Interview: Jesús Madriñán's portraits of the party-goers

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Sunrise in Rome and Jesús Madriñán waits outside a nightclub on the streets of the Eternal City ready to take photos. These are not your typical party pictures, taken in the middle of the dance floor: for 18 months Madriñán has been documenting Rome’s youth as they emerge from clubs into the early morning daylight.
The portraits he captures are a window into the lives of young adults, in transient moments outside their day-to-day lives. “I was interested in showing these young people after a long night of partying,” explains Madriñán. “All that experience condensed in their eyes, but in front of an illuminated sky. I wanted to get contradictory images that would add the power and rawness of these young people to the idyllic and bucolic sunrise.”
Dopo Roma [‘After Rome’], the resulting series, depicts an often undocumented part of the night out – the elation, the excitement and the exhaustion that accompanies the end of the party. It’s a fleeting moment. The revellers united by their choice of venue fill the streets, then disperse in different directions back to their separate lives.

Untitled (The most beautiful couple) from the series Dopo Roma © Jesús Madriñán
Capturing the essence of this post-party euphoria means Madriñán has to work within a restricted timeframe, giving his images a sense of urgency and a stripped-down aesthetic. “I wanted to experiment and see what would happen if I worked facing the challenges of photographing at dawn, just when the light changes every minute,” he says. “But above all I wanted to play with the viewer, not giving the information so clearly and directly.
“[The photos are] discordant. For me, the after-hours club represents the best and the worst [feelings]. That freedom, that excitement, and energy, concentrated to the rhythm of music, but also the carelessness and disorientation of living to another beat, sheltered in the margins.”
Untitled (Sara) from the series Dopo Roma © Jesús Madriñán
It is not the first project of its kind for the Spanish photographer, who has also shot two other projects on nightlife – Good Night London and Boas Noites [‘Good Nights’]. Given his ongoing interest, you might think Madriñán has a personal affiliation with clubbing. In fact, he says he has a rather ambivalent relationship with discos, often finding it difficult to relax or take pleasure in them.
“When I was younger, nightlife was for me the place to take shelter, but I never felt totally comfortable in it,” he says. “There was always a sense of frustration in me at the end of every night. I did not really feel part of it. It was not my natural habitat.
“I used to sit on the floor of the disco to observe everything that happened around me, as if I were not part of it, as if the music had stopped but everything went on in silence,” he adds, recounting his first attempts to take photographs in nightclubs. Even so, he says he still relates to the sense of freedom that others find.
“Somehow [the club] meant hope, the chance of meeting someone, the comfort of being yourself without any kind of judgment,” he says. “In my solitude, all those human relations and behaviours that emerged at night, as a collective phenomenon, moved me.”
Untitled (American) from the series Good Night London © Jesús Madriñán
Untitled (Hot Body Contest Winner) from the series Good Night London © Jesús Madriñán
Madriñán sees himself as a doctor of sorts, working on social fabrics rather than human tissue, and using photographs to help us understand our interactions and our feelings. All his encounters with his subjects are fleeing – he hasn’t met them before and won’t see them again, unless they end up adding him on Facebook (as often happens). But though they are unfamiliar with his work, he says his camera set up encourages them to take stock, and present themselves more formally than in the standard party snap.
“Breaking onto a dance floor with a large format camera and a portable photography studio, paralyses everything that happens,” he says. “All the action suddenly stops, and the subject decides, then, whether to be sincere or disguised in front of the camera, taking a moment, under the lights, to think about it.
“For me that’s really interesting. It gives them the opportunity to express themselves, that’s what I’m looking for, to see what narrative they decide to acquire in front of the camera, in front of the eyes of the others. I feel attracted to those people who are shown in a transparent and honest way. I seek authenticity.”
By taking his project to multiple locations, Madriñán has highlighted the subtle differences between communities. In 2014 he started shooting in the Galicia region of Spain where Madriñán grew up, for example, comparing the experience of nightlife in its remote villages with his previous work in big cities. The subsequent photobook, Boas Noites, was nominated for the PHotoEspaña Best National Book Award.
“In Boas Noites, which seeks to document the nightlife in rural villages of Galicia, I accompany the portraits of its inhabitants with images of the nature surrounding the discotheques to contextualise them and endow the series with greater narrativity,” he says, adding that he now wants to explore this further by shooting clubbing in Madrid. Fleeting, and often written off as frivolous, nightlife shows itself as a revealing aspect of contemporary life, he says.
“[I want] to create a photo archive that captures the nature of the Spanish youth of the 21st century,” he says. “Photographs have the potential to acquire much more authority in posterity. For me it is important to register the present in order to build an archive that serves as documentation for the future.”
Untitled (Rocío in Vilalba) from the series Boas Noites © Jesús Madriñán
Untitled from the series Boas Noites © Jesús Madriñán