As a lesbian starting to discover Sydney’s queer scene a decade ago, Amanda James drew on an unconventional means of support: her camera.

I started the project in 1995 as a young, fresh photographer and a dyke out on the scene and it just grew from there, she said.

Spending 10 years snapping Sydney’s fetish parties, Hellfire Club performances and other events, she discovered the alternative within the queer scene, the subculture of the subculture.

The result is a collection of about 2,000 photographs taken since 1995, around 80 of which James will show at the fifth annual Cross Projections event that opens as part of the Kings Cross Arts Festival next Tuesday.

James will exhibit her work in cinematic screenings, alongside 15 other photographers whose subjects range from indigenous festivals to the repercussions of the Boxing Day tsunami.

I have titled it Under The Big Top because of the carnival and the celebratory feel to it, and because of the enclosed blanket that it operates under, James said.

But I don’t consider it a freakshow. I didn’t want to be the photographer from outside coming in and taking something out. I wanted to create a story that was my memory as well as that of the people in it.

To achieve that, James formed friendships with her subjects along the way.

Relationships evolved -“ they do when you’re that intense with people. You are in a really small dressing room in a seedy club and you have to negotiate space.

Stepping from behind the camera to participate in performances was another way of earning subjects’ respect, James said.

That was part of my own exploration of my sexuality, and a couple of times I did offer myself in a different light, to also say to the performers: -˜I don’t see this as voyeuristic. This is intimate for me and I do appreciate what you are doing.’

James nominated the image of performance artist Lucky Rich suspended mid-air above the crowd at the opening of the Australian Museum’s Body Art exhibition in 2000, pictured, as a particular highlight.

For me it brought two worlds very much together, James said.

She will aim for a similar effect at Cross Projections.

[I want] to say -˜This is Sydney. This goes on. This is an intimate portrayal of a very unique and very intelligent community and we deserve to be seen alongside everything else.

Cross Projections is on at Tusculum House, 3 Manning Street, Potts Point, from 18 to 22 October, at 6:30pm for 7pm. Tickets cost $15 or $11 concession. Book on 9357 2038.

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