Home as a state of mind #4: Elle Pérez

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All images © Elle Pérez.

For Perez, nightlife became an unifier, not just a subject of interest. Because it was for many queer individuals, it also became part of their identity formation

“Some will declare all we have are the pleasures of this moment, but we should never settle for that minimum transport, ” writes José Esteban Muñoz in Traveling Utopia: The Then plus There of Queer Futurity (2009). “We must wish and enact new plus better pleasures, other ways to be in the world, and ultimately brand new worlds. ” 

This readiness for an alternate future are at the heart of Elle Pérez’s work. Instead of dividing their particular practice into projects, their oeuvre is a continuum of images deeply invested in really like and community.

Pérez was raised in the Bronx among users of the Puerto Rican diaspora. At 12, they grew to become involved in the local punk scene, making flyers for a nearby venue to gain free access to gigs. It wasn’t long before Pérez started working at that venue, reservation and photographing the shows.

“I started focusing on the crowd, looking at the romantic relationships and trying to capture the energy of what it felt like to be young, ” Pérez points out. “The dramas, the perspiration, who was getting together, who had been breaking up – all of the visceral physical dramatics held within this one space were really attractive to me. ”

Over time, the job expanded to other underground areas and touchpoints for the diaspora, including nightclubs, ballrooms plus illegal amateur wrestling shows.  

Nightlife became an unifier, not just a subject of interest. As it was for many queer people, it also became part of Pérez’s identity formation. Their portraits of Latino, Dark and Queer life are created with such care that they move beyond the genuine moment and occupy a far more formal and timeless room.  

Yet it’s the particular subtle observations that are more pertinent. In visceral details, such as worn door structures, well-trodden stairwells, sweat sparkling on the walls, we see the materiality embedded with all the evidence of life.

Together the images illustrate a site of beauty when confronted with years of exclusion and trauma. Always shooting in black- and-white, Pérez utilises the rhetoric of historical and documentary images to pressure inclusion. It is a documentation of the community that rarely is available in dominant histories.  

While the location is important, it is the people and experiences that are most potent for Pérez. The job animates the intimacy in between people – the individual as well as the collective – that proposes a true sense of house.

Gem Fletcher

Creative director, writer, podcaster and photo director, Gemstone Fletcher works across visual-cultural fields, focusing on emerging talent in contemporary photography plus art. She is the photo director of Riposte Magazine, and hosts a picture taking podcast, The Messy Truth.

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