Review: Arts Council Commission - Roman Manfredi

Roman Manfredi has been commissioned by the Arts Council to produce a body of work
looking at the working-class lesbian community who identify as being Butches/studs
meaning that as lesbians they identify more so with their masculine persona through
fashion and sexual orientation. 

Roman has returned to her photographic journey which started many years ago when she
picked up her first job as a darkroom colour printer back in the 1970s. 

The work that Roman has produced is a series of portraits taken across the UK in various
urban landscape settings. Not only are we presented with a series of over 40 portraits which
also includes a self-portrait of Roman, but everyone photographed has been interviewed
and so in addition to these striking portraits, each sitter will have audio detailing why they
chose to be part of this project. 

I was curious to understand more about each sitter since I was only presented with the
images and the introductory text (which can be found on Roman’s website). But in the case
of these images, I wanted to know where each of the portraits was produced, how Roman
found her sitters, and why these individuals agreed to take part in such a project. 

One of the sitters named Laura discussed the importance of women from her community
taking up space; being seen and heard: “I think in the UK it’s a hidden society, you know, it’s
a hidden community and unknown.” On reading this statement, I would agree that I was not
so familiar with the term Stud, which is used more in an American context. When I looked this word up online, I came across – “A “stud” lesbian refers to a butch woman or non-
binary person who is Black or Latino — not white dykes on TikTok.” 

The article found on,
details the history of the word “stud” and the term dates back to the 1960s. 

I am not part of this community but being a black woman who is 5 ft 10 and not the
curvaceous type, I have been mistaken for being a man on many occasions if I wear jeans,
trousers or loose fitting garments, wearing no make-up and more so, when I have gone
through phases of experimenting with my hair… having my hair shaved or cut low, and the
article that I read discusses these complexities of being black, female and invisible. Or
mistaken for being a dyke. A word that I am more familiar with, in the British context. 

During my time as a student and then as a lecturer in photography, I have not come across
many projects or artists who have touched on this subject matter, which I could share with
students who may also wish to explore this within their own projects, so I welcome seeing
this documentary project which is so needed in the times we now live in. 

My reference points on LGBTQ+ photographers/artists come mainly from my time working
at Autograph in the late 1990s. 

 Autograph has continued to advocate and show the work of Lola Flash, Sunil Gupta, Ingrid
Pollard, Rotimi Fani Kayode, Ajamu and Zanele Muholi’s to name a few and I am also aware
of the work of Åsa Johannesson who has recently completed her PhD (at the RCA) on ‘The
Queering of Photography’. 

Ten.8 magazine was also a great resource through the 1980s and 1990s which I had become
familiar with through doing research as a student back in the late 1990s, on black identity
through photography. There was the Ten8 publication called ‘Bodies and Excess’ which
introduced me to artists and writers addressing the challenges of class identity and

However, my early memories of a Lesbian community, unapologetically being present, were
during my time spent living in Stoke Newington in the 1990s. These were predominantly
white middle-class women who were proud of their identities and clearly had a strong
presence and safe spaces, pubs, and clubs in that area of London. 

The punk scene in the late 1970s and 1980s also allowed women to express themselves
through the music, fashion, and cultural scene. The Article written by Kate Lloyd for Timeout (
out-of-londons-history-042517 ) clearly depicts the challenges that lesbian women faced at this time. So, to see and hear the stories of those who are now in their 70s within
Roman’s work, is an important history that needs to be told. Moreover, the younger
generation must be made aware of this history; Roman has rightly included the images and
opinions of the young. 

Roman feels that the voice of the working-class lesbian has never been heard, and the
stereotyping of this sub-group is associated with low-level crime and women being in
prisons. I was shocked to hear this. But then I recall the Australian, TV drama “Prisoner: Cell
Block H” and more recently recall that a documentary film called Rebel Dykes was produced
in 2021, which depicts the challenges faced by the lesbian community. On viewing Roman’s
work, I now feel inclined to watch this documentary movie. Since I heard about it on Radio
London. No doubt it was Robert Elms radio show. 

Roman has specifically chosen to focus on the UK and sitters who identify as being from
working-class backgrounds. Since she believes that the voices of these women, have been
hidden/silenced from the history books both within the theory and the cannon of lesbian
politics as well as within British photography, compared to her middle-class lesbian
counterparts and more so those who are in the United States, whereby, Lesbian Butches
and Studs, are clearly more celebrated and seen. Not being frowned upon but taking up
space unapologetically. An example can be viewed via this link by Caroline Berler 

Writers such as Audrey Lorde had fought for this to be the case (I have recently started
reading her book, ‘Your Silence Will Not Protect You’, whose title, clearly sums up what
Roman is trying to achieve with this body of work, and as I look online, there is clearly a bigger movement taking place which I am not aware of, so this project enables my
understanding of this subculture and its history. 

This is Roman’s first major documentary photography project and the strength and dignity
which is conveyed by her sitters whose ages range from 21 – 75 are extraordinary. It was
important for Roman to produce the work on film rather than digitally and she is proud to
have been mentored by Ingrid Pollard who encouraged her to start working with a medium
format Hasselblad. 

The title of each image is the forename of the sitter and the audio interview with each sitter
will allow those viewing the work to gain a greater understanding of why this body of work
needs to be part of the timeline, when the laws are changing and how one is defined within
the LGBTQ+ community. 

 © Eileen Perrier
January 2023

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