Berlingo: "No Photos Allowed"

Deutsch version

Banning indep
endent photography in clubs achieves nothing... unless you count the suppression of self-expression as an achievement.

Last week I found myself at a decadent party in which surreal sights abounded. Unfortunately, no cameras were allowed inside. No doubt, the privacy of a few individuals who think that a club is not a 'public' space was protected. The price of this privacy was that dozens of potentially inspiring images went unrecorded. They will never be sent to friends via email, or uploaded onto blogs, or hung up in portrait galleries, or published in books.

As someone who lives to document underground parties, it is worrying for me to consider the possibility that, when this generation of Berlin clubs (currently under threat from developers) has ceased to exist, the only visual record that will be left will have been censored by people who believe that owning a club gives them a copyright on every memory created there.

Some clubs have taken to hiring their own photographic 'artists' to take official photos, thereby satisfying their punters' need for memorabilia whilst maintaining strict control of what gets recorded. This approach is neither inclusive nor trusting; it also implies that only club promoters are entitled to record the club scene's memories. In reality, everyone who participate in Berlin's club community is entitled to a view on it - whether that involves taking photographs, making music, writing articles, creating comic strips, or putting on club nights. Freedom of self-expression, finally, is what distinguishes the underground community from a mainstream 'establishment'.

Clubs - all music venues, for that matter - are nothing if not a meeting place for like-minded people. Punters go there out of a shared musical passion and give the best of themselves to the night. They pay good money for the privilege of doing so, too. Is it fair to tell them that they can't even record the experience? Who knows: if allowed to do so, they might even elevate the experience to a whole new level with a few creative shots of their cameras. This is exactly what amateur photographers have done in underground scenes of the past.

The photo at the top of this entry, for instance, is one of several iconic shots of Woodstock taken by Burk Uzzle (source: Lawrence Miller Gallery), who attended the 1969 festival. Another excellent example of punter photography is found on the cover of The Clash's 'London Calling' album (it was taken by Pennie Smith while she watched the band play). There have been plenty of other photographers who came into their own while partying in underground scenes around the world, which just goes to show you that partying does not always have to be about losing oneself. Sometimes, it can be about finding oneself and one's talents, too.

Like Green Velvet said, Cameras ready, prepare to flash...!


  1. Interesting..Never even knew that such a rule was trying to be enforced. Not sure how they can continue to do so if every phone has a camera.

    None the less, funny story about the Green Velvet song that I can relate. The subject of the lyrics are about a time in the mid '90s when a Chicago newspaper attended an underground rave party and took pictures of the "Ravers", then mostly underage at the time.. doing some not so acceptable things. They used the pictures to create a sensationalized story about the underground Chicago Rave scene which brought a lot of unwanted attention to the scene but for all the wrong reasons. True story.. I was there.

    1. Thanks Johnsin, for that firsthand slice of rave history. The first time I heard Cameras ready... prepare to flash (way back in the nineties) it was on a mixtape made for me by a DJ friend. He gave a highly shortened rendition of your story. It isn't surprising that this tune is making a comeback in Berlin, where clubs have a superstitious fear of all things lens-like. If you ask me though, any tool can be a weapon when handled the wrong way.


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