From the archive: Clubbing and the jpeg generation
I'm shifting all of my favouritist old Time Out columns onto here before they end up in the Internet cemetery. First up: this feature from 2007 on the new wave of clubbing photographers snapping the fashion kidz in east London. It originally appeared in Time Out London in March 2007. Read it after the jump.
Clubbing and the jpeg generation
Photo websites like Dirty Dirty Dancing and We Know What You Did Last Night not only showcase fabulous party people, they add excitement to an already frenetic party scene
Take a trip down to EC1 at the weekend and you’ll see something different. Not only are the clubs awash with party-goers in all their fluoro, metallic and skintight threads, but these clubbers are posing and pouting for some lanky guy with a nifty-looking camera on the dancefloor. Come the morning, proof of their party appearances is eagerly downloaded and lands on their online profiles for all to admire. URLs are eagerly swapped as the night before is crystallised in all its garish glory, devoured hungrily by the jpeg generation.
Digital photography is literally changing the face of clubbing, feeding on the swarms of London ravers who love nothing more than to don outlandish outfits and be seen. Generic crowd shots fill giant clubland websites like Tillate.com and Dontstayin.com, but a new school of photographers are more focused (excuse the pun) on snapping the beautiful with style. They’re not stalking the overexposed main floors of Fabric or theMinistry though. They are inspired by the thriving electro, indie and grime scene – represented by nights like Boom Boxx, Durrr, Computer Blue and Anti Social.
Alistair Allan is one photographer ‘capturing the moment’. His website, Dirty Dirty Dancing, casts a dewy glow on all who grace it and he barely misses out on a high-fashion hoedown. Only venturing into club photography a mere six months ago, his site now receives 900,000 page views a month. Similarly, Chris Birkenshaw, who runs online gallery We Know What You Did Last Night, only started snapping recently ‘by accident’ and has already done the rounds with nights like Club Motherfucker, Chalk and Our Disco. There are few photographers covering the ‘cool’ clubs to this degree.
Instead of pouring over MySpace, clubbers consult websites like these for insights into what parties are hot right now. ‘My friends have overheard quite a few people say, “Oh, Dirty Dirty Dancing is here!” or “I got dressed up for DDD” in clubs, but I don’t really listen,’ says Allan. ‘I try to steer clear of people who might ask me to take their photo – I usually just pick out the people I think look interesting.’
But if photographers are seeking out people purely on their looks then is this an accurate representation of London club culture? ‘Probably not, no,’ admits Birkenshaw. ‘You don’t want to see pictures of everyone; you just want people that look good or who are doing something weird. Private people turn their heads away when they see a camera, so I suppose [we’re] looking at clubbing through rose-tinted glasses.’
Allan argues that what he shoots is a true representation of the big-city nightlife, but only at the clubs he parties at. ‘It is kind-of only showing one aspect,’ he says, ‘but I’m not really interested [in all clubs]. ‘People look that good before post-production, but I mostly take photos of people I know. The flash is just really harsh with most cameras so I soften it all down,’ he continues, without revealing just how he gets that perfect-skin glow. ‘We never see the flaws in each other until we look at the photographs and start to notice things, so I’m portraying what people actually see.’
Allan and Birkenshaw both confess they sleep little more than forty winks a night, but then again, they do it for the fun, not for the cash. There’s no questioning, however, that there is still an enormous appetite for digital clubbing mementos, one that arguably heightens the clubbing experience as clubbers are inspired to create ever-more freaky dance moves and outlandish looks. ‘Some say I’m documenting the new rave scene and that people are going to look back on it and see the history of how it came about,’ says Allan. ‘Maybe in that historical sense [these photos] have importance, but it’s just fun for me; I’m not exploiting people’s vanity.’