Welcome to the Underground: Part Two

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For the second installment of the series Welcome to the Underground I didn’t manage to get nearly as many photos as I did in part one, but this was definitely a quality over quantity experience. The night was a wonderful lesson in the aggressive attitude that is necessary to get great photography. When we arrived at the front door the “hostess” eyed the camera in my hands and warned me that photography wasn’t allowed. I just smiled and asked who ran the event in the hopes of negotiating a hall pass, but all I got were vague statistics about the height and hair color of a man who’s name I forgot as soon as I heard it.

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Well. Fuck it, I thought. This camera isn’t going away until someone stops me. The brand-new Nikon SB-500 speedlight and the SC-29 extension cable dangling from a carabiner on my hip weren’t bought to be used as a fashion statement. Hostesses be damned. It was time to see what this thing could do, so as soon as the front door shut behind me I released the safety and fired away like Al Pacino in the last scene of Scarface. Pop. Pop. Pop. Where my last flash had been like firing a musket filled with Grandma’s cutlery, the bulb of that damn SB-500 fluttered like a silenced uzi. It just wouldn’t quit and the TTL system, which regulates the exposure, made shooting in manual a breeze. This was by far the best camera purchase I have made. Finally, I could focus on composing shots instead of fucking around with exposures and shutter speeds. In addition to the seamless integration of the speed light, added mobility I got from the SC-29 and I was able to achieve some really interesting lighting. You can see from the photos below that the freedom to manipulate the orientation of the light source afforded me the ability to compose shots that I haven’t been able to get at the earlier events.

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 My lubricated friends were having a lot of fun wobbling around in front of the camera and, since the place was practically empty, the powers that be didn’t hassle us for a while. But all good things must come to an end at some point shortly after I snapped a photo of the DJ a stalky little guy with cocaine trellis’ carved into his prematurely aging face materialized out of the darkness and told me to cut it out.

“I saw you and your friends having fun so I didn’t say anything, but enough is enough,” he said with the authority of an overzealous employee.

I feigned ignorance and tried to win him over with some encouraging words, but to no avail. He proceeded to slur his way through a nonsensical lecture about “burning the spot” that surely sounded more convincing inside of his head. According to him, geotagging and other metadata in the photographs could be tracked through a complicated computer process that would spur the untimely arrival of various authorities. I was confused. Not because he wanted me to stop taking photographs, but because he was talking to me like I was the only person who had a camera. My camera may capture better photos than an iPhone, but it doesn’t instantaneously upload them to Instagram or Snapchat, which are a lot more likely to wind up in the hands of the authorities than a couple of images on my website. I also don’t include geotagging in the metadata of my nightlife photography for exactly that reason, but his ship had already set sail from the dock of reason.

Cutting your losses before the onset of repercussions is an art form that I have by no means perfected, but even I could see that this wasn’t the time or the place for a dick measuring show down. The night was only getting started and I wasn’t going to have my fun spoiled by a rancorous sound technician on a narcotics-induced power trip. I needed a cigarette anyways so I begrudgingly sheathed my camera and asked him where the bathroom was. He pointed behind the bar and we parted ways.

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            The second I opened the bathroom door I knew that rules were about to be broken. The walls were covered in neon paint that was illuminated by powerful blacklights. It was like Jackson Pollack had come back from the dead as a pasty sporting, PLUR gypsy. Immediately, I ran out and grabbed Lucy. All of my favorite shots that I have taken have been the product of taking control of a situation or disregarding rules, so I dragged a confused Lucy into the bathroom, locked the door, and started taking pictures. She isn’t big on me taking photos of her. I mean, she doesn’t even let me use her real name on this website. However, I wasn’t going to let the opportunity to get some seriously memorable photos pass either of us up. She was totally cool with it and actually got in a groove despite the terrible anxiety induced in her by camera lenses. We must have been in there for twenty minutes or so before I was satisfied and released her from the neon dream. Finally, I could put my camera away and enjoy the night.

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The pleasure I receive from photographing and then writing about this visceral world, which stretches the edges of acceptability, is second to none. Stripped of the fads and formalities, the “come one, come all” atmosphere of these underground societies is a refreshing and invigorating reprieve from the mundane. Everyone should experience this, albeit with a couple of friends and a generous serving of something that does it for you in all the worst ways. Leave your trepidation at the door along with your better judgement and turn the page on what normality means to you. Forget the tiresome and pedantic by indulging in passionate thrill seeking, but remember to always use protection.

By David Atticus

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David Sohmer