Prepare The Flash shines a light on folks that shine a light themselves. The people behind the camera, taking pictures of the artists we all love. Let's take a look behind the scenes of some of Belgium’s most infamous clickers. For this edition we sat down with the winner of the 2 last Best Nightlife Photographer Awards at the Red Bull Elektropedia Awards (2017 & 2018): Nachtschaduw!
First off: congratulations on winning the award for the second time in a row! How does that feel?
"Thank you so much! It felt very overwhelming. To be rewarded for the countless hours of work I’ve put into my passion is the biggest honor I can receive. I got very emotional when I was walking to the stage, I have never taken any photography or post-processing lessons, I just started using my camera and was fortunate enough to build a career out of this. The other thing is that I’m visually impaired. In my case this means that my eyes are not able to process light like 99% of the people, resulting in severe night-blindness. I turned my weakness into a strength and I’m really proud of this and also very thankful for everyone that has supported me over the years!"
You were definitely the most flashy person on stage again, please tell us about your outfits.
"My first visit to Berghain impacted me greatly. In Berlin club culture you can wear as much or as little as you want. You’re accepted and even rewarded for being able to express yourself and your sexual identity! This inspired me to build the confidence to express myself as an artist through my clothes. Sometimes I like to shock with BDSM accessories, sometimes I like to sparkle with a lot of sequins, sometimes I’m more casual. It varies from time to time and I’ve noticed that people really appreciate this. For the 2018 RBEA, I was wearing a white sateen, in lace and sequin embellished tuxedo and a hand-made leather harness. This was very symbolical to me, as this is something that most men wear at underground gay parties. This year two queer parties (Spek & Gay Haze) were nominated and Thierry from La Démence was awarded with a Lifetime Achievement Award. With this I wanted to make a statement and show my support to the LGBTQ-community. I feel that the Belgian nightlife scene can be a lot more open-minded and queer."
Take us back to your story. When did you start photographing and how did it evolve to where you’re at now?
"I started doing nightlife photography almost six years ago when I was studying at the University of Bruges. I saw a local student café post that they were in need of a photographer. I don’t exactly know why but I immediately responded to their post. Back then I had a semi-professional camera and I wanted to try taking pictures in a bar. It was extremely difficult though: dancing people, smoke, lasers, lights moving like crazy... When I look back at the photos I start laughing at how bad they are, but for some reason I still got noticed. The word spread and local bar/club owners were requesting me as a photographer for their events. That was the start of a hobby that would eventually run out of control."
A very similar start to a lot of your colleagues. And right after that things really started going for you!
"At that time I started working for more mainstream EDM clubs and festivals which I look back at as a good thing, as this was the base of my current style. They taught me how to take the hero (overview) shots and that’s one of my specialties regarding nightlife photography. As time went on I started to feel more uncomfortable with the m’as tu vu-attitude and vip-culture. It got a little bit too much for me. During the summer of 2015, I got a call from Fuse, asking if I was still available for one of their Fuse on the beach parties. Fuse started booking me more frequently and I fell in love with Techno music. I was happy to set my first steps in underground music, that’s when Nachtschaduw was really born! Thanks to Fuse I could work with legendary dj’s Ben Klock, Len Faki, Joseph Capriati, Chris Liebing, Adam Beyer, Marcel Dettmann and more. Because of those pictures, Café d’Anvers & Labyrinth Club started booking me. Shooting at CDA taught me how to capture a very energetic moment into a picture.
Internationally, Time Warp festival contacted me and Labyrinth introduced me to elrow. Those were my first international experiences and from there it only went upwards. My first time in Kompass Klub was during their first Fuse-Off party with Pan-Pot and Amelie Lens in 2016. That party was the beginning of a beautiful journey for me. The Kompass warehouse in Ghent is a venue where I now shoot weekly or bi-weekly. It became my playground where I can experiment with the energy of the rave and crowd. I’m incredibly proud and thankful that I get to work with such a great team every week."
A lot of people start in nightlife and then leave it for different styles, but you’ve been around for a while. Why is that? And do you see a problem with people moving on from nightlife?
"Nightlife is physically and mentally very demanding. It’s an industry that requires an insane amount of dedication. Sleep deprivation is the most normal thing as in most cases there’s no separation between day and night, summer or winter, weekend or weekday. In nightlife photography it’s a continuous coming and going of visual artists. Most people do it for two to three years, there are exceptions, but there aren’t many.
Maybe I stay in nightlife because I don’t take it too serious or maybe because I just really love what I do. I love working with artists, pr-managers and marketeers, I love raving and I love music. There are obviously days when I think to myself, why am I still doing this, but for me nightlife photography is an outlet. It’s something where I can release all my creativity and emotions, have fun and be together with old and new friends.
I think it’s very important, if you want to keep up with the rhythm that nightlife demands of you, to listen to your body and to focus on a healthy work-life balance. Me, however, I’m no expert or example as I still struggle with this sometimes. The night can be quite addictive and dangerous, and if you go out ‘till 10 o'clock in the morning when you were supposed to have a good night of rest, you’re going to get in trouble at some point. I’m very strict with my sleeping pattern, I need at least 9 hours of sleep per day during the week, to have the possibility to tour around for photoshoots during the weekends.
Another problem is the fact that nightlife photography doesn’t pay correctly for the hours and amount of work you put in. A-list artists earn thousands of euros for a two hour set, whilst photographers are there for at least a six hours during the night and more or less an extra 6 hours whilst working on post-processing and earn way less. We may not create music or be the headliner of the night, but at least we make sure that the night is documented properly and that the world can see what goes on in our venues. Some can accept this but most don’t and they leave nightlife to explore other fields of photography, such as wedding photography and portrait photography. I think it’s a shame because Belgium always had a really good reputation on nightlife photography in the international market and through this we’re losing a lot of talent."
What do you think distinguishes you as a photographer? And what are some good tips on keeping nightlife pictures interesting?
"I think my cinematographic style is what distinguishes me from my colleagues. My albums show a more general viewpoint of a night. No filters, nothing artificial and nothing too artistic, just photography that shows a realistic and energetic image of the night. It’s a style that all kinds of clubs or festivals or event firms can use to promote their business. I also adapt my style of photography to each club individually. Every album contains the same type of photographs. Going from overview to architecture and design and from fashion shots to portraits. Each picture is individually color graded. I don’t use presets and I don’t manipulate pictures in Photoshop.
The other thing is also that I try to go incognito. I hide myself in the crowd, hence the outfit which makes me look like a real raver, and dance a little so that everyone around me feels comfortable. I’m continuously observing and when I see a nice composition or action, I try to capture that moment. Having fun whilst shooting pictures is key. I hate perfectionism and I also try to enjoy the night.
Constantly evolving is what ensures that your nightlife pictures stay interesting. I have phases throughout the year where I feel that overviews are more important and I also have phases where I feel that people shots are most important. If you’re successful at capturing the unique identity of each single night, you’ll automatically create the effect that every album is different and unique, and therefore your work in general will remain interesting to watch and follow."
You travelled around Europe for Elrow and even lived in Barcelona for a while. Can you tell us more about that?
"Elrow has been an important chapter in my life. I was given the opportunity to do an internship in their office in Barcelona, right before they expanded globally. During this internship I had the possibility to travel to their shows all around europe and capture the essence of their brand. Eventually they asked me to continue working there. As soon as I had finished the semester, I started working full-time as their in-house photographer. I was constantly traveling around Europe, to Ibiza and to their parties in Barcelona. Working at elrow taught me how to merge different kinds of shots and create a storyline in an album, and how to deliver and approach high quality albums. I worked with them for about ten intense months until I decided to return to my Belgian roots and expand my work at Kompass Klub."
What are you working on right now?
"90% of my available time is spent on Nachtschaduw, the other 10% I invest in Dark Entities. This is a experimental project where I work together with Malika Maria At Work. We merge photography and videography during our high-end photoshoots on different locations with inexperienced models. We focus on combining erotic art and fashion, but we also want to portray the inner darkness in people. We want to shock and remove boundaries on topics such as LGBTQ, bdsm, bondage, drag, pornography, ... The photos will be used for an exposition in the future, the videos will be shown during one of her live VJ-sessions. I’m really excited about this project as our ultimate goal is to be published in an x-rated Berlin magazine called Pornceptual. Dark Entities both gives us the freedom to experiment with our own boundaries, but also to play with the boundaries of the subjects we work with. Besides this we have the possibility to determine our own art direction and develop our own visual style.
Besides Dark Entities, I’m currently negotiating with a few partners to start organizing my own parties. I have a concept in mind, but I can’t announce the details yet as we want to keep things secret for now. More information will be shared on my social channels in the near future. Parallel with my own nightlife concept would be an exposition featuring some of my best work.
Last but not least, I’m also experimenting with a vinyl-only project. I’m constantly surrounded by sound and I feel that music can be an extra way for me to express myself. I’ve been collecting unique techno and industrial records for a few months now. I’m not looking for a professional career as a DJ, but to be able to express myself beyond the visual spectrum, once in awhile, would be really nice."
What are your plans for next year? How will you try to get your third award?
"I have a lot of Kompass events on my planning and together with my booking agents and team, we’re currently working on my itinerary for the 2019 festival season. I’m hoping to do a few more international festivals next summer and to return to the festivals and clubs I’ve worked at past summer. I’m also hoping to do some more editorial work in 2019. But we’ll see what time brings. In the meantime, I’m simply planning to just keep on being myself, enjoy what I do and surprise everyone with beautiful photographs taken in legendary clubs in belgium and beyond."