What's a nightlife photographer supposed to do when the city is shut down?
Denver Instagrammer Shadow is drinking wine, lounging on her front porch, taking bubble baths, posting portraits from her archives, chatting in virtual parties and feeling nostalgic about nights not so long ago, when people were dancing, hugging and kissing without fear.
She’s afraid those good times aren’t coming back soon — especially if people don’t take social distancing seriously.
“It’s an isolating time,” she says. “It’s not fun for a social creature like myself. With everyone staying at home and quarantining, hopefully we’ll be partying sooner than later.”
Shadow, who grew up here and has spent her young-adult years partying at the city's clubs, is used to lifelong Denver diehards griping about how all the great venues, bars, restaurants and cultural institutions have been overrun by transplants, how the city isn’t what it once was.
“I was a little depressed by all the change that happened,” she admits. “But things are still happening in town. You just have to go out and find it.”
So in March 2019, she started taking her Fuji Instax camera to music venues, drag shows and punk houses, documenting how the city’s subcultures were partying.
“I like to go to all sorts of different clubs,” she says. “I weave in and out of all these different social scenarios. Some weekends, I’ll want to see punk. I’ll go and see drag or go and see hip-hop or any of the live shows I go to. I try to see all of Denver and all the different subcultures. I wouldn't say I’m specific to goth or any sort of genre. I try to weave myself in and out of all the different scenes that I can.”
A year later, she has more than 500 photos posted to her Instagram feed, @shadows.gather, and more than 6,000 people are following her.
Shadow's photos don't focus on star DJs or bands; she likes to chronicle the grunts of the scene: the door guys, the music fans and the other people who rarely find themselves in the spotlight but are often the most interesting to look at and to know.
When she went out, she traveled with a photographer who documented her in action, partying with old friends and introducing herself to strangers.
“I’m a little bit shy in real life," she confesses, "but since I have a camera, I have an icebreaker and am able to talk to somebody because of that."
Typically, after sharing a drink with her subjects, she'd take two photos — one for them and another for her collection. She would ask people to tag her when they posted her photos on Instagram; she reciprocated.
“People who dress up and look unique and go to the clubs — they dress up because they want to be recognized,” she says. “For me to come up and want to take their picture — they really flourish in that moment.”
She points to the underground drag nights at Gladys: The Nosy Neighbor or the punk shows at Seventh Circle Music Collective as examples of Denver's thriving underground culture; she also loves shooting at the city’s independent venues, such as the Oriental Theater and the hi-dive, that draw a fashion-conscious crowd.
“I find beauty in people who are unique — people who are going to the clubs and are interesting,” she says. “It’s anybody I find nice, interesting-looking, friendly. Most of the people I take photos of are actually my friends.”
While clubs have offered to hire Shadow for shoots, she pays her own way in and does not accept compensation for her work. "I don’t do this for money," she says. "I do it for the fame."
In recent months, Shadow's work had earned her attention from the art world. Before Denver’s stay-at-home order went into effect, she was slated for a solo show at Lane Meyer Projects, a contemporary art gallery in the River North Art District. The show was supposed to include ten to fifteen blown-up photographs, as well as hundreds of her original prints.
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Now she’s doubting whether the exhibit will ever happen.
“I wanted to show that what people consider lowbrow photography — these instant films — can actually be elevated," she says. "What I do is not lowbrow. The people I take photos of are actually beautiful subjects.”
Shadow's photographs show people enjoying some of the best moments of their lives, she says. And even in the middle of a stay-at-home order, she continues to post club photos on her Instagram feed, though she acknowledges that sharing the portraits can be "triggering" to people who wish they were out partying.
"Whenever I post these photos, people are commenting and tagging themselves and remembering these old moments they had in the clubs," she says. "It’s weird to look at these pictures. I have to remind people that social distancing is still very important."