Life’s A Drag

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Ian Robert Slater is a recent Styling and Image Making graduate from the University of Salford who has already received critical acclaim for his photography - picking up a D&AD Yellow Pencil Award in July for his winning portrait of contemporary youth.

Slater documents life as he experiences it, typically shooting people he encounters on the streets or in nightclubs across New York and Manchester.

Here, TRIP asked Slater to talk us through a selection of his images, all of which were taken during his travels in New York and feature some of Brooklyn and Manhattan's residential Drag-Queens.

TRIP: The course at Salford is quite open - did you know you wanted to be a photographer before you enrolled or was this something that happened quite naturally?
Ian Robert Slater: I actually applied at Salford to do menswear but a few months into the course I took a liking for the photography/styling split side of the course instead. I only focused on photography for the last two years of my degree, but I guess as I went along the years my progression into photography was quite natural, although my photography style had a harsh contrast in change at the start of every year that’s for sure.

"Alotta McGridles driving to her show at TNT (This ‘n’ That) in Williamsburg, I think it was either the 1st or 2nd time we had met and I have Merrie Cherry to thank for introducing us."

TRIP: Did you grow up in Manchester? Has the city had an influence on your work at all?
Ian Robert Slater: I only came to Manchester when I was 21 so I didn’t really grow up here (I’m a little village country boy at heart) but I guess I’ve grown up in Manchester career-wise. Moving to Salford for University was the start of a big change, starting a career path and then having the opportunities Salford gave me, meeting loads of new and interesting people. New York I think was one of the two biggest influences on my life. And that was thanks to Salford.

"Hamm Sandwich in her own flat getting ready for a Dragnet show in Brooklyn at Metro bar."

TRIP: How would you describe your photographic style?
Ian Robert Slater: I never really know how to answer when someone ask me this question because I don’t aim to fit a style of photography, I just photograph people or things that I think are interesting. Sometimes things I choose to photograph might not be to everyone’s taste but I understand that before I take the pictures...

I just like to document life and show people I guess. if I had to categorise my work then I’d say it had inputs of documentary, fine art, fashion/street style and nightlife photography all combined within it.

"This is Bailey Styles in the changing room of Secret Project Robot - a night event in Brooklyn last summer."

TRIP: Traveling to America must have had a big influence on your work? Have you noticed a difference in the style and subject matter of your photographs as you personally experience new things?
Ian Robert Slater: As I said earlier New York was a big influence on my life and work so far, before I went to New York my work was completely different, my images still had a sense of me about them but it was all digital and all pre-set shoots, completely different to the way I work now. I used to organize shoots weeks in advance and now my work is a lot of get up and go, on your toes sort of... fun. Before I spent too much time faffing around searching for young girl models, now I’m a lot more spontaneous and will just approach anyone in the street.

"This is Merrie Cherry, Brooklyn’s drag mother and one of my best friends. This was taken the same night and in the same flat as the image with Hamm Sandwich. We were all piled into one room and I just kept taking pictures as we went along. I think this night was the first night I had arranged to do pictures with someone in Brooklyn, so this is the night that got the ball rolling so to speak, the night that got me hooked."

TRIP: Are your nightclub photographs all taken in New York and Brooklyn?
Ian Robert Slater: No, a lot of my night life images are taken in Brooklyn and New York, but around 30-40% of images I capture are also taken in Manchester. This series of images are from the states though.

"Alotta McGridles, again."

TRIP: What is it about night club life that makes a great photograph?
Ian Robert Slater: I guess when night entertainers go out they are more free to experiment than during the day, it’s like once the sun goes down that’s when people’s creative juices get flowing. Especially on a weekend in the UK. In New York pretty much every day and night there’s some form of entertainment to capture, but in England were a little more shy than the Americans, or so I think, New York is just another world compared to Manchester.

TRIP: What are the difference between night club crowds in Manchester to those in Brooklyn?
Ian Robert Slater: It’s surprising but I actually rarely go out when I’m at home, my friends think I’m boring. I save all my mischievous ventures for when I go to Brooklyn I think, don’t ask me why, I have nothing wrong with Manchester's nightlife, I just don't think it is as exciting as New York's, but then there is... it’s something you need to really experience for yourself, I guess it’s not something that really can be understood by my explanation. Don’t let that put you off Manchester though, Manchester’s my home city now and the night life here is still amazing, it’s just not New York let’s face it.

"This image is from a nightclub on the top of a hotel in Manhattan, I couldn’t tell you the name as I thought it was called ‘On Top’ but I think this may be wrong, but this place is insane, I walked in for the first time and a women was plucking a dead chicken to the song 'Stand By Your Man' on stage. Whilst this was happening there was a man walking through a hot tub with a squid on his head and a guy in nothing but a gimp mask pushing a girl on a swing over the top of the hot tub - all in a bar 20-something stories high above Manhattan."
See more from Slater on his Tumblr.