I was startled by the profoundly moving array of Louise Westerhout’s form in these images. The photographs, captured by Lauren Brits, strikes a balance of mood that is both editorial, yet, intimate and incites a longing for queering as a verb—queering as a practice and ritual of showing up in all the multi-dimensional complexity of your being. Louise is a cancer survivor and a disabled person, and her exploration of her self-reference as a cyborg witch is stark in the images. We are invited into the liminal space shared between Lauren and Louise; scars to be seen, no make-up, hair pulled back—loving, longing and trusting between them as Lauren witnesses Louise move in her queer body in the sanctuary of her home. The looks curated from the AGAIN preloved collection are an embodied reclamation of thrifting as anti-classist, forming part of queering as an action; it is down to our very exchange of energy (money, time, effort) that we are called to bring forth queerness in its mercurial motion of past, present and future paradigms. “When it comes to ableism and ageism, to [restructure] our thinking around these two things means that if you’re using queering as a verb through an older, disabled body – the process becomes exciting, it means you are part of moving identity forward. It becomes an invitation for authenticity and strength versus constructed social dynamics”, says Louise in our conversation.
Reiterating these sentiments, Lauren points out that, “I found that Louise is really interesting in the way she moved her body, I directed her initially, and then watched her move through various phases – and found that it is really important to be organic; to cultivate a sense of authentic intimacy which is personal”. So much of the fashion’s styling and photography landscape is fraught with authoritarian impulse; particularly through the lens of the male gaze. Models are required to hand over their autonomy for someone else’s vision – thus I am always refreshed by the pursuit of an alternative narrative. One in which models collaborate to find expressions of how their own beings instruct and breath in the garments. Elaborating on this idea of autonomy and relationship Louise shares:
As a performance artist, I felt like I was working with a sculpture in the form of clothing and I was so aware of how my body moved with that feeling, using my hips and shoulder in unison with movement. I felt mostly that I wanted to play in the clothing. I adore the way Lauren looks at me and what she sees. The way she extracts beauty while maintaining our closeness, trust and affection. It’s liberating to work with the concept of intimacy, while meeting in the place between professionalism and people with a shared likeness.
The intimacy of the images is palpable, eliciting feelings of playfulness—Louise embodies the muse in its most distilled form ; humanity with tenderness’ touch. The garments—strikingly muted in tones—display a liberated, queer sensibility. Sheer fabrics make an appearance, a tactility of fabric of which I am deeply fond, along with masculine shapes blended among the minimalistic femme pieces. In deliberating over the styling choices, as chosen by Lauren in collaboration with AGAIN, she says:
Thrifting speaks to me as a person as clothing is so disposable, and I prefer the act of sourcing clothing for a story that holds an inherent connection. I feel that South Africa can be quite conservative regarding representation in look books, especially with major retailers. So, when it comes to the intersection of thrifting and fashion, I feel that centring and collaborating with queer [individuals] allows the pieces to be elevated. We are opting out of our impulses towards marketing and stereotyping…We become who we could be, as opposed to who we are told we should be.
What does queering mean for you, specifically in terms of fashion? I ask Louise:
It’s about finding ways that are always new because queering is about going into spaces that are not normalised thus we have to push out a little bit in order to make that space. Queering is pushing back against beauty norms as set by a heterosexual patriarchal gaze. I also think that queering in fashion has to do with finding what governs ones aesthetic and [being critical] as much as possible every day through honestly finding what governs one’s own artistic motivation.