Here is London, giddy London
Is it home of the free or what?
Morrissey, “Hairdresser on Fire”, Bona Drag
As Morrissey says on another verse in this same song, London is “home of the brash, outrageous and free”. And one of the places where this statement might be the most visible could be the night club, as we can see on Jesús Madriñán’s photographic series called “Good Night London”, which has recently been awarded the OCEMX prize, granted by the Spanish Cultural Centre in Mexico. This project shows a series of documentary portraits taken in different London clubs which try to explore how artificial settings are a key element on the construction of teenager identity. Conventional studio photography is taken out of context to invade a complex scenario. The calm and inspiration features of studio photography are substituted by the noisy and hostile night club as setting, and people to portray are chosen at the end of the night, when the club is about to close its doors. Confronting the camera offers to the portrayed the possibility of inventing a way in which to project him or herself depending on the narrative they want to represent at that given moment. And for the photographer, placing his subject in front of the camera and the spotlights allows him to capture that projection they want to show.
We talk to Jesús via e-mail on this and other projects he’s currently working on.
“it: Reading the last issue of I-D magazine and with your project in mind, these two statements rang quite true:
James Anderson, I-D Fashion and Features Editor: Nightclubs remain the true laboratories of fresh fashion looks.
Princess Julia: Clubs are places where you can dress, say and be whoever you like. There are no rules. You can express yourself, create an alter ego and get totally lost in the music.
Do you agree with them?
JM: Of course I do, these two statements encapsulate a lot of what my work “Good Night London” tries to show. I love that you have chosen them, good choice.
“it: Let’s talk about your project: How did the idea come to mind? Why did you choose to shoot at the end of the night? Did you know any of the people portrayed? What reactions did you encounter: were they surprised, did they say no, or were they eager to get their picture taken? Did you do any kind of styling? How did you choose who to photograph? What attracted you?
JM: This project, like all the rest, springs from my own life experience and my obsession to analyse everything that surrounds me, it’s, after all, a reflection of my own self and my own reality. I’m interested on those night-time artificial leisure spaces; discos, dance clubs, etc. Those spaces have culturally evolved from mere leisure spaces to contexts on which to search and escape. They refer to a social context, and to me they are a source of inspiration and melancholy.
I wanted to get as close as possible to each of them to try and go beyond that façade which is always less firm at the end of the night.
I wanted to take pictures at the end of the night because then the photographed would be less conscious of the presence of the camera and would be less precise at building up an identity in front of it. I wanted to get as close as possible to each of them to try and go beyond that façade which is always less firm at the end of the night.
I never know any of the people I photograph in night clubs; we usually establish a very brief relationship. The same moment I come across them I ask them to sit for me. Some are surprised to be chosen, and others feel proud. Each person is a different world. It’s difficult to get their attention for more than a few seconds; as soon as I have captured their image they walk away and are lost amongst the crowd. Sometimes I see them again another day in another part of the city and they don’t even recognise me or remember me.
I like the analogical process very much, it’s determined by chance and surprise, it’s almost magical.
“it: Were pictures taken with an analog or a digital camera? What kind of illumination gear did you use?
JM: I always work with analog cameras and I set up a small studio on the dancefloor of the clubs. I like the analogical process very much, it’s determined by chance and surprise, it’s almost magical.
“it: In what clubs were these photographs taken? How long did you work on the project? Do you live in London now? Where do you hang out? The East End? Dalston? Do you think you could have undertaken the same project in some Spanish city, in Barcelona for example?
JM: I took all the pictures in East London clubs, nearly all of them were in Shoreditch, where I lived. To be sincere I’ll tell you that I find London quite a boring place to go out, it lacks spontaneity and freshness! But of course I’ve been to all those places, I’ve danced and lived them like all of the people I portray, that’s why I’m interested in them, because, somehow, they belong to me as well.
Of course I could have done something similar in a Spanish city. In fact now I’m working on a project which is continuation of “Good Night London”, but focusing on rural areas in Galicia, where I was born.
“it: Going back to your London experience, how was studying at Central Saint Martin’s? Was it very different from studying at, say, the University of Barcelona, where you read your Art’s degree?
JM: To tell you the truth, it’s the same, but at CSM yoy have great premises and an amazing team of experts at your service. On top of that, CSM is a great experience because you share your passion with people from all over the world, generally people with great talents and a very high professional level. At the end of the day, that’s what helps you grow, trying, experimenting, knowing, seeing… Surrounding yourself with stimuli.
London is swamped with people now, to me is not an option at this moment, that’s why I have come back to Spain.
“it: Is it easier to work as photographer in London or in Barcelona? Or is it the same in the global society we live in nowadays?
JM: In Spain is a lot easier, without a doubt, London is swamped with people now, to me is not an option at this moment, that’s why I have come back to Spain. In fact I’m moving to Madrid this month, we’ll see how it goes!
“it: Could you tell us some of your favourite photographers and photography publications?
JM: I’m not too methodical when it comes to that, I like to come across different works, they need to surprise me in an organic way, I’m not a scholar and I don’t really follow any photographic trends. It’s true that I usually like portraitists, either photographers or painters, such as Gareth McConnel, Pierre Gonnord, Maruja Mallo, Emile Friant, Rineke Dijkstra, Marlene Dumas… With publications it’s the same thing, I’m not faithful to any, I buy and read whatever I come across that I find interesting, usually exhibition or festival catalogues. CGAC and Photoespaña publications and Exit magazine, among others, are usually on my bedside table.
“it: After exhibiting “Good Night London” in several Spanish cities, in London and in Mexico, do you think we’ll be able to see it in Barcelona?
JM: I’d love to show it in Barcelona. By now you’ll be able to see it in Madrid, at the 6+1 Gallery in April, and in Malaga, at La Térmica next June.
“it: You’ve been nominated to quite a lot of awards on the last two years, and you have been granted some of them, what projects are you working on now?
JM: Lots of things! This week I finished my last project, I’ve been working on it for a year. I hope to be able to show it very soon. I have other two ongoing projects, and I’m really happy about them, but I don’t want to talk about them yet, since they’re only in my head for now!
“it: Many thanks for your time, Jesús!
JM: Thanks to you!