There are few nightclubs that would qualify as legendary, but Berlin’s Berghain is one of them. The reincarnation of Ostgut, a focal point of (queer) techno subculture in the early ’00s, its predecessor, Berghain, is housed in a former power plant in the former east of the city. Its heavy, harsh industrial façade disguises the absolute and abundant hedonism within. Its notoriously strict door policy and its practice of stickers over phone cameras to ensure no photos happen inside have combined to create a club and a scene — with its sister space, Panorama Bar, upstairs — that is shorthand for Berlin’s thriving underground electronic music scene and open club culture.
This is one of the first spaces Vitali Gelwich, a Russian-born, Berlin-based photographer, encountered when moving to Berlin. Like many who moved to the city, he experienced what the scene could offer, and what clubbing (and club culture) could be when done properly, safely, and with respect to individual freedoms and privacy. Now, he’s an established photographer whose clients include international brands like Moncler, Dior, and Calvin Klein; or portraiture of cultural figureheads from Berlin and beyond (Helena Hauff for Crack Magazine; Hyukoh for Highsnobiety Magazine). Across his work, there’s a warmness that speaks to the reality of modern life and the beauty that comes through simply getting through it. It’s undoubtedly touched by the experience of life in the gritty German capital — like the city, Gelwich’s work is soft and dreamlike yet hard and real in the same breath.
For Gelwich’s latest project, You’ll find me next to the right box, the photographer worked with Jägermeister’s “Berlin:AFT3R D4RK” initiative to create a sensitive series of documentary photographs and portraits that capture the characters who make up the city’s famous nightlife community — many of them often going to Berghain. Jägermeister’s Berlin:AFT3R D4RK goes back to the label’s home turf of Germany.
Developed to support upcoming Berlin-based artists, the project helps document and celebrate the spirit and culture of the German capital by highlighting each artists’ perfectionism, as well as their bold and creative path that makes them who they are and creates their unique voice. The project also addresses artists and consumers who challenge conventions, who reinvent themselves, and who aim to question social norms through their work.
We sat down with Gelwich to talk about the project, why he wanted to work with Jägermeister, and how it all came together.
Hey Vitali. So, how did it go then? How was the actual shoot? How was the project for you?
It is a long-term project, so even when we shot a lot of people but is like it was in the beginning. But I need to say, it’s tougher than I thought, to be honest.
So how many people did you speak to? How many people did you manage to get in contact with?
So basically, we reached out to a couple of friends, and they gave us some names and then it just went from there. In the beginning, contacting people was a little bit hard, but once you start, you begin shooting everyone that’s super down and open-minded and, eventually, they’re super interested to work with you. It actually worked out the same way I expected really — the people are very protective in the beginning, but once you start shooting, they become much more open-minded and trust you.
Like yesterday for instance, we found some very inspiring people. Like one girl, she was very stylish, and also very calm, and she was actually working for Instagram. She sat for us and let us photograph here. But also next to her Instagram work, she had a project focussing on the transgender community and the adult entertainment industry. It was a really interesting combination, and it’s definitely sparked my interest to do more work in this territory.
That’s really cool. Let’s talk about Jägermeister. It seems quite an interesting project for Jägermeister to do, as well as allowing you to sensitively treat and frame the characters that make up this club’s community. How do you feel about the collaboration?
Jägermeister approached me with the opportunity to create something that I really wanted to realize. I remembered I never had the opportunity to work on something I really wanted to have for Berlin — something that reflects this place, that’s my home city, and also that’s just my home.
This series is supposed to show a little piece of Berlin here, now, and make this moment reachable for decades after. Everything goes together in this series: respect and acceptance and the Berlin vibe itself.
- Photography: Vitali Gelwich