The Queen's Dragoons
The Queen’s Dragoons by Bryan Staff was a photography exhibition held in May and early June of 1984 at the 'Exposures Gallery' formerly located at 58 Manners Street. It was based around a series of photographs of Wellington’s transgender community taken nearly a decade earlier.
Born in 1950, Staff became interested in photography in his final years as a student at Christchurch Boys' High School. Travelling to the UK on OE in 1972, he began to refine his skills in the craft working for Addison International in London, a firm specialising in producing black & white movie stills. On returning to Wellington he became a member of the NZ Photo Forum and in 1976 enrolled in Wellington Polytechnic’s Photography Diploma course.
Among the coursework set was an assignment to complete a photographic essay on a topic of interest that students had discovered in the capital city. At the time Staff was flatting in a large house full of actors and performers on Tinakori Road. One of his flatmates was Deborah Hunt, a member of the legendary Red Mole theatre troupe who also worked as a fire eater at Carmen Rupe’s ‘Balcony’ strip club located at 57a Victoria Street (later to become the site of the Central Public Library). Another member of Red Mole, Alan Brunton was publishing a local arts newspaper called Spleen for which Bryan Staff was invited to take photographs for. One issue consisted of a centre spread of photographs of the local transgender community who worked with Deborah Hunt called TV Babes. The Queen’s Dragoons exhibition from 1984 grew from these pictures which had been taken eight years earlier and Wellington City Libraries acquired a complete set of the original prints around this time. However, it is only by chance that the exhibition actually happened at all; in 1981 while the photographer was travelling out of Wellington, a property developer demolished the building where Staff had his darkroom and all his developing equipment and the original negatives were destroyed. Luckily, a set of prints were being stored off-site from which the photographs in the exhibition was created but the prints which have been scanned here are some of the few remaining copies in existence.
What is particulary interesting about the photographs is that they were almost regarded as ‘heritage’ images at the time they were exhibited in 1984 as they showed a colourful part of Wellington’s history which by then had largely disappeared. Wellington was characterised in the mid-1970s for its relatively liberal attitude towards the local transgender community. This began to change as the community dispersed and elements of society became more conservative in the 1980s, particularly in reaction to the AIDS epidemic overseas.
In his review of the exhibition (Evening Post, 31 May 1984), the NZ writer Ian Wedde wrote how the photographs were…
“…a deeply nostalgic reminder of the time when the old Royal Oak was the beating heart of our present Blandville, when you could still see the harbour from Cuba Street, when barmen spoke Korean and Japanese, and when the Queens ruled, giving the city more class than whole streets of tacky malls filled with imported handbags”.
Bryan Staff moved to Auckland to work in commercial radio from 1977 to 1981 while continuing to take photographs, later returning to Wellington in 1982 to work for 2ZM as a radio announcer. He returned to Auckland in 1984, photographing touring overseas music artists for NZ record labels and writing for Metro, North & South, the Auckland Star and becoming the deputy editor of the Classic Driver and NZ Today magazines. Examples of his photographs are held in the permanent collection of Te Papa. In 2015 he moved to the seaside town of Mangonui in Northland and in 2019 began writing a book on the bass player, Billy Kristian. You can read more about Bryan Staff on the link to the Audioculture website below.
Wellington City Libraries wishes to thank Bryan Staff for allowing these photographs to be digitised and made available on our Recollect platform. They are presented here on a Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 NZ). This means you are free to use the images on a non-commercial basis but you cannot alter or transform them in any way and you must credit the photographer & include a reference back to the original source. Please contact Wellington City Libraries should you wish to use any of these images on a commercial basis.
Finally, please contact us if you have any information about the people photographed in The Queen’s Dragoons and what might have happened to them in the subsequent years.
External LinkBryan Staff on Audio Culture