Eric Brumfield is a photographer of our city’s nightlife. With a busy schedule to document each week, Brumfield might be ‘at the party’ but he’s definitely there to work.
Brumfield is the resident photographer at Mary’s Poppin on Synagogue Place. This bar is a cultural hub and a safe space for Adelaide’s LGBTQ community and home to some of the most spectacular drag performances you will see anywhere.
Mary’s, as it is commonly known, is owned by In the Dark, one of Australia’s leading LGBTQ event companies. From empowering local performers to showcasing international talent, this organisation works to share and celebrate queer culture. In the Dark’s Stephen Craddock offered Brumfield his first photographic gig in 2013, and set him on his path to building an art practice with photography.
When the glitter falls over an elated crowd, or a leading queen such as Eve Elle takes to the stage, Brumfield is ready and waiting to capture the moment. “I am a sentimental soul and I work to encapsulate what is happening around me,” Brumfield says of his approach to photography. “The camera is a tool to keep memories alive, that’s why my camera is so special to me.”
Photographing a night out involves documenting not just the glowing performers but the busy bar staff and the excited patrons. These images become a summary of the night, a recorded history that will be shared on social media that weekend.
For one of Brumfield’s first jobs, he was assigned to shoot contestants from RuPaul’s Drag Race, which features some of the world’s most beloved drag queens. Another highlight was shooting performer Sasha Velour backstage at DragFest 2018. “When I’m photographing these queens, I get to witness their characters take shape in front of me, which is very special, so what you’re viewing is a documentation of that interaction and performance.
“I was thrown in the deep end but I fell in love with the drag world,” says Brumfield, who sees the world of drag as one of power and force. Brumfield also feels drag contributes greatly to the overall acceptance and support of the LGBTQ community.
At Mary’s, there is a strong sense of community and generosity, and you can see this in the performances. “It’s a family with a special bond. We are there to make each other better and give each other strength.” Mary’s is a queer space, where queer people make the rules. This courage is evident in Brumfield’s photography. “I try to show that in my work. I can’t describe what it is about someone that draws me to them … Empowering them is what fulfils me the most, because when I empower others, I empower myself.”
Moments of pain and celebration have been witnessed at Mary’s, and Brumfield has had his camera in hand for all of them. The 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando was a time of grief for the queer community and Mary’s became a rallying point to deal with the horrific news. “After Orlando, things felt tough and painful. Something was up and we had to come together and show care for each other.”
The historic 2017 marriage equality plebiscite was another significance event. Mary’s hosted an after party. “There was this intense happy feeling that filled the air. It was so memorable and very special.”
Brumfield has an array of cameras in his kit, making sure he always has a spare on hand. “It doesn’t matter what I use to photograph with, as it’s more about what I see,” he says. And you get the feeling that the most important tool of Brumfield’s art practice is his approach and understanding of the people he photographs.
Leo Greenfield is a freelance illustrator