The Politics of Form In Contemporary Representations of Club Culture


February 2, 2023

Key words

club culture, visibility, abstraction

'The Politics of Form in Contemporary Representations of Club Culture' is the title of an upcoming essay that is part of ongoing research into the politics of in/visibility in club culture. This research process began with my research Master's thesis, published in September 2023. Read more about how it has evolved below.

Ongoing Research

Through the years 2011 to 2020, I worked as a club photographer, hired by several club nights in the UK and The Netherlands to photograph people dancing and having fun so that these parties could be promoted and remembered. During this time, I collaborated with many organisers and promoters as they figured out how to make their club nights visible to a desired audience, bouncing from physical flyers to Facebook photo albums to Instagram content. When attending parties I was not photographing, I was excited to watch official photographers work the dance floor and do the job I was so familiar with, however, I used to consciously avoid having my photo taken by them. In 2019, I attended a no photo policy club for the first time and was moved by how relieved and safe I felt to not have to think about photos at all. I felt free to let go and express myself, and I wondered if other people felt the same. This experience sparked a moment of reflexivity in which I became more critical of what I was doing as a club photographer. What was I taking from people? How are these images being used? Am I interfering with the atmosphere of the space too much? I slowly cut down on working in this field, choosing only to photograph clubs communities I felt I was part of. I deliberately started making more anonymous images at these parties and worked asking for permission into my previously more-candid process. When I later started a research master in media studies in 2021, it became clear to me that by making club cultures visible through big platforms in particular, I was not only making club goers visible to an potentially infinite outsider audience, but also the all-seeing eye of surveillance-driven corporations. This made me rethink my entire career.

From blurred images of bodies in motion to AI interpretations of the dance floor, professional and amateur club photographers today are using many tactics to protect anonymity but still maintain club culture visibility online. Aesthetically, these images are beautiful, but underneath lies a crucial question: why is this necessary? Pre-internet, mediated visibility disrupted club cultures in unique ways, with the economically powerful taking community codes from inside to outside in the name of curiosity and profit while failing to accurately represent these communities. The advent of the internet and social media promised democratic potential for club culture visibility; however, today's regime of algorithmic visibility quickly connects the face to complex systems of surveillance which threaten the political and cultural power of club cultures. Utilising three methodologies, this research aims to interrogate prevailing modalities of visibility of club cultures, outline their impact and explore tactics for managing in/visibility in the present day. Through discourse analysis of historical media representations of club culture, qualitative interviews with various club communities, and close readings of contemporary club culture imagery, it attempts to theorise the significance and value of in/visibility to underground club cultures today. The research so far shows that capitalist modalities of visibility have disproportionately limited the political and cultural power of club cultures over time, prompting the use of strategies that hinder an unwanted outsider’s ability to see and therefore enable clubbers to organise as more empowered politicised subjects. Techniques of becoming visible invisibly, then, such as extreme abstraction, give agency back to clubbers over their image, cultural memory and data. These are the techniques and themes I will continue to deal with in coming years, sharing new insights on this website.

© 2024 Amie Galbraith