Originally, club photography was never something I could have envisioned myself
doing. I hardly drink, even more rarely go to bars and had literally never been in a
club before my first job. Skateboarding was what originally sparked my interest in
photography, but when an old elementary school friend left for India for a few months
needing a cover, I decided it couldn't hurt to give taking photos of drunks for $100.00 a
night a whirl. Maybe I would even meet some nice females.
What originally began as something I thought was sort of cool quickly became a huge
moral dilemma for me. The purpose of club photography is to fill up clubs and sell drinks
by showcasing people having fun for club promoters, handing out business cards, and
making people feel like celebrities. Promoting a lifestyle of excessive drinking, spending
and womanizing eventually came into conflict with my higher than thou moral code.
See, my uncle drank himself to death and my mom is in recovery, something I help her
with on the daily since I live with her. After reading this VICE article on the reality of
addiction, and this blog on the brain chemistry behind it, I realized that I was promoting
drug use while simultaneously fighting a life and death battle with it.
To be perfectly honest, addiction and alcoholism in particular was not something I understood
until this year, and for that reason I might have actually exacerbated my moms struggle by
getting frustrated with her. The drink that had taken my uncles life and helped break up my
family when I was only seven seemed so trivial, so pointless, just an easy way out of a chaotic,
depressing, and stressful world.
Maybe it's because my first experience with mind altering substances came in the form of abong toke, maybe because I hadn't grown up in a society where the only socially acceptable
escape from reality came from the bottom of a bottle. For whatever reason I was incapable of
sympathizing with this profound affliction for booze. Things came to a head last year when I
packed up and moved to Montreal, washing hands of the guilt I felt living in the same city as
the woman who birthed me but was struggling with something I couldn't comprehend. Luckily a
supportive girlfriend, a possible career in journalism, and a phone call from a stranger warning
me of something "very dark" happening to my mom if I left her in solitude won me back.
Shu Cheng photo
URBAN NIGHT: I only worked an urban night, or a “black club", once. But I must confess
it didn’t suck as bad as the Eurocentric clubs. Not to bring down my fellow Gwai Los,
but people at urban night are for the most part much better dancers, more friendly, and the music doesn't seem to suck. The top 40 tunes they play at other clubs have given me a nasty case of PTSD whenever I find my self in a situation playing
RACISM: Is sadly still very alive and well in the night club industry. I have actually
had promoters, let's just call them "ABC Lifestyle" for anonymity's sake, tell me to make
sure to shoot everyone, but only post photos of good looking "clean cut" white folk.
Apparently "clean cut crowd " is a beating-around-the-bush for no blacks, no Asians
and no "beat" chicks. That sure isn't the kind of "lifestyle" that exists in a beautifully
multiethnic city like Toronto.
MEDIC: This dude is a fixture at every popular club. You'll see him timidly waiting for a
brawl to end, coming to aid of some poor battered fool or drug overdose. I'm not sure
makes people who are supposed to be celebrating and having a good time so violently
aggressive. Maybe it's the booze bringing out the territorial, alpha male, feces throwing
primate in them. Just sub-out territory for companionship and feces for sharp glass
GETTING PAID: My original inspiration for writing this article was actually to extort one of
my previous employers into paying me the $600.00 he owed me. You’d have to have
the mental capacity of a cabbage to rip off the photographers who promote your shitty
services on social media. Social media is the key to these half wits' success, but it can
also be their Achilles Tendon. Not paying a photographer might seem tempting but
might also result in a PR shit campaign on a par with Rob Ford's admitted appreciation
for crack rock. I would advise anyone considering this miserable occupation to ensure
that they are paid in full before shooting. Promoters are usually as greasy as the oil slick
they garnish their Jersey shore wanna-be hairdo with; no matter how much booze they
feed you in an attempt to show good will.
BOUNCERS: These guys usually lack in brain what they make up for in brawn. Some
of 'em are nice guys, and some are no better than the drug dealers who bribe them to
get into the club with drugs and weapons. Pretty much anyone can get into a club for
free simply by sporting a DSLR camera with a flash and casually walking by claiming to
be "working tonight".
I hung outside of a shit show club I used to work at to engage in some conversation with
the human I used to work with.
I came across a young man wearing an expensive looking peacoat and
slacks, appeared to be very high on some kind of stimulant drug with dilated
pupils, repeating him self and paranoid as all hell :
Nicky: How do you feel about how the clubbing lifestyle portrays alcoholism?
Young Man: As a young generation, you come out with your boys to get together.
Alcohol is a part of it but you're all coming out to be together. That being said, I
recognize at the same time that alcoholism is a problem. It's no easy process, booze
took the life of my own best friends father. Listen, alcoholism is a choice. Guys are
going to booze. Alcohol is legal, so when it comes down to it when people want to
go out and have a good time they're going to booze because nothing else is legal.
You wanna go out and rock marijuana? That’s illegal. You wanna go out and rock M
(MDMA)? That’s illegal. All this stuff is illegal. Drugs and alcohol are on the same level,
it's all about moderation. You want to abuse alcohol? You want to abuse drugs? It's the
same shit, it's all about moderation and choice.
If you're going to use alcoholism as an excuse than your going to use drugs as an
excuse too. Alcoholism is a choice. May be in the blood, may be in the genes. At the
end of the day it's all about choice. Everybody has a choice, life is about choices. I had
a poster on my dorm room wall in college of a gun, the bible, and some money. Life is
about choices. You control your choices regardless of genetics. If you want to make
it right, you do what's right. If you want to make it wrong, you do what's wrong. Life is
about choices. You want to talk alcoholism? Like I said my best friends father died of
it, do I see it in his genetics? Absolutely, at the same time is that a choice he wants to
make? Life is life. Does he want to go there? Hey, it's his choice. Life is about choices
Nicky: Have you heard of Phillip Seymore Hoffman's death? Heroine free for 23
Young Man: Yeah, I watch live city news all day long, it's my life.
Nicky: What about the notion that some people's brains are just wired differently? Do
you think it's possible that some people have a condition similar to post traumatic stress
disorder in that stress can activate a survival part of the brain that over rides the logical
part of the brain forcing them to loose their free will and ability to make choices based
on right and wrong?
Young Man: Well, buddy had a choice to go 23 years sober. He then runs into a
problem, he feels the slightest bit of depression, or anxiety, these things happen. At the
end of the day it's all about choices. It's your fucking choice.
Promoters aren't only drinkers, life has evolved. Its not about drinking anymore, It's
about going out and living the dream. This is the 2000's, but at the same time we've
gone back to the 60's. Booze ain't runnin' the show no more. Who do you think is
running the show for night clubs these day? The Guvernment, Union. What do you
think is running those shows? It's a promoter’s world. Take a look online. Read an
article about MDMA. M is not M anymore. What do you got on me right now? Besides
that iPhone voice recorder? Do you have my face anywhere? The world is running of
M. Promoters are making their life of M. M aint M. Listen, kill it (points to iPhone voice
I talked to a group of police officers supervising the entrance steps away
from the door. I'm not sure if Officer 2 realized the iPhone I was holding was
recording although I told them it was.
Nicky: Is it just you guys down here?
Officer 1: It is in the winter, but in the summer we ride around on bicycles with
medics. Due to the traffic they can't get ambulances down here, so it's a much faster
Nicky: What causes most of the fights?
Officer 1: "You touched my girlfriend"
Nicky: Do you have any crazy stories?
Officer 1: No, I'm not allowed to comment on any of that stuff.
Nicky: That’s terrible, you would think it would be good to shed some light on how bad
things are, no?
Officer 1: Well you’re a journalist, and you’re down here, I'm sure you will see
something. I think that if you're a happy person then you're a happy drunk, but if you’re
not a happy person then your not a happy drunk.
Officer 2 points of a beautiful yet scantily clad young female and laughs.
Officer 2: That’s gotta be cold, watch the back of her shirt, she's got a bare back. I
don't even know what the hell is holding the sides up
I approached a group of clubbers to see what they had to say about
Nicky: What brought you guys out tonight?
Female 1: A birthday
Nicky: Why a night club, why not go bowling?
Female 1 (Wearing a tube top, a skirt, and heels, visibly cold): We like
dancing, the music, and being with everybody, it's hard to dance with a bowling ball.
Nicky: Fair enough, what do you guys think of how this culture has glamorized drug
Male 2 (Wearing a Canada Goose jacket): Well…. its a tough call to make on that
one. I mean that's what’s going on in there and it isn't entirely right, but addiction exists
and it's part of life today.
Nicky: Do you think addiction is a disease or a choice?
Male 2: A choice.
Female 1: I don't think its a choice, I think your body become forceful almost, and then
you need it in a way.
Nicky: If you were to give a first timer advice on going to a nightclub what would it be?
Male 2: Always tip your waitress.
Female 1: Drink smart, know your limit, take it easy but have fun.
A second female chimes in wearing a beautiful dress and flats and her
Female 2: I think that clubs are filled with thirsty guys who don't know what no means
and treat girls like shit. Basically I feel like a club would be a lot nicer if guys would treat
girls with more respect and not like property and know that we are here to dance and
not to hook up.
Nicky: What about addiction and alcoholism?
A third male chimes in (Wearing Jeans and a Canada Goose Jacket).
Male 3: I think alcoholism varies for everyone. You drink socially, other people have
addiction problems. I don't see massive addiction problems in any club I've been too,
more just people partying with friends. If you are addicted though I think you should
seek AA. A club is not a place to go to drink, cause it costs so much money. A shot is
what, 7 dollars? To feed you addiction? So if you want to feed your addiction the liquor
store is where it’s at
Female 2: I'm not going to lie, I do M. I'm not on it right now but it makes you have
such a great time. You just really have to know who you're buying it from because you
want to be safe. I go to University of Toronto for phsycology and they teach us that M
is less harmful that alcohol. My professor said in a lecture "your more likely to get hurt
horseback riding that your are doing M". So it's like your fine. Drinking fucks up your
liver and shit. M doesn't really do much, it just releases serotonin, so your fine. Sorry if I
promoted it but just saying it's not addictive, you can control it.
Male 2: I think it's all about culture and how you’re raised with it. Some European
families let little kids have wine with dinner, so it's all about your culture and how you
adapt to it as a child. If you just go binge in university and you've never had it before
you’re going to go ham (excessive). I think addiction varies for people depending on
culture, who you are, and where you’re from.
I switch groups and go talk to a third group, catching the eye of one
shivering young female in particular.
Nicky: That’s a beautiful outfit your wearing
Female 3: I'm so fucking cold
Nicky: Why not dress warmer? You're going to get pneumonia out here.
Female 3: It's all about adjustment, you dress a certain type of way and you stick
with it. It’s considered socially appropriate. If girls came in here and wore pants, do you
think they would get the same attention from males that they would if they were wearing
dresses? You look around at all the females standing here, they're doing it to be viewed
a certain way.
It's not socially acceptable to dress as the males do. You look at magazines and the
way that females are portrayed; we aren't supposed to be wearing jeans and covered
up. If we do then we're considered weird or different. Being different in society is never
a good thing. Having all this advertising with skinny females dressing in bikinis and
tight clothing, what kind of image does that portray to young girls? And I'm a result of it
and it's ironic if you think about it because I do it so people won't look at me as a weird
person. I need to blend in.
I wish I could change it but me dressing a certain way won't change anything except
giving me a bad reception. We do it for attention, it's true. We deny it, we say that "oh
we're just here to have a good time and have fun with our friends. It's all bullshit, we're
here to be received a certain way and it's really sad.
Personally I wish I could change it but I can't because I'm too insecure to fight the
norms of society. I’m too insecure to stand here and give people a positive perception
of what beauty is really like. But I can't change it, I'm too insecure to change it because
people put different things in your mind. If I am different what kind of future does that
give me? If I do different things and I riot and I go against what everyone expects then
what does that leave me with?
I walk over to the bouncer who over heard our conversation as the brutally
honest young woman walks away.
Nicky: What did you make of that?
Bouncer: They're all just sluts, just because they're doing for that reason doesn't make
So now it’s off my chest and I have made amends with my hypocritical past. I can
honestly say I will never put up with that trife shit again. Perhaps unless I find myself
single, broke, and I get the right offer to shoot an urban night. But even then, I would
rather spend my evening hitting the vape and listening to Terrence McKenna talk about
psychedelics until I eventually succumb to a Cheeto induced kush coma.