Surrounded by drag queens as a child, Louie Banks’ home has always been in the underground and it’s here that he creates his most electrifying images
- TextTed Stansfield
Louie Banks is a character. But if you follow @louiebanksshoots on Instagram, you already know that. The London-based photographer is notorious for his Stories of people, parties and his pet pug, Pig. However, behind the outrageous and sometimes nefarious activities (two weeks ago he was temporarily banned from the app) lies a talented photographer with gift for capturing the essence of his subjects; be they sugary pop princesses, subversive drag queens or successful model friends.
Today, Banks sits in the living room of his flat in Dalston, modelling a cropped tee and python skin trousers. A large drawing by fashion designer Charles Jeffrey hangs one wall, while a print by art duo Gilbert and George and one of his own photographs of club icon Amanda Lepore hang on another. As he begins to talk, it’s clear that IRL Louie is no different from his persona online.
“I always loved art,” he recalls. “I remember when I was three, I drew this mermaid who had stumps for arms and a shaved head.” Born in a barn (“like Jesus, only with less animals”), Banks grew up in Brighton – the son of a human-cannonball-turned-deep-sea diver and a show-jumper-turner-recruiter – and demonstrated artistic ability from an early age.
He was presented with a camera on his eighth birthday and quickly developed an interest in photography, which only intensified during his teens. At 16, he was introduced to Ellie Goulding at college and collaborated with her on her first photo shoot; soon afterwards he was working with other pop stars and building long-term client relationships within the music industry.
His heart, however, has always been in the underground.
While people first experience after-dark subcultures in their late teens, or perhaps at university, Louie grew up with it. It’s his bread and butter. “I was raised around drag queens,” he says matter of factly. “My mum was a bit of a party-goer and because I lived in Brighton, I went to Pride every year as a kid, so I’ve always been surrounded by eccentric people and alternative ways of living. But when I moved to London and started doing drag, that’s when I found a family in the underground.”
“I was raised around drag queens. My mum was a bit of a party-goer and because I lived in Brighton, I went to Pride every year as a kid, so I’ve always been surrounded by eccentric people and alternative ways of living” – Louie Banks
Banks often turns his lens on this family, which includes characters such as club kids Sussi and Harry Charlesworth, who he cites as muses. The fact that Louie exists in such close proximity to these people and, essentially, is one of them, sets his photography apart: instead of being voyeuristic, the perspective of a removed outsider, it’s authentic, the perspective of a very much involved insider.
But Banks’ family includes glamorous characters, too, such as fashion designer Mimi Wade and models Edie Campbell and Georgie Hobday; characters he captures from the same point of view. And that’s why it’s interesting: his work aligns the underground and fashion and pop culture’s flashy side, but in a way that feels totally cohesive.
“At first, I was shooting pop stars by day and doing drag by night. Those two worlds were so different and while I loved them both, I was almost trying to hide one from the other. Then I decided to merge them.” Banks’ most recent shoot for Tatler demonstrates this neatly: it features drag queen Dinah Lux in a stately home, modelling seven million pounds’ worth of jewellery.
“I like to get my friends who might be known to wear a filthy two-part thong, but try and make them look like themselves on their best day; try and make that’s something quite underground, cheap and dirty, look classy and a little bit glamorous.”
“I just like to have fun. I want things to be beautiful with an element of carelessness and sometimes something a little bit twisted” – Louie Banks
As well as Tatler, Banks has shot for publications including Another Man, i-D, LOVE and Vogue Italia. Photographing the people he does, you might expect him to have an agenda, but that’s not the case. “I think people are quite hung up on the message [of their work] and I just like to have fun. I want things to be beautiful with an element of carelessness and sometimes something a little bit twisted.”
As well as continuing to undertake fashion commissions, Banks will continue to train his lens on LGBTQ+ people and wants to explore the world of sex workers. Watch this space...