"Nothing could better signify the fashions of Glasgow than the club culture the city has to offer and the people who get dressed up to enter these spaces," says 22-year-old photographer Anna-Rose McChesney. A student at Glasgow School of Art, McChesney is discussing the inspiration behind her recent photo series, What’s Your Favourite Outfit To Dance In? It's a vibrant and feel-good project celebrating how the young people of her city express themselves through personal style.
The series started in March 2021, when McChesney was set a brief by her tutor to take three portraits. At the time, the pandemic was still taking its toll and the people of Glasgow were in their third lockdown, with many of them yearning for the thrill of nights out. "I was missing my dancing shoes, live music and art events so this project was born out of the excitement to dress up again," she recalls. She knew immediately that she wanted her friends and fellow students to be her subjects so she reached out to a few of them with the idea of photographing them at home in their favourite dancing get-ups. In no time, those first three portraits blossomed into a vibrant constellation of 172 images.
To get started, McChesney headed to her friends’ houses with her camera and a tripod. To provide cohesion and a sense of unity, she decided early on to photograph everyone in the same way – outside their front door – and brought along speakers to play her favourite dance music while she photographed. "That helped relax the subjects and get them moving into poses they felt represented them on the dance floor," she says. Soon after, momentum started to build and she began shooting friends of friends and even complete strangers who had heard of the project through word of mouth. "If people were missing dressing up and going out, they only had to drop me a line to be part of it," she says.
Location also connects the pictures, all of which feature Glasgow’s archetypal tenement architecture with its sturdy front doors in an array of colours. It forms the perfect backdrop. "These flats are unique to the city and they are where many of the people in my photos were staying for that period of time, which also meant it was a personal place for the subjects – somewhere familiar to show off their ensembles." The staging of the photos garnered a lot of attention, McChesney recalls, sometimes creating quite a stir in the streets. "Neighbours were certainly amused – and sometimes unamused – but nevertheless we always managed to considerately capture a striking pose!"
What’s Your Favourite Outfit To Dance In? is bursting with clashing patterns and acid brights, rave boots and platforms, streetwear, goth-inspired get-ups, new takes on cyberpunk and romantic layers of chiffon and faux fur. Some of McChesney’s favourite images from the series are associated with particular memories of the making of the project. One portrait, for instance, sees a young woman named Beth posing playfully in front of a bright crimson door. Her outfit is black and her flame-red hair tumbles down past her waist. Remembering the day they met, McChesney says: "I was walking around the Glasgow Botanical Gardens and I saw her in the distance. Her long, curly hair caught my eye and I approached her to ask if she would be up for having her portrait taken."
Another of her standout images is the very first photo she took for the series, when she was still figuring out what it would become. "The photo is of Luca and Lina. Luca is very much involved in the music scene and he regularly DJs around the world so it was nice to be able to capture someone who would most definitely be missing wearing their favourite outfit to dance in," she says. Luca wears a beret and a sheer vest with a denim maxi skirt, while Lina has on a black dress with a belt tied at her waist and black trainers to match. Then there are the pictures McChesney loves purely for aesthetic value. She points out one of three girls posing with a violin, a plastic lobster and maracas. "That’s Mila, Maria and Liv," she says, "and I love the colours in this one – they’re very beautiful, it’s very playful, and the composition of them all facing to one side just creates such a striking photo."
What’s Your Favourite Outfit To Dance In? began as a way for McChesney to create something joyful during a specific and strange moment in time for young people. In the end it became a visual love letter to Glaswegian student style. "I would hope people can appreciate the playful energy all the subjects brought to their photos," she says. "In terms of the clothing in the series, each subject had an individual style and way of presenting themselves so I would like people to catch a buzz of the exciting fashions and energies that can be found on the streets here."
Beyond the Glasgow bubble, McChesney’s photographs inspire us to consider our own favourite outfits to dance in, wherever we are in the world. What makes us feel good? What’s fun? What’s comfortable? What items help us to confidently present ourselves to the world? McChesney’s favourite outfit to dance in is a vintage, handmade flamenco dress. "I found it in the Peckham Traid for £25 when I was 18. I was searching for a dress to wear at my leavers school party and was drawn to its beautiful red and white polka dots. It fits like a glove!" she says. She did have someone photograph her in it for the project but a dark room mishap meant the pictures were lost. Maybe someday she’ll replace them and add her own image to the series.
Meanwhile, McChesney has been working on a photobook of the project, designed by her friend Tom Ive, which will be available this month from her website. She also has a new project on the horizon, taking off from the theme of doorstep portraits. "This time, though, I am hoping to collaborate with a stylist and create some even more extravagant clothing ensembles," she reveals.