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Safe space

by Amy Middleton, 3 July 2023

Abbey Mag (detail), 2017 Tanja Bruckner
Abbey Mag (detail), 2017 Tanja Bruckner. Archer issue 9

Diverse and empowering representation has epitomised Archer Magazine since its launch 10 years ago. Seeing a gap for a print and online publication about sexuality and gender, Archer was designed to be inclusive of all experiences and spotlight lesser-heard voices through personal stories and empowering imagery. Here Archer publisher Amy Middleton reflects on how far the magazine has come with her images team, art and design curator Alexis Desaulniers-Lea and image curator and digital content creator Hailey Moroney.

As founder and publisher, I’ve been at the head of a small team for the full 10 years, and staff turnover has been extremely low – which is perhaps surprising given that for the first eight years we weren’t paid for our work. This likely comes down to a shared passion for celebrating marginalised people, and representing difference and diversity.

‘For many of the stories we feature in Archer Magazine, there are no images online that will do justice to the topics,’ says Alexis. ‘There are not enough images that exist that are by community, for community, especially about intersectional topics such as queer people who have been incarcerated, people who are gender-diverse and First Nations, for example, or people living with certain disabilities. There are still many marginalised communities that are not featured in fashion shoots or editorials, so you really have to dig, and if the images aren’t there, then we do our best to make them exist – and stay under the budget, and within the time-crunch of print.’

When platforming the stories and artwork of marginalised people, while also being marginalised ourselves as members of intersecting communities, there is a need to stay humble and transparent, and work from a place of empathy, humanity and respect. ‘We give contributors agency,’ says Hailey. ‘Our contributors and models have a say over how they’re represented, how their work is portrayed, and we are transparent about everything from the get-go.’

Part of Archer’s mission statement is to respect the ways people want themselves represented. While this can pose a lot of editorial challenges, we want to set an example for the wider media that people’s stories and experiences should be treated with care. ‘So much of our process is about making sure those who we platform feel held, supported and safe,’ Hailey says. ‘We want to ensure the artist knows that we’re not trying to take their work and use it; we want to give them a platform.’

From the early days of internet-diving for images and cold-calling photographers, we now have huge networks of people from diverse and intersecting communities. We are also supported by Drummond Street Services, a health and support-based organisation that acquired Archer during the pandemic, providing financial support to save us from closure.

Hailey and Alexis are passionate about promoting the work of lesser-known individuals, as well as profiling bigger names, and we don’t make content about a community or experience without involving people who are directly impacted. ‘With many of the issues, I try to make the content accessible to readers,’ Hailey explains. ‘Some of the stories are really heavy, so the images visually allow readers to take a deep breath and get a break from the trauma.’

Alexis agrees: ‘In the queer community, we can sometimes hear a lot about the trauma before we hear about the joy, and that can get really exhausting for all of us. So we try to make it engaging and bring warmth to topics that might be hard to digest.’

Occasionally, the intersecting identities of our subjects, and the global context, can provide obstacles to this process. During COVID-19, for example, we put together our first-ever disabilities issue, which collected stories and images of people living with disability and/or chronic illness. Several shoots for the disabilities issue, including the cover image of London-based model and disability advocate Gemma Adby, were shot online on Zoom. I ask the team how they pulled that off.

‘A lot of communication!’ says Alexis. ‘It was a tough one to nail, there were a lot of unknowns in terms of image quality. But it was an interesting turning point for Archer, to realise we could keep doing this through lockdown, and people with access requirements are able to be at a photo shoot at their house.’

Hailey adds: ‘I used a photographer we’d used before, Nelly Skoufatoglou, so I was confident in their ability, then we figured out how to capture high-res images through the computer. I met with each of the models individually on Zoom, went through what kind of vibe they wanted to portray, what they were comfortable with, and then introduced them to the photographer.’

As well as commissioned shoots, Archer’s images team have put together fashion shoots spotlighting local inclusive brands. An example is our Fat Femmes to the Front shoot, which appeared in issue 9 back in 2017 when larger bodies were very rarely seen in the media. ‘The Fat Femmes photo shoot was still early days of producing original content, but I love the topic,’ Alexis says. ‘It featured South Sudanese Australian model Abbey Mag, queer model, photographer and activist Laura Du Ve, and drag queen Wade Tuck (whose stage name is Minnietaur). We had conversations with our models about what they wanted to celebrate and what they wanted represented. For example, the shoot was very body-focused, because often shoots featuring fat bodies will be close-cropped on the face, and exclude the full body shot. The feedback was great, it was one of our most shared shoots online.’

I ask Hailey and Alexis to tell me about some of their favourite commissioned stories. Hailey cites a shoot featuring Tilly Lawless, a queer sex worker, advocate and writer based in Sydney, who wrote for our Spaces issue back in 2016. ‘It was my first brief, and I wrote to one of my favourite photographers, Byron Spencer,’ Hailey remembers. ‘I wanted Tilly to have agency over the shoot. I wanted her to feel empowered, and I wanted it to be very obvious that it was Sydney.’

The photograph we chose for the cover featured Tilly with an exposed nipple, which we covered with a removable sticker when we had the magazines printed because of censorship. This was both a necessary practical decision, and an overt critique of censorship itself – as we included the hashtag #FreeTheNipple.

One of Alexis’ favourites is a shoot by Ethiopian-born, South Sudanese artist Atong Atem of Bridget Caldwell-Bright, a queer Jingili and Mudburra woman writing about motherhood. ‘I think queer motherhood, and particularly a First Nations mother, is a topic you don’t see portrayed in mainstream media,’ says Alexis. ‘Photography is still a very white, heterosexual, cisgender and male-dominated industry, and it’s so imperative that behind the lens, and in front of the lens, women of colour are creating stories through images that feel authentic to their experience and creativity.’

Alexis adds that our representation of diversity extends on a global scale.
‘I love that we’re not only representing First Nations people in Australia. When you look at Jeremy Meek’s or Meryl McCaster’s photography, it’s incredible to be able to represent images of First Nations people around the world.’

1 Lady Shug poses in front of Shiprock, a sacred Navajo Nation landmark, 2018 Jeremy Meek. Archer issue 10. 2 Aphoristic Currents, 2013 Meryl McCaster. Archer issue 12.

Meek’s portrait of Diné (Navajo) non-binary drag artist and activist Lady Shug highlights the issues facing the Navajo Nation’s LGBTQIA+ community, while Canadian artist McCaster’s self portraiture explores her nêhiyaw (Plains Cree) and European ancestry.

1 2 Portrait from the series ‘Together’ published 2018 Both Luke Austin. Archer issue 11

In issue 11 we featured LA-based Australian photographer Luke Austin, whose work captures the diversity of men, ‘not just white men with muscles’. Closer to home, Melbourne drag queens Pancetta Love, Paris and Valerie Hex were photographed by Shelley Horan post-show at The Butterfly Club, then celebrating its 20th year at the centre of Australia’s queer arts scene.

To celebrate our 10th birthday, we are ramping up the creative studio arm of our business, offering branding, creative assets, photography, videography and campaign materials to people working in community on health promotion, commercial and community projects. ‘We have the trust from community to make sure these campaigns will be pulled together in a safe and compassionate way, representing everyone in the ways they want,’ Alexis says. ‘Unfortunately these things aren’t standard in the industry.’

Alexis cites a willingness to grow as part of the key to working with marginalised communities. ‘If we drop the ball or mess up, we encourage people who work with us to tell us, rather than keep it to themselves, so we can keep improving. It’s not always easy to hear. But we admit that we don’t know everything, and community and language are changing all the time. We are always learning and growing.’

Since the beginning, one of Archer’s key principles has been that it captures a moment in time in the sexual equality and identity movement. Our print editions act as artefacts of their release date, and bear visible shifts in the landscape. ‘Archer is made to date,’ Hailey explains. ‘We’re never going to be on the forefront of everything, but we’re always going to be trying, and reflecting that change. Spreading that with a creative agency as well as our publications is very exciting.’

To pitch an idea or buy a copy of Archer Magazine visit


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