“Brighton is the one place in the country where outsiders get to feel like they belong” – an interview with photographer Klara Cservenka
Klara Cservenka is a Brighton-born artist who, after years spent away from the coastal city, returned in 2002 to find out a lot had changed, for better and for worse.
To document and celebrate all the things that make Brighton unique, the photographer collected her work in a photo book, Brighton Insiders, soon to be released.
Klara Cservenka was born in the 1970s and spent her childhood and teenage years in Brighton before moving to London to study Graphic Design at Central Saint Martin’s School of Art.
Talking about her earliest memories of Brighton and her first experiences with the world of art, she says:
All I can remember of the 70s is school, family life and hanging around at my parents’ gallery, as I was so young. The 80s are a bit clearer for me as I was slightly older then. The beginnings of Acid House down at the Zap club, warehouse parties – all when I was a very young teen! And before the Zap club, there was a very arty slightly goth-y alternative place. Brighton has always been an arty place, with lots of hippy looks even in the 80s.
Today Brighton is known for being one of the most accepting cities in the UK, but the photographer recalls that things have not always been easy for LGBTQ+ people:
Even though Brighton has always been at the forefront of the LGBTQ+ community, there was a time when this community was very covert and closed its doors to outsiders. The infamous Bulldog on St. James’s Street was the main gay bar, where customers would swing a shifty glance around before diving inside behind its blacked out windows. The doors and windows were never wide open like they are in summer today. Generally no ‘straight’ people ever went in, unlike now. Brighton was also noticeably so much quieter then, with it becoming like a ghost town every winter.
Brighton’s inclusiveness is one of the main themes explored by Klara in her book:
Brighton is a city where people of all description feel at home. It’s the one place in the country where outsiders get to feel like they belong, like they’re on the inside of something; it’s a kind of spirit / soul more than anything material.
The live music scene, various festivals and Pride weekend all draw a vibrant crowd. So many of them have a strong personal style, folk of all ages who have found a place where they can express themselves freely.
In her book, Klara gives space to all those people who do not fit inside the strict standards imposed by our society. Everyone has a place in her photo book, regardless of their gender, age, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
Homelessness is not excluded from the list. When Klara returned to Brighton in 2002, she noticed that the problem had amplified since she had left.
I moved back to Brighton because I was struggling to pay my London rent and my mums Brighton house was empty as she’d moved to Spain. I was pleasantly surprised by the changes in Brighton, it was much more vibrant by day than I remembered it to be. Only in very recent years has the homeless crisis escalated.
There have been a rising numbers of homeless people living and sleeping on the streets of Brighton recently, many of them with mental health issues. Since 2010 homelessness in England has risen 33%. The life expectancy of a man living on the streets is just 47 years, for a woman just 43.
Homeless people living and sleeping on the streets may be viewed as outsiders by many, but they belong here too.
With parents running a contemporary art gallery in the Lanes, Klara has been exposed to art, design and photography since childhood, and cited photographers Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, and Garry Winogrand as her main source of inspiration.
At first, she was not convinced Brighton was the best city to document:
Initially I was disappointed that it was just Brighton and not somewhere glamorous like New York, as there weren’t any fantastic New York ladies to street photograph, or Coney Island characters.
However I soon realized that Brighton has its own flavour that is just as rich, and being on the forefront of LGBTQ+ community, it is an important place to document in order to open the eyes of people who don’t live in our Brighton bubble! The section in the book about the homeless is important too for the same reasons.
The book is available to preorder online on the Crowdbooks website. The cost of the book will be £30, but who buy it in advance and help the book get published can get a copy for £25.79.