by Saynt on
Gritty, dangerous and filled with the type of people you wouldn’t want to take home to mama, the New York party scene has long been the subject of shutterbug Nikola Tamindzic, whose enjoyed quick rise to fame as one the cities best nightlife photographers. We got a chance to sit down with Nikola and talk about the death of Ambrel, Gawker stalking, and the new Home of the Vain.
FI – Ambrel.net was always one of my guilty pleasures. Why did you give it up?
NT - It became repetitive and stifling, in a way. It’s a natural thing, you know – but that’s what happened: it was a strictly nightlife site and I didn’t feel like it could be easily overhauled to include everything else that I’m interested in and all the other things I shoot most of the time. Over the last 2 years of Ambrel.net‘s existence, nightlife photography was taking up no more than 10% of my shooting time. So it was logical to create an outlet for all that stuff, which is what Home of the Vain is.
Also, over time, the style got totally ripped-off: the swirly lights, multiple lights, whatnot. It would be ridiculous to think that I have the patent on those couple of really basic photographic techniques; but you can just tell when you look at the new nightlife sites popping up left and right, that they’re either referring to Bronques’ style (ie. super minimal snapshot thing) or mine. The problem is not in technique, obviously, but in point of view, and I’m struggling to find an interesting point of view in the stuff that comes my way.
I mean, we’re all referencing same visual cues we’ve seen before, and that’s all well & good. The question is: why do it at all? Because it’s in vogue? That’s not good enough – there has to be a need to tell a story, to find a story and put it to film, otherwise your photos are only as good as the boobs of the last drunk girl you got naked in the bathroom of Lit. (Yeah – nightlife photographers are overwhelmingly male, unfortunately.)
FI – House of the Vain seems so much more artistically driven than Ambrel. Are you over the nightlife shots?
NT – As I mentioned, it’s the in thing to do now, and when you realize there are more people shooting at a party than people being shot, you ask yourself – well, what’s the fucking point then?
So, I’m sure I’ll come back to it sometime: it’s an inexhaustible subject. But for now, I’ll take the camera out to parties only on special occasions, and in the meantime I might try this radical new concept – actually going out to hang out and have fun. Shocking, right?
Home of the Vain features (and will feature) a lot of the people seen in my nightlife work, but in a very different context, so it’s a natural extension. Basically, I think whatever I shoot – portraits, parties, editorial, fashion, even fucking landscapes – I’m always telling the same story from different angles. They all may look fairly different, but they belong to the same world. So, the fun thing about Home of the Vain will be mixing archive stuff with photos taken the previous evening, as well as putting very very different photos next to one another – quiet city shot after a crazy nightlife photo and so on.
I’m curious to stretch the narrative, you know? See how many things I can cover and still maintain a coherent story. Helmut Newton’s Sex & Landscapes book was pretty influential in that regard, and I recommend it heartily.
FI – You been praised as one of the greatest (on Fashion Indie “THE” Greatest) nightlife photographer of our day. Does the attention ever get to you?
NT - The fact that it takes very little to get to that point is more bewildering than anything. I started shooting nightlife in earnest when I moved to in 2004, and immediately got the gig with Gawker. (Because my for Nick Denton’s party was photographer – yeah, that lame. Whatever, I just moved and was couchsurfing.)
And to this day I believe that I got both that job, and all the accolades later, because I had that desire to tell a particular story, nightlife as I see it, rather than the way camera sees it. Know what I mean? I wanted more than a bunch of photos of pretty people getting ridiculous. I always refer to Suede’s Dog Man Star album as a pretty good way to describe what I wanted in musical terms.
My idols as far as nightlife work were, Brassaï, . And actually, you can’t see much direct influence on my ethics or esthetics in those, but all of them had a clear idea of the story they wanted to tell, and they doggedly pursued it – you can tell their work in a second.
People are so undemanding, so unambitious in artistic sense – sure, hustling will get you money and drugs and plenty of ass, and it often takes hustling to be really successful, but it doesn’t say anywhere that you can’t have all those benefits and actually create something you really care about, and something others can relate to, right? You can do both. And everyone seems to think about PR first, and about putting photos of everyone who showed up at the party second (so they pass the word around) – but few bother to ask themselves “Hey, what connection does this make with someone who WASN’T there? How about I only put up what really relates to that night?”
More after the jump…
FI – Are you a partier or does the scene get tiring after a while?
NT – I was a little too focused on shooting and getting the photos to Gawker first thing in the morning and putting them up on Ambrel.net to have much time to properly party. Camera puts a distance between you and people, definitely. So as I said, it’s fun to go back to just plain old partying.
FI – Is there one celebrity or scenester you really love to shoot?
NI – I haven’t seen Baby Sinead out & about in a while. I love shooting her, she’s always game for whatever ridiculousness pops into our heads at 3am. Miss Amy Wright (the redhead in many of my 2005/2006 party shots) too – although, don’t call her a scenester or you might get seriously hurt.. Kenny Kenny and Amanda Lepore. Michael Stipe! God, Stipe – you can’t go wrong with those eyes. DJ Jess always brings his top game to photos, too often, actually, as I hate the fact that several of my absolute favourites from the past few years feature him! Ahhhh, Michael T, of course, such a beautiful lady right there. Vogue cover star André J – come on, I work in New York, there are too many!
FI – You’re in a dark hallway with Merlin Bronques, Cobra Snake, Nicky Digital and maybe that dude from Driven by Boredom. Whose ass would you kick first? (I’d personally choose Merlin, but I’m not trying to influence you here)
NT - I haven’t done that enough already?
FI – Merlin’s doing shots for Ben Sherman, Cobra Snakes balls are owned by Nylon. Do you feel the pull from the corporate monster yet? (present company excluded. Gawker is fucking awesome)
NT – After ten years in advertising as an Art Director, it’ll be a while before I desire to sip from that particular vat of horseshit again.
FI – What’s the single greatest thing you have ever shot?
NT - Ha, I’ve no idea. Seriously, did anyone ever give you a non-retarded answer to that one?
For some reason, though, the photo of Annie Lennox andfrom recent Out magazine party comes to mind, mostly because of my supreme idiocy: I managed to not recognize either one of them, so I shot them as if they were two hot tall stylish ladies lounging on a huge couch. Which made for a great shot, and made for a shot I’m weirdly disconnected from, so I’m enjoying it as if it’s someone else’s photo.
FI – How would you categorize your work? Artist/Photographer/Nightlife Anthropologist
NT – Photographer, plain and simple.
FI – Any advice for up and coming photogs?
NT – Find your own story to tell, and no matter what your skills are, it’s a story worth telling. Stick to it. Rip off everyone’s style along the way, cause everyone else did it before (and some young punk will rip you off someday, hopefully), but for god’s sake, stick to your story, zero in on it, and do everything and anything it takes to tell it. I’m much more interested in your story told poorly, than a krafty reinterpretation of someone else’s thing.
Ha! I’m so cranky today! Must be the PMS.