A Photographer Documents Dublin Nightlife Before Lockdown

A woman’s hand is visible in the middle of a photograph, taken in Yamamori Tengu nightclub on Strand Street Great, Dublin 1.

Her red fingernails stand out in the shot. Her hand is captured perfectly in focus and dangling above it is a sparkling disco ball.

“The disco ball was hanging really low from the ceiling and she was reaching up to it. I grabbed her hand and twisted it. I said to hold it there for a second and then I snapped the moment,” says the photographer, 23-year-old Karl Magee.

Magee has a hobby of documenting Dublin nightlife, aiming to create something tangible for people to look at afterwards, he says.

“I really enjoyed going to college events and then wider Irish festivals. I wanted to bring back something from these events,” says Magee.

But shooting decent photography of Dublin nightlife can be tricky, as this photographer only uses film cameras. This only allows for a limited amount of shots per roll, meaning you have to be more conservative with the photos, says Magee.

“I’ll only have 36 shots per roll and I might be only happy with five of them. That’s just the way it goes,” says Magee.

Magee has just released Until Then, a collection of 68 photos documenting Dublin’s nightlife, from dance floors to festivals over the last two years, all of the profits of which will be given to charity.

A Big Flash

Magee hails from Dún Laoghaire.

He recently graduated from Business, Economics and Social Studies at Trinity College.

He says he took an interest in photography during his teenage years when traveling with his family on holidays. “But it was mostly digital stuff.”

His attention turned to film photography during college, when he began exploring Dublin’s nightlife and Irish music festivals with friends.

“I looked into it [film], and it just seemed like the best way to capture these moments that I was seeing. Both quickly and effectively,” he says.

Kodak Portra 400 is the film roll he often uses for photos because of its fine grain. “It’s mostly used for portrait photography like taking photos of people,” says Magee.

The grain of a film sets up what sort of texture the photo will have. A fine grain results in a sharp, clear texture for the shot.

He says that film captures colour really well; images appear exactly as people would have seen them in the moment.

There is an excitement around sending a roll of photos off to be developed as well. “It’s nice to be able to look back on the moment a week later or a month later.” Magee says.

Candid Moments from Dublin’s Nightlife

Pygmalion on South William Street, Wigwam on Middle Abbey Street, and the old Bernard Shaw pub that was on South Richmond Street are among the venues that the 23-year-old has documented over the years.

Photographing a sincere, unstaged moment is the goal for this club culture photographer when he brings his camera on a night out.

“I don’t want to disturb the moment. I want it to be candid,” he says.

One such candid moment he captured was in the old Bernard Shaw on South Richmond Street last October.

It was one of the last nights in the venue before the building was demolished.

In one picture in the new photo book, a heaving joyful crowd raise their hands into the air as a DJ stands in front of them. He has one hand on the decks and one hand pointing back at the crowd. Squinted eyes and mouths fully stretched with smiles are seen across the room; a moment of sheer joy is captured in this photo.

Shooting a moment like this requires you to be discrete with a camera but this can be tricky, says Magee.

“The [camera’s] flash lights up the whole picture so it’s almost like you have one chance to get it before the Dj or crowd knows that there’s someone there with a flash camera,” he says.

For this reason, he uses a small point and shoot that he keeps in his pocket.

Shooting in the natural light of the venue without using the flash is another way he will try to stay incognito.

“You don’t see everything in these photos, just some of the light and some of the people. It’s fun to experiment with,” he says.

Until Then

Putting Until Then together was something that Magee says he thought about for a while.

“Now is the perfect time to share a book of club and festival photography because everybody was away from each other,” says Magee.

Compiling a book like this meant that he went through troves of photos deciding which ones he likes the best, and organised them by colour.

Magee noticed his collection of photos was building up. For the last year he was trying to figure what was the best thing to do with this collection of shots.

“I thought about putting something together later in the year but then the whole lockdown came along,” he says.

At first, Magee thought this was a set back to his plans.

“But now is the perfect time to share a book of club and festival photography because everybody is away from each other,” Magee says.

All the profits from the book will go to Pieta House, which provides assistance to people who are in suicidal distress or those who have been bereaved by suicide.

“Everybody knows how important this charity is and how much they have helped young people and people of all ages in Ireland,” says Magee.

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Donal Corrigan: Donal Corrigan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. He covers transport, and the southside. To get in contact with him, you can email him on [email protected]

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