people in which their subjects to reflect on the experience of growing up in the UK. The series landed feature spots Vogue Italia’s Photo Vogue Festival in Milan and leading photography biennale Format Festival in Derby, UK, and will be showing at Vogue Fabrics in east London later in May.
Heather spoke to me over the phone to explain why representation matters.
VICE: Hi Heather. How did the idea for Queer Letters come about?
Heather Glazzard: I felt angry from feeling the lack of representation when I was growing up in the UK. I was lying in bed one night and was like, 'OK, I didn’t see any representation regarding gender or sexuality when I was growing up, it was all for gay white men.' I wanted to create something that spoke to my younger self. A lot of friends felt similar, so I thought, 'I’ll create something that speaks to younger people but helps others.'
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Halifax; it’s in Yorkshire. I grew up there in a little village. It was just close-minded. I remember getting to an age and I was playing football, and they were like, "Girls can’t play football anymore." It was that kind of close-mindedness. People were shamed for being gay.
How did you get into photography?
I studied [it] at Salford. I’ve been photographing since I was 15 but wasn’t into it until three years ago, when I started the course. And then I just couldn’t stop. I went through a phase where I was developing in my bathroom and that was all I was doing.
What was your own coming-out experience like?
I waited until I left school. I remember I kissed a girl and everyone abused me for it for a while. Some girl hit me, like, "You’re a lesbian." I didn’t even know what that meant. I was 14. I was really badly beaten up. It was terrifying. I had to walk through the hallway and there was spilled blood everywhere. I didn’t even know what [the word "lesbian"] meant as well; I was just like, I’ll understand it when I understand it. I moved to Leeds to live with my mum, and that was when I came out to my mum. I was 16.
You don’t just take photos of people, though – they’re also telling you a bit about their lives. How does that work?
Some people have been writing physical letters to themselves, other people I give them three questions, including: What does being queer mean to you? Did you see any mainstream representation when you was growing up?
How did you cast the people in the series?
Most of them are my friends and friends of friends. I did an Instagram callout as well. I’m looking for someone you can relate to, so I’m casting on that basis.
What kind of LGBTQ representation do you remember growing up?
There was an episode of Eastenders... my dad’s girlfriend had a magazine that said "two girls are going to kiss" – I waited for that for ages! That’s the only thing I remember seeing.
Do you think representation has improved since that kiss?
100 percent. But I do still feel like it feels very male-focused.
I showed it Thursday at the gallery and people were crying, and said, “Thank you so much for doing this.” I just felt proud of us as a community. I spoke to so many people and they were saying, “I don’t think there are any gallery spaces where you can go in and relate to who you are.” People don’t show work like that.