Three years of raw, explicit, hedonistic party photography you won't find anywhere else, for one night only this Friday at Basement6...
This Friday night, the Basement6 Art Collective
hosts a one-night-only underground exhibition
of raw party photos you can't see anywhere else. Pictures that the photographer Marc Ressang describes as "Too damaging to go on the front page of SmartShanghai." Photos of punters taking their dicks out; people having a bad time at parties; people just not giving a fuck. So, reality – uncut and unpolished.
The 23 year-old Dutch photographer spent the last three years deep in the champagne trenches. After Friday's exhibit, he's mostly exiting the nightlife photos game in pursuit of travel photography and "something more than taking photos of drunk people", and because even taking pictures of hedonism often involves engaging an unhealthy lifestyle. On that note, he's put together ten large black and white prints and dozens of smaller ones that serve as a highlights reel of the last three years in Shanghai. Photos that represent the absurdity that is Shanghai nightlife.
Most of the subjects in Ressang's work are foreigners. Aside from the fact that his experience is that of a foreigner in Shanghai, he claims that most Chinese clubs and their clientele do not welcome photographers. All the photos he took for that sensationalist VICE article were undercover.
[Photographer Marc Ressang
And even at those mixed clubs like M2 who might have photographers, the foreigners are the ones getting buck. "I'm not getting an interesting angle on it anymore. I've shot a lot of these bottles before, but it's only gonna be interesting when people take 30 of those bottles and start spraying them everywhere. But now it's just like, people spend a lot of money, put it on the table, and that's it. They don't drink it, they barely touch it. What's the big deal?"
Before our interview, I had never considered why we never see many photo galleries from the really local clubs. On this, Marc offers "If they do photography, it's mostly just the dancers and the foreign crowd." Foreign exoticism still exists in Shanghai in 2014 – clubs still pay foreign models and clientele to make the club look more international. What a lot of these foreigners who enjoy free bottles and tables in clubs don't realize is that they're actually working. They are the entertainment. "Dance, monkey."
"They leave their Chinese clientele alone, because there's no need for them to find their photos online. They have too much to lose. A lot of these people are not supposed to be in certain places with certain people. Like, officials are not supposed to be at the club on a Tuesday evening with three of their mistresses. A lot of the Chinese crowd is also a bit insecure. It's a bit of a paradox, because they really wanna show off in a club, but they don't want people to capture it. I've seen so many ballers in the club, but when I ask to take their photo they say no or give me an angry look and ask me to delete the photo."
Marc shoots with a Canon 5D Mark III and a 16-35mm lens. On his own style, he says "I'm trying to keep my party photography style as consistent as possible, with more of a hard flash look, where it's kind of like when you take photos of your friends with a compact camera. I try to be up close and capture scenes as they unfold. One of the reasons I use a harsh flash is because I wanna keep my set as small as possible, so I don't have to have two things in my hands, walking around the club, and everyone spots the photographer instantly." This helps capture moments naturally. He prefers photos a bit on the grimey side. "Even if there are hot girls, I don't wanna make you look like a supermodel – it's gotta look like a party."
Ressang doesn't care much about the difference between Canon and Nikon, saying "people bitch about about skin tone quality and things like this, but that's just a bad excuse for not taking interesting enough photos. Technically you can win a Pulitizer prize with an iPhone shot, so it doesn't fucking matter."
In Marc's mind, Shanghai nightlife is "Really what you wanna make out of it. You can keep it at level three or take it up to eleven, and that's a choice you can make in an instant. Back home, half of the work is preparing for the real party, because everything is gonna be closed after 9pm [in Holland or Belgium], while here it doesn't matter if it's 3pm or 3am, you can buy a fucking coconut on the corner on the street, or anything else you want."
"This kind of shit goes on every single night of the week. Even on a Monday, you can get completely fucked up and go to KTV and then hang out at the bowling alley until 5am and then shoot guns until the sun comes up."
Of course, not every party is worth photographing. Any long-term photographer or DJ can tell stories of showing up to a club with about four customers and a nervous looking promoter frantically sending texts and WeChat blasts to "get down here!" The photographer must adapt to the crowd just like the DJ. This is usually the time Marc tells the promoter that he's going to need a bottle of tequila.
Alcohol and excess is another reason why Marc is leaving the nightlife photography game. Long, drunken nights that extend into the early morning do not allow for much productive work in the daytime, and any full-time party photographer is working 3–7 days a week. Artists often put themselves through hell to produce their work, but some reach a point where enough is enough.
On Friday's actual exhibition, Marc says "We're trying to make this more of an experience, which is why it's one night only. We want to bring in the vibe that goes well with these photos. This is not something you can not experience well enough when you're sitting at home on your couch checking SmartShanghai on your laptop." They may bring in a bouncer. Alan Marshall is DJing. It's going to be a bit of a party.
It's also Marc's birthday at midnight, so go buy him a new lens or a Canon 1D or some shit!
Marc Ressang's one-night exhibition happens Friday, August 29 at Basement6, which is a two-minute walk from the Jiaotong University metro station on Line 10. Starts at 8pm and ends at midnight. Some prints will be available to buy as well. More info here.