London-based photographer Angus Stewart has just released his first book, which captures the energy and camaraderie of the city’s burlesque club scene. For over a decade, Stewart has been a part of this community, getting to know the performers and documenting their world. The result is a “family album” that focuses not only on the performances but also the characters who support them.
Stewart intentionally avoids the typical “big reveal” that often characterizes burlesque photography, instead opting to showcase the friendships, laughter, and camaraderie that define the scene. As he explains, “From the beginning, my focus was on the personalities, rather than the performances.” Through his work, we are introduced to a thriving community that values dedication and loyalty, and where the exotic is always laced with humor.
Burlesque has long been associated with female empowerment and has a rich history in London. Stewart’s book features interviews with performers like Belle de Beauvoir, REIx, Lady Cheek, Lady May, and the late Lynn Ruth Miller. He explores the community’s supportive nature and how it encourages personal growth and development. “I discovered that while some performers earn a living from burlesque, most have other jobs – anything from seamstresses to doctors, to company directors,” he explains.
Stewart’s primary interests as a photographer lie in social documentary photography and portraiture. Over the years, he has worked closely with the circus, burlesque, and cabaret communities in London, photographing and interviewing performers. His recent work includes photographing grass-roots activists in London and Salvador as part of the “Rights to the City” project, in conjunction with UCL and UFBA.
Stewart is also involved with the Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDIHub), a global charity that aids the development of participatory projects in informal settlements. In addition to his community work, he is also working on a personal project called “With Love Jeannette.” The project is a collection of found documents, photographs, and new images related to events from the early-twentieth century that address the fragmentary nature of history and knowledge and the continuity of human experience.
Speaking about his book, Stewart says, “I wanted to try to capture the spirit of this incredibly supportive community. Burlesque can be provocative, political, and empowering, but most of all, it’s a lot of fun. Through my photography, I hope to give people a glimpse into this world and its colorful characters.”
London Burlesque – A Family Album is available from Circa from £50 to US$75.