Posted outside the doors of Berlin techno clubs, Sabrina Jeblaoui, 26, captures night owls heading home or on their way to party elsewhere. Spontaneous portraits shot on film that show what it clubbing is like nowadays. With now more than 26,000 followers on Instagram, the NachtClubsBerlin project is taking a new turn.
When you did you arrive in Berlin and how did you first come up with the idea of photographing people leaving nightclubs in the wee hours?
I arrived in Berlin in July of 2017. At first I partied a lot, naturally. I was euphoric, I felt free. Free to sample Berlin by night and by day, to party every weekend, to do drugs. I had moved to Berlin to join an artistic community, but after a while, I stopped taking photos and I was depressed.
I grew up in Perpignan, in a foster family. My parents were drug addicts. One night, while I was out clubbing, I had this thought: "I'm behaving exactly like them." So I took matters into my own hands and started thinking about a photo project in that specific context.
At first, I thought of doing a series of before / after clubbing portraits. But waiting around for people for 16 hours is challenging! So that's when I had the idea of taking photos of people as they left the nightclubs. It's been done before, but only at the Berghain nightclub, and I wanted to document other clubs in addition to that one, like the Sisyphos and the Tresor, among others.
He refused at first, but then I told him he could put his hand over his face
Do your remember your first NachtClubsBerlin photos?
Yes, among the first photos I took, there's the one of the Russian DJ dressed all in red. When I saw him walk out of the Berghain, with that futuristic look, I ran up to him. He was waiting for a taxi with a friend. He refused at first, but then I told him he could put his hand over his face. And that's what he did. It's an iconic photo that's really representative of the series.
You photograph people who aren't always in the best of shape. Sometimes they're drunk, sometimes high. Is it also important for you to show the slightly darker face of the club scene?
Yes, the negative side of clubbing is actually something I started talking about in NachtClubsBerlin's Instagram stories. The project evolved as I met and talked with people. One night at the Kater Blau, while I was taking pictures of the line outside, the bouncer asked me: “Do you really think this is cool, seeing people stand in line for two hours just to get high in the restroom and not giving a shit about the music? Do you know how many people die every year in Berlin that nobody talks about?”
Later I posted a story and I asked this question: "Share your deepest feelings about the Berlin club scene. How do you really feel?” I then received hundreds of messages, which I reposted. At first, it was like, "It's both beautiful and terrifying." And gradually it became about warning people about the risks of doing drugs, especially GHB. Some people shared their personal experiences, which helped others stop or to not start in the first place. These are now topics I bring up in the spirit of prevention and discussion.
Do you still shoot on film?
Yes, I always shoot with my Nikon FM3A, in manual mode. As some people have noticed, I changed my lens since starting the project. I am self-taught! I love the light in the early morning, under a gray sky without rain.
You shoot on film, but the project only exists on social media; are there limitations to that?
Now people are starting to recognize me. One day, an Australian guy came running up to me in front of the Tresor, yelling, "Aha, you're NachtClubsBerlin!” I was trying to be discreet, because I don't want everyone coming up to me to have their picture taken.
What I want to avoid above all is for this project to turn into event photography. It’s a spontaneous approach and the fact that it's on social media shouldn't distort the nature of the project. On the other hand, people in the photos often ask to be tagged and I don't have a problem with that.
Where do you see the NachtClubsBerlin project going from here?
I'm thinking about a book. I would like to publish both the photos and some of the questions / answers that stand out in the stories. And in my wildest dreams, shoot a documentary about the Berlin clubbing and techno scenes! Especially about the people who are taking part in it, to try to understand what led them there, why they're there, what it's like for them.
Do you think this project could exist in any other city?
No, I don't think so. In Berlin, there is a real nightclub tourism industry, there are techno nights; people come here for that. And that's what I want to show.
This project also seeks to illustrate how the world of techno has moved from a subculture to popular, almost mainstream culture. The people I photograph are “normal” people; they're no longer society's outcasts, they are society.
Interview by Charlotte Jean