The third edition of Liverpool's biennial photography festival, LOOK/15, is well underway and boasts a tremendous and a delightfully heterogeneous volume of imagery from a variety of photographers.

One such intriguing body of work on show is from Michael James O'Brien with his Girlfriend project that has been in process for the past thirty years. O'Brien documented drag acts from across the globe during this period, with New York the starting point for this journey and has since photographed queens in London, Berlin, and Paris.

Drag began to seep into mainstream culture in the '90s (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Wong Foo et al) - O'Brien's work hugely precinct in this respect while working in the clubs of New York in the late '80s; and arguably the images taken on a greater significance as trans and gender fluidity issues continue to be pushed to the fore in contemporary society. Though boy (or should I say, girl) is there a lot of work to do on this front still. His images mirror the drag performers in many ways - bold, in your face, and unapologetic; aided by the use of black and white as the theatrical, jocular, and gregarious package is evident to see.

We conducted a Q&A with Michael where he discussed how Girlfriend came about, RuPaul and LOOK/15 at Liverpool. LOOK/15 runs until May 31st in various locations across the city with Girlfriend showing at Constellations and in other secret locations.

Photo/art enthusiasts: do get yourself down to the festival.

How did Girlfriend come to be exhibited at LOOK/15?

I have been working with James Lawler, a Liverpool based curator for about a year and Look/15 came up as the perfect opportunity

Why all those years ago did you decide to document drag artists?

I had been going to nightclubs like Pyramid in the '80s when so much great gender based performance was not documented. I can remember nights with Ethyl Eichelberger doing a musical collage of the great theatrical divas (Lady Macbeth, Aida etc) with rapid fire wig changes, accompanied on the accordion and great dada pieces by Hapi Phace (Mark Phredd) that were lo-tech to say the least. There was also Black Lips Perfomance Cult which gave birth to so many solo performers like Antony Hegarty and Marti Domination (the star of Matthew Barney's Cremaster 1). Their spectacles were reminiscent of the Cockettes except much longer. These performances could only really be seen by people who did not have to go to work early or who did not work at all.

Who has inspired you from a photographic/art point of view for Girlfriend?

The visual attack was groundbreaking, political and turned given ideas of glamour inside out.

I was inspired by August Sander and Irving Penn for the portraits on grey canvas. My greatest inspiration was probably Brassai for the amazing photos of Paris at Night.

Do you see this as a continuing series? You have mentioned Girlfriend 2: The Sequel - is this something you can expand upon currently?

I am always tempted. Sometimes I want to go ahead and other times I feel like it's done. Now that I am based in Atlanta I am looking at a group called Legendary Children as a possible series. Of course since the book Girlfriend was published in 1999, I have done & shown many other photo projects.

What reactions have you received from bringing drag into public spaces and photobooks, from both drag artists themselves who are involved in the project and the wider drag community, but also the public?

I have good reactions though it is certainly more accepted these days and that is a great thing. Drag is now seen as one of a huge variety of gender discoveries.

It seems almost inconceivable that when you began, transgender popular culture entities such as Ru Paul's Drag Race would exist today and become a such a phenomenon. Do you think Ru Paul's effect on public perceptions of drag has been a positive step?

RuPaul is a phenomenon, a truly articulate advocate for freedom and understanding and well as a fierce performer.

Would you say that the recent mainstreaming of drag has any consequences for people who identify as non-gender binary on the whole?

Absolutely: mainstream acceptance changes things for the better, like same-sex marriage for those who want it. It also makes acts of discrimination illegal.

Do you think the performance aspect of drag creates certain connotations for non-drag artist transvestites?

Yes, there is a certain insecurity cast in the face of glamorous theatricals.

What do you think the next step in drags evolution will be? And how has its purpose changed since you took those very first photos?

It's a great evolution which now includes people at every point of the gender spectrum which I have always thought runs from A-Z and beyond. We are all on it somewhere.

Did anything in particular catch your eye at LOOK/15?

Liverpool is humming with creativity. It's much cooler than Brooklyn. There was an incredible sense of energy in the streets.

Some of the excellent Look 15 events: Jona Frank's photographs of very young boxers, Othello D'Souza Hartley's portraits at the Museum of Liverpool, Shiela Rock's haunting photos of the British seaside. Waiting to return to Liverpool asap.

What other non-Girlfriend work can we expect from you in the near (or far) future?

I am thinking about something I am calling The Atlanta Chapter: portraits and landscapes in large format.