Vincent Voignier is the photographer behind a documentary portrait series entitled Nachtgestalten (Creatures of the Night). Together with project partner Barbara Bernardi, he asked hip young things emerging from the depths of Berlin’s (in)famous Berghain nightclub to pause against a wire fence outside while he photographed them on his large format camera.
The resulting forty portraits in the series capture a spectrum of revellers in the cutting edge techno and fashion scene. Tiredness and Sunday morning sunshine dim their conscious effort to look cool, yet the ‘traces of the night’ are still left on them…
Where did the idea for this project spring from? Were you initially drawn to the Berlin club scene for example?
Initially, it was a vague idea of taking a snapshot of what is fashionable at present; how hipster and “fashion victims” look – what are the trendy looks. However, it was just a general idea, with no clue about how to concretely realize it. Once, at an electro music concert, looking at the people waiting to get in, it became suddenly clear that it was “them” that personified this idea.
Why Berghain? Does it represent anything for either of you? Is there something particularly interesting about the people emerging from it?
Having heard of Berghain being the (main) reference for the electro and techno scene, it became obvious that its guests were our target. It is not the club itself which caught our interest – actually neither of us has been inside the club yet – but the crew it draws. To our knowledge, no other club in Berlin at the moment attracts people so concerned with their look, in such a wide spectrum of style and age, as Berghain does. That said, it became evident at the first shooting session, while still looking for the appropriate location, set, and background, that people emerging from the club carried much more than a fashion look: they wore all possible traces of the night life.
Do you want the portraits to convey a particular meaning, or are they simply a documentation of an aspect of Berlin nightlife?
Tiredness weakens the efforts that one makes to control how one looks, and how one wants to be perceived. It helped us in catching (or at least we have the impression we caught) people in a more spontaneous and natural way. The portraits get closer to the “real” person when the barriers that one usually carries are gone.
Talk us through your method – do you have criteria in mind when selecting people for photos?
To be honest, it was a very subjective, and not always conscious, process. We relied mostly on our intuition. We asked the people who caught our attention either because of their look or their attitude, while trying to cover a wide range of people.
Do you see the same people on their way in and then coming back out? If so, do they appear different post-Berghain?
Not really, we saw some people coming for a short break, go eat something and come back. So we cannot make a before/after comparison study.
Were the subjects generally receptive to being photographed, or did many of them decline?
To our surprise, more than half we asked accepted. Many were impressed by the wooden large format camera we used. Many also, due to their cultural background, were instantly enthusiastic about being part of such a project.
Did you have to seek permission from the club to shoot outside, or did they give you any problems?
In most cases, no. Most of the pictures were taken at a spot located on a public alley. Unfortunately, a few times, bicycles were chained to the fence at our spot. We then had to move closer to Berghain, and then had to ask the doormen.
What would you give to be granted access to photograph inside? Or is it better for the club to maintain a certain ‘mystery’?
We’d absolutely love to take some photographs inside, but not for this project. We find it more interesting to show the traces that the night left on the people, rather than explicitly document what causes them.
What camera did you use for this project?
It’s a Japanese large format camera: the Ebony 45S – a classic 4×5″ camera. It’s made from wood so lighter than metal, and it’s the first time we used it for this project. It produces a 4×5″ negative, or with a special back also a 6x12cm negative – we have been using both formats for this project – which allows big enlargements. We printed Olivia in 100x140cm and it still looks very detailed. The plan is to make an exhibition in Berlin with these large prints.
The portrait of ‘Olivia’ was featured in London’s National Portrait Gallery – why did you select this one?
Although it might not be the most representative picture of the series, it came up as the most meaningful taken as a stand-alone picture. We find it expressive on its own, telling a story about fragility and intensity which may be typical of this transitional time of life, between childhood and adulthood.