Shadow photographs Denver's wild and wonderful nightclub scene
The photographer who goes by the name Shadow — just Shadow — dedicates her nights to capturing the characters that distinguish Denver’s club scene. But she’s become a local celeb herself, showing up at this spot or that, camera in hand, and with her own photographer in tow. That would be David Donnell, who simultaneously takes pictures of Shadow taking pictures of others — a scene within a scene within the scene.
Shadow’s snapshots offer immediate gratification; she uses a Fuji Instax camera that can develop its own photos in less than two minutes. But her overall body of work is emerging as something longer-lasting: a free-wheeling chronicle of Denver’s after-dark subculture as it turns through the third decade of the 21st century.
For sure, Covid has slowed the city down. But Shadow’s raw and unfiltered photos, on display right now at Dateline gallery, document what Denver looked like at its freakiest, most outsider self before the pandemic hit. For folks who party, the images will look familiar. For those who don’t, they are a stark awakening at how interesting this city can be.
If you go
The exhibit “Shadows Gather” continues through March 13 at Dateline, 3004 Larimer St. It’s free. Info at ddaatteelliinnee.com.
We asked her some questions about the work and the exhibit, titled “Shadows Gather,” a reference to her always-surprising Instagram page: @shadows.gather.
Rinaldi: So, this is your first official gallery exhibit. Congratulations.
Shadow: Yes, this is the first time I’ve shown any of my photography in a gallery setting. Having a show at Dateline and to be included in Denver’s Month of Photography feels like a dream. Pinch me.
Q. How did you get started creating this body of work?
A. I’ve been in the Denver nightlife scene for a while, since early 2000’s when I used to sneak in the clubs using a fake I.D. I started this project about two years ago. I got my Fuji Instax and started taking it to the clubs with me just for fun.
I started by taking photos of my friends, they are typically the most glamorous people in the club world. I’ve always been a bit of a wallflower and have always enjoyed venturing to all the scenes: punk, drag shows, metal, raves — I go out and see it all. I’m trying to preserve a memory, share it with others, and document a scene that others might not know exists.
Q. I heard you always take two photos and give one to your subject.
A. It’s my party favor. I love giving little mementos, it makes people so happy. I’ve been doing this since the first night I went out with my camera. I want my new friends to save the memory. Now I have little stickers that say “Shadows.Gather.” Then they can find me on Instagram, become friends. If they choose, they post and tag me on my social media.
Q. Generally speaking, do people like having their photo taken? Ever get into a fight over it?
A. I get consent before taking my photos. It’s easy to spot people who want their photos taken in the scene. You don’t spend hours on hair, makeup, outfits and outlandish accessories not to be noticed.
Any “altercations” have come from people who tell me to take their photo. I don’t like to be told what to do, or who to take photos of.
Q. What’s a typical week for you? Maybe you could describe that part of your life pre-COVID.
A. I spend the week waiting for the weekend. When Friday rolls around, I do a roll call and figure out where everyone that’s anyone is going to be.
I start with a casual cocktail at a lounge-type bar — Pon Pon is a favorite. Then we move to, possibly, a live music-type venue, jump over to the drag show, and end the night dancing at a club. On the best nights, I’ll be invited to an after-party. Over the course of the night, it’s not unusual for me to be at four or five party spots. (And, if I don’t run out of film or money, I’ll do it all over again on Saturday.)
A lot of occasions, I travel with my photographer, David Donnell, who documents me. It’s rather fun and causes a bit of a scene.
Q. I’m curious about your weapon of choice: The Fuji Instax camera. Why do you like it and what color is yours? I like the purple one.
A. My favorite is the Fuji Neo Classic Mini, it doesn’t look like your standard toy Instax and has more settings. I have borrowed the neighbor kids’ Instax cameras on occasion, my favorite of those would be the pink.
The lighting with those cameras is not that great, so I pair them with my LuMee IPhone light camera case. It’s great for selfies and lighting my subjects. Other photographers give me grief about this but I simply don’t have enough room to carry professional lighting equipment. I have a mini-backpack, my cocktail and I’m taking selfies with my phone anyway, so it works fine.
Q. The photos you take with the Fuji film are small — maybe 2 inches by 3 inches, right? Can you describe the process that enlarged many of them to 2 feet by 3 feet for this exhibit?
A. This took months and a lot of people helping me figure this out. We tried drum scanning, taking photos of the photos, sending the photos out to get professionally done. I ended up splurging on a scanner and now I scan my own photos.
Q. I want to ask you about being in a traditional “white cube” gallery space. There’s long been tension in the art world between “street photography” and “fine art photography” and where each ranks as an art form. Where do you see yourself in that?
A. I’m just a club kid with a camera that enjoys the finer things — fine wine, interesting people with the finest fashion, and now I’ve grown to love the finest paper, with the finest inks, for my photography.
“Picture perfect” models and pretty flowers don’t impress me. There’s beauty in the alleys and nightlife. It was a goal of mine to show my friends and Denver that we are fine art, just as good as anyone or anything in the finest of art galleries.
Q. Name three of your favorite night spots. Again, let’s pretend there’s no COVID.
A. Oh, I love all the spots. If I had to choose: Milk, Pon Pon and Gladys: The Nosy Neighbor.
Q. Here’s my takeaway from your exhibit: Denver’s is a helluva lot freakier than I thought.
A. Lol, you never know what your coworkers are doing on the weekend.
With that being said. I feel like I’m capturing people in a true moment of themselves. You can’t always be who you want to be when you’re at work or at the grocery store. In the nightlife, you can be whomever you want, truly be your unique self, and people in the clubs celebrate that.
Q. If you had to take a wild guess, how many photos have you shot in Denver clubs and parties?
A. I didn’t realize how many photos I’ve taken until I started setting up for the show and ran out of space.
In the gallery, I’m showing about half of my collection. I would say I have around 1,000 photos from 2019 to 2020. But those are photos I have, which means there are 1,000 out there in the hands of my subjects.
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