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Parallel Universe: Holly Revell on Photographing and Collaborating with David Hoyle

All photos © Holly Revell

Holly Revell is a photographer and videographer of live performance and all that surrounds it. ‘David Hoyle: Parallel Universe’ is a limited edition book of photography and artworks emerging from the intimate eight-year collaboration between Holly and avant-garde queer performance legend David Hoyle. Holly writes for Run Riot about the making of the book.

I remember when I first started going to David Hoyle’s shows at the RVT way back when and there would be loads of people taking photos, and I thought what losers, why can’t they just enjoy the liveness of the moment and be fully immersed? Oh dear what happened to that outlook! Now it’s me – always me - taking the photos and watching him through my lens. I can’t stop now. But it wasn’t always like this.

Coming from a fine art background, I have always worked with photography, being interested in its theory, its magic, and its ability to make things happen. I never wanted to be a photographer when I was at art school but I always loved old photographs and collected them from junk shops for my archival works.

Growing up in the 1990s I was the one with the camera documenting everything but I didn’t consider it art, I was hanging out with bands then and it was my instrument. I’ve always recorded my life with photos and diaries, it’s an obsession. So the work I’m now doing with David and other queer icons makes sense, recording an on-going art situation really. I’m in my element.

When I started out I was interested in combining my love of live art and performance with my old friend photography and came up with ‘DARKROOM’, an installation which was a play on both the language of photography and that of gay culture, creating my own version of a space where I had often found my nights out with the ‘gays’ coming to a sudden end with me outside and them inside. In a darkened space, I would set up a tableau with my glorious assistants already installed ready to interact with the participants who ventured in. The resulting images resembled classic paintings using chiaroscuro; intimate, sensual and evocative, as was the experience of making them.

It was through my ‘DARKROOM’ that I met David Hoyle. My muse at the time, Ashley Ryder brought him to one of my early installations at Act Art; a merging of underground art, fashion, pop and club culture curated by Oliver Frost and Marc Massive in 2010, and this was where I first photographed David. It was also the one and only time I photographed him nude. He then invited me to bring my ‘DARKROOM’ to his shows at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, where I found myself working in the ‘Parallel Universe’ in the toilets beside the stage. 

It was inevitable that I would eventually turn my camera onto David on stage, although reluctantly at first, it became an addiction. I had also started working with Scottee, documenting his work and starting to understand the value of good documentation from an insiders point of view.

My relationship with David has grown through his performance to my camera, I have grown to know him slowly over time, never wanting to be invasive or to take advantage, it took me ages to find the confidence to shoot him backstage, I’d been hanging out there for a while but didn’t want to be intrusive or like a vulture, I was there because I was getting to know him and talking to him and more to the point listening. It felt like I was getting a one on one show at times and I never knew if we were in conversation or if he was just rehearsing on me, whatever it was it felt special. And slowly but surely the photographs started to happen, just a few to start with, safe and respectful from a distance. It became like a game, a dance, a collaboration and I got closer, more daring, closer still as he allowed me full access to his body and his soul.

There was no intention to make a book initially, I was just doing it, knowing it was a special opportunity, it felt natural and necessary. But what to do with such intimate photographs – too valuable to share on the internet, perhaps an exhibition but so many to choose from, a book felt like the best place, something personal that could be held and treasured.

And so began a 2 year project selecting and editing these forgotten moments from the dressing room. I started collaging them together to try to make sense of them and it was these collages that became the back bone of the book – I thought I’d have to sacrifice many images but I was advised to add more to the feast, the explosion, and so I did. I don’t know how many times I’ve moved the images around, removed some, added others, it’s been consuming.

I wanted David to be physically involved with some of the collages and to work over them, so I gave him a pile of unfinished ones and some backgrounds, but I could not have imagined what he’d do with them. He got to work right away on the train back to Manchester after a London show and started documenting his journey. He then went on a two week frenzy making these layered textual pieces based on his experiences of homophobia, and somewhat inspired by Mathew Todd’s book ‘Straight Jacket’ which we were both reading at the time. He didn’t want to “spoil” the photos so he made these individual artwerks which all appear in the book, they add another dimension to the photographs, offering further insight into the artist’s life. David has said that the book completely captures his life which makes me feel really proud.

Testament to David’s character, many of his friends and collaborators have got involved in the book by writing anecdotes and quotes, which are beautifully heartfelt and offer another insight into how he is perceived both as a performer and as a human being. Penny Arcade for example has written a beautiful piece about the time he met her off the plane in Copenhagen “smiling and beckoning, the warmest, most unexpected reception I have ever received, anywhere.” She goes on to point out how rare it is for another artist to go out to the airport in a foreign country to collect another artist… His blond hair and the fact that he is a “National treasure” are mentioned more than once by his collaborators too.

I can’t believe there’s not a book already out there on David Hoyle, his legacy as a performance artist exists mostly as a bunch of fuzzy YouTube clips stolen from his live shows along with the TV work he did as The Divine David in the 1990s. I think it’s really important to preserve queer history honestly, and with sensitivity, much of our past only exists as hearsay and fragments, it has been mostly hidden until recently. It is also crucial that it is documented with love and understanding from the inside, rather than a voyeur’s point of view, which tends to sensationalise the vital work that is being made about serious issues.

I hope that our book will go down in history, enlighten those who have somehow missed David and inspire generations to come, it is an intimate peak behind the magician’s curtain!


“A provocative profound and perceptive artwork featuring the enfante terrible of queer culture”. Peter Tatchell, Human Rights Activist


There will be an official book launch with David and Holly in conversation, at the Bethnal Green Working Mens Club on Wednesday the 18th October 6-9pm where the book will be available to purchase for £35. It will then be on sale via Holly’s website and local bookshops in London.

Holly Revell will also be talking about the book and the recording of queer histories with Lyall Hakaraia and invited guests at Vogue Fabrics on Wednesday the 25th October.