Colloseum Night Club
The portraits and work that I have produced while working at Coloseum, a gay nightclub in NJ represent a personal journey for me. Always having felt like an outsider in the gay community, I chose to do a photo essay on gay club culture because the project forced me to confront the social hub so prevalent to gay people in this part of the country: a place filled with alcohol, swirling lights, pounding music, seductive Go Go dancers, and sexual tension: a club. I was not there simply to make photographs; I was there to convince myself, yet again, that I did not belong. I went with the purpose of exposing the nasty putrid underbelly of gay club culture of which I believed I was not a part of: anonymous sex, drinking until being floored, sex enhancing poppers and drugs, loneliness, and the pursuit of a Ken Doll figure to the detriment one’s of health.
What I found was quite the contrary. Talking to the patrons, asking them to pose for a picture, being introduced to their friends, being asked about my project, I realized I had made an error in judgment. While I did find the underbelly I was looking, even hunting for, I also found something else, a community; friends looking for a safe place to laugh in, people seeking a real connection, people looking to be accepted based on their gender and not their sex, and survivors. What became more disturbing to me was that I saw my own face in the portraits I took. I was more an insider then I ever imagined, sharing in both the community and isolation of the people I had discovered. I came to the personal realization that my exclusion from the gay community was not a matter of rejection, but a lack of effort, and fear not only of losing my individuality and uniqueness but my delusional superiority as well.
Coloseum Night Club, at its core, is about people, their highs and their lows. It is a struggle for and against deindividuation, constantly trying to stand out while wanting to get lost in the crowd. It’s about fun. It’s about loneliness. It's about acceptance and rejection. It's about safety and vulnerability. Its about love, and sex, and lust. It’s about hope. Like all things, its about life; the vicissitudes, the positives and the negatives. Its patrons come there every week for one thing and one thing only, to live.
While my work stands alone, for me the art is not the work I have produced, but the self-exploration I have gained in pursuit of making a good photograph. I honestly don’t know if this is reflected in my work. It most likely isn’t. It takes an extraordinary photographer, in my mind, to convey such a thing without an artist statement, and I am not that photographer, yet. What I do believe is reflected in this work is an aesthetic: that is unitive in its consistent use of engulfing darkness contrasted with intense colors, reflects my concerns and ideas about beautiful image making as a photographer.
A documentary style photo essay is not about being neutral. It is certainly not about being “honest” with your subject. Marimondes once said, “The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision”. Documentary style photography is about conviction, having it, and then mustering up the courage and heart to abandon it. I have read so many statements and articles about how the photographer should be a "tabla rasa" when entering a new project. Anyone that has studied psychology knows this to be impossible. We all have judgments and opinions on what we photograph, the key is to know that they are our judgments and opinions. Once we have done that, we are free to explore our subjects and ourselves.