Photographer named Shadow – just Shadow – spends her nights capturing the characters that set the Denver club scene apart. But she has become a local celebrity herself, showing up in one place or another, 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 – one scene within one scene within the scene.
Shadow snapshots provide instant gratification; she uses a Fuji Instax camera which can develop her own photos in less than two minutes. But all of her work comes across as something more enduring: a freewheeling chronicle of Denver’s nighttime subculture as it moves through the third decade of the 21st century.
Certainly, the Covid has slowed down the city. But the raw, unfiltered photos of Shadow, currently on display in the Dateline gallery, document what Denver looked like in its most bizarre and alien form before the pandemic. For people partying, the pictures will look familiar. For those who don’t, they’re a rude wake-up call to just how interesting this city can be.
We asked him a few questions about the work and the exhibition, titled “Shadows Gather”, in reference to his always surprising Instagram page: @ shadows.gather.
Rinaldi: So this is your first official exhibition in a gallery. Congratulations.
Shadow: Yes, this is the first time that I have exhibited my photographs in a gallery. Having an exhibition at Dateline and being included in Denver Photography Month feels like a dream. Pinch me.
Q. How did you start to create this work?
A. I’ve been in the Denver nightlife scene for quite some time, since the early 2000s, when I used to sneak into clubs using a fake ID. I started this project about two years ago. I got my Fuji Instax and started taking it to clubs with me just for fun.
I started out by taking pictures of my friends, they’re usually the most glamorous people in the club world. I’ve always been a bit of a wallflower and always liked to venture into all the scenes: punk, drag shows, metal, raves – I go out and I see it all. I try to preserve a memory, share it with others, and document a scene that others may not know existed.
Q. I have always heard you take two photos and give one of yourself.
A. This is my birthday present. I love giving little keepsakes, 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 their memory. Now I have little stickers that say “Shadows.Gather”. Then they can find me on Instagram, become friends. If they wish, they publish and tag me on my social networks.
Q. In general, do people like to have their picture taken? Have you ever fought over this?
A. I obtain consent before taking my photos. It’s easy to spot people who want their photos taken on the spot. You don’t spend hours on hair, makeup, outfits, and extravagant accessories just to get noticed.
All the “altercations” have come from people telling me to take their picture. I don’t like being told what to do or who to take pictures of.
Q. What is a typical week for you? Perhaps you could describe this part of your life before COVID.
A. I spend the week waiting for the weekend. When Friday comes, I take a roll call and figure out where everyone is going to be.
I start with a casual cocktail in a lounge-style bar – Pon Pon is a favorite. Then we eventually head to a live music type venue, jump to the drag show, and end the night dancing in a club. The best evenings, I’ll be invited to an after party. During the night, it’s not uncommon for me to be at four or five places to party. (And, if I don’t run out of film or money, I’ll do it again on Saturday.)
Lots of occasions, I travel with my photographer, David Donnell, who documents me. It’s kind of fun and provokes 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 purple.
A. My favorite is the Fuji Neo Classic Mini, it doesn’t look like your standard Instax toy and has more settings. I sometimes borrowed Instax cameras from neighboring children, my favorite would be the rose.
The lighting with these cameras is not very good, so I pair them with my LuMee IPhone light camera case. It’s great for selfies and for illuminating my subjects. Other photographers give me a hard time on this, but I just don’t have enough room to carry professional lighting gear. I have a mini backpack, my cocktail, and I still take selfies with my phone, so it works fine.
Q. The photos you take with 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. It took months and a lot of people helped me figure this out. We have tried drum scanning, taking photos of the photos, sending the photos for professional production. I ended up splurging on a scanner and now I’m scanning my own photos.
Q. I want to ask you a question about being in a traditional white cube gallery space. There has long been a tension in the art world between “street photography” and “art photography” and where each classifies itself as an art form. Where do you see yourself in there?
A. I’m just a club kid with a camera who likes the finest things – good wine, interesting people with the best fashion, and now I’ve grown to love the best paper, with the best inks, for my photography.
The “Picture perfect” models and the pretty flowers don’t impress me. There is beauty in the alleys and the nightlife. It was one of my goals to show my friends and Denver that we are fine art, as good as anyone or anything in the finest art galleries.
Q. Name three of your favorite nightclubs. Again, let’s assume there is no COVID.
A. Oh, I like all the spots. If I had to choose: Milk, Pon Pon and Gladys: The Nosy Neighbor.
Q. Here is my take away from your exhibition: Denver’s is a lot creepier than I thought.
A. Lol, you never know what your coworkers are doing on the weekends.
That being said. I feel like I capture people in a real 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 whoever you want, really be yourself, and the people in the clubs celebrate that.
Q. If you had to guess, how many photos did you take at clubs and parties in Denver?
A. I didn’t realize how many photos I had taken until I started to settle in for the show and ran out of space.
In the gallery, I show about half of my collection. I would say I have about 1,000 photos from 2019 to 2020. But these are photos that I have, which means there are 1,000 in the hands of my subjects.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter, In The Know, to get entertainment news straight to your inbox.