Courtesy photo

One On One with Royce Soble

BK is back and ready to chat with some of the influential Atlantans that make our city so great. This month I have chosen to speak to my dear old friend Royce Soble. Chances are, if you have been to a hot LGBTQ dance party, a march for marginalized humans, or any hip art show, you’ve seen them. They are a part of our city’s LGBTQ history, with Emory University even archiving their photos for over the past 30 years.

Bill Kaelin: Hey Alli, my love, how are you? Listen, before we get started, I’ve noticed recently that your pronoun preferences are they/them. Are you cool with going by Alli as your chosen name? I’ve seen recently you are using Royce a little more these days.

Royce Soble: I would prefer going by my middle name, Royce. I’m connecting a bit more with it these days as it represents where I currently am with my nonbinary gender expression.

BK: Amazing. Royce it is.

RS: Thanks Mamma. How are things with you these days? I notice that your articles are steering clear of politics lately.

BK: I couldn’t do it anymore. After the past four years, I had to take a breather. The world is already a hot mess without me reminding everyone how fucked up it is in my articles. I decided I wanted to focus on the positive side of life and all the great people in the world that help make our city so great. It’s really modeled after my favorite magazine of all time: Andy Warhol’s “Interview.”

RS: OMG it’s my all-time fave as well. I started collecting them in 1988. I used to love how oversized and big they used to be.

BK: They are back actually, and they are bigger than ever!

RS: No way. Really? My first ones I saved were with Parker Posey, Pee Wee Herman and Robert De Niro. I just remember being so inspired by them. The photographs were so cutting edge, so queer and a bit sexual. I also loved “Details” magazine as well. Go figure.

BK: Our experience with “Interview” is so similar. I grew up in a small town in Illinois, and there was this older gay man who introduced me to the magazine. It forever changed my world. “Interview” literally introduced me to New York gay culture and showed me that there was another world out there. This gentleman also introduced me to Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love.” Girl I can still see that cover. I was “running up that hill” with my young gay self.

RS: OMG. So gay. Was he like your own personal “Call Me By Your Name” moment?

BK: No, he was so respectful and truly was just a mentor. I loved him for that. It was nice to have a sort of role model for my young, small town gay self. This gentleman and Madonna were my catalysts into gay culture until I could actually explore it on my own. So, you were 15 when you were checking out these magazines. How old were you when you first put a camera up to your eye?

RS: The first camera that was given to me was this Kodak Disc camera for my 10th birthday.

BK: OMG I love it that you still have it! I swear to god, I can smell it from here. That delicious, plastic, ’80s toxicity.

RS: I still love it to this day. I immediately started taking pictures of everything. I would take it to elementary school. I still have the albums from the years of 1984–1990. 1992 was when I really started to document my LGBTQ community. I had just started at Georgia State and had just made some of my first queer friends down at the quad. I was fresh out of the closet, but I was shy about it and was immediately fascinated by my new friend’s confidence and determination to live life so freely. I think I unconsciously started taking pictures of them, which gave me the courage to literally come out behind the camera and live my life authentically as well.

BK: That’s so cool. I came out on my “concrete campus” as well. Going to college in the late ’80s and early ’90s was so special for people like us because it totally was the first time that I met people my own age that were just like me. I love that era. Do you miss dropping off your film at the drug store and coming back 24 hours later to see what the end results were? I feel like we don’t get that element of surprise with digital photographs.

RS: I miss the entire process. The thing I love about film is the intention. You only had so many pictures you could take on a roll. You really had to curate the experience. I can now go out and take 500 pictures in an evening, which is nice, but I used to go out with four rolls of film and once they were gone they were gone.

BK: I feel like print photographs are sort of a one-of-a-kind piece. Digital photographs are shared online like wildfire, but the old-fashioned way of getting them printed feels more special, almost like each picture is one of a kind. I used to love to go pick my pictures up.

RS: Honey, I was a part of the “Wolf Pack” membership program for Wolf Camera. They knew me on a first name basis. I would drop off my film before going home for bed, wake up the next morning with my Aurora coffee and swing through to pick up my photographs, put them in an album and invite people over to my house to see my mini exhibit … all within 24 hours.

BK: Yasssss Wolf Pack! I love it! I feel like you need to explore this medium again. Selfishly, I want a Royce Soble printed photograph of myself.

RS: I have so many images of you.

BK: OMG I can only imagine what snapshots you got of me over the years. We have lived a lot of life in these streets. The golden age of Atlanta nightlife was so special. I used to love to walk into a club and see you snapping away. My perception of you is that you love a good party, you live for a sweaty dance floor and are truly the best hugger in town. However, so many times documentary photographers are very introverted and are almost always seen but never heard. What are you trying to communicate with your photographs that you can’t say verbally?

RS: I’m really just trying to capture humanity in its natural setting. I love it when I get to see people’s intimate moments when they think no one is watching. It is very voyeuristic. Believe it or not, I can be shy, and I think the camera has allowed me to be more social. It does work as a barrier between myself and people, especially when my intention is to document a party or a protest. I can be up in the thick of it, but once I put my eye on that lens I am in my own little bubble. I can be outgoing and very friendly, but I like to come and go as I please. I don’t want to show up to a party with a bunch of people. Most of the time I arrive alone so I can escape when I’m ready.

BK: I’m exactly the same way. During my nightclub days we used to call it doing the “Gianni Versace.” I would walk through the front door of my club, say hello, give a kiss or two or three, have a couple photos taken and walk out the back door and be at home in a hour while everyone spent the rest of the night looking for me. I started to struggle a bit with social anxiety the older I got, which made my job so much more difficult. Thank God through lots of therapy I have worked through most of it and have learned how to move through my anxiety. I know you have been very open about your struggles with anxiety and depression. How are you feeling during these wild days? What do you do to keep it at bay.

RS: Honestly, it’s quite simple. I learned during the pandemic that walking is what sets me straight. I started off just doing a few blocks, then I got to a mile and now I almost do two. All that fresh air does me good — that and my art, of course.

BK: I have been primarily focused on your photography, but you are also a mixed media and abstract painter as well. If you had to choose only one medium for the rest of your life, what would it be?

RS: It’s always photography. It is the fire that burns for me. I am so grateful to have that thing inside of me that drives me. There are a lot of people in the world that don’t have that passion that feeds them and taking photographs is mine. I am so lucky to have that.

BK: We are so lucky that you have that passion as well because we get to enjoy all the amazing art you produce. What do you enjoy most about Atlanta?

RS: As big of a city Atlanta has become, it is still so friendly. Everyone says hello, please and thank you. The South has a lot of issues, but that sweet side is something I still love.

BK: Well, I love you Royce. You are one of the kindest humans I know. Thanks for hanging with me today darlin’ … Oops, I know that’s not very gender-neutral, is it? Sorry.

RS: Honey, I’ll always be your darlin’ no matter where I fall on the gender spectrum.