Today we invite you to enter the captivating world of Shadows Gather, the acclaimed nightlife photographer who has garnered a dedicated following for her evocative portraits of Denver’s counterculture. With her unique ability to capture the essence of alternative nightlife, Shadows Gather has become a driving force in illuminating the vibrant and often overlooked aspects of the city’s underground scenes.
Photo by Glenn Ross
Instant Photographers: What initially drew you to unconventional subjects and inspired you to explore alternative nightlife scenes in your photography?
Shadows Gather: All my photos are shot at the moment at parties, galleries and after the sun goes down. The nightlife is when I’m feeling the most creative, with friends and cocktails in hand. People in the nightlife are unique, and extravagant and love to dress for the occasion. This makes my “job” as a photographer easy and fun. If I see someone in the club that I would like to photograph, I’ll approach them, introduce myself, get consent to take their photo and possibly even enjoy a cocktail together.
I will give my friends and new friends a photo as well. A little “party favour” gift to remember our times. I take a photo, and give a photo…conveniently I made stickers with my Instagram handle for the photos I giveaway. That way we can connect on Instagram.
IP: How do you feel about the comparisons made between your work and that of renowned artists Nan Goldin and Andy Warhol? Who would you say has influenced your artistic style the most?
SG: It’s flattering for sure. I came to know and love both of these artists as my photography career started taking off. A little embarrassed to say that I didn’t know too much about either prior to my photography project that started in 2019.
Once people started recognising and comparing my work, I did my research, watched videos, read books and really got to know more about the photographers before me. Like both of them, I immersed myself in the counter cultures and party lifestyle, not because I wanted to take photos but because that’s where I want to be and where I would be if I was taking photos or not.
The people I take photos of are my friends and people I meet when I’m out at parties, social events and different shows. I take my camera everywhere, and there are times I take 30 portraits a night, and some nights I don’t take a single photo. The venues aren’t paying me to be there, and the people aren’t paying to take their photos. So I do what I feel like.
IP: Could you explain your creative process and the techniques you use, such as pairing a Fuji Instax Neo Classic Mini with an iPhone flashlight, to create your striking instant photographs?
SG: The Instax camera is perfect for me and my party lifestyle. You don’t need a photo pass for a toy camera. I can literally take it anywhere and to any show.
The flash however isn’t great for low-light photography. Thank goodness I always have my iPhone in hand for selfies and more importantly, lighting my subjects. Lighting is done with my iPhone. Other photographers mock me and give me all the suggestions… but when you have a camera, phone, and cocktail in hand you work with what you got.
IP: Your photographs often capture the energy and emotions of gutter punks, drag artists, and other individuals from the alternative nightlife scene. How do you approach portraying their authenticity and preserving their stories through your art?
SG: I’m not thinking that far ahead when it comes to taking people’s photographs. I’m really just in the moment having fun, dancing, drinking cocktails and enjoying my friends….meeting new people. Maybe that’s how I’m actually getting to know my subjects and we’re so busy at the moment and it slips my mind that what I’m creating could be of any importance.
The moment it gets serious is when I have an exhibit, party Shadow gets put on hold and business Shadow comes out. I even wear a suit. Lol, not to say my exhibits aren’t any fun or aren’t a party… because they certainly are. I will go to the gallery and pour everyone who’s there a cocktail, even if it’s not even noon yet. This past exhibit at The Leon Gallery in Denver was quite a scene, and I was lucky enough to have a gallery that was so patient, and supportive and even got my liquor and beer sponsors to keep my friends happy.
(info for Shadow Banned, her Solo Show for Month of Photography below)
IP: As an instant photographer, how do you feel the immediate nature of instant photography enhances the storytelling aspect of your work, particularly in capturing the vibrant moments of Denver’s counterculture?
SG: If I had one of those big fancy photography rigs, it just wouldn’t work. There are far too many settings for me to fiddle with when having cocktails. Also, some venues will not let you have those big professional cameras without a photo pass. I get into all the events with my cute pink Instax Camera…
As far as the photos go, my little Instax is able to capture someone’s true self. I can see people soften up right in front of my lens. That performer with the scary makeup might be putting on a show to that photographer over there, but for me…they are relaxed and themselves.
Having an instant camera is pure magic when bringing people together… you have to wait for the film to develop, everyone then gets excited about their photos and shows them off to all their friends.
IP: Your photography project, Shadows Gather, has become synonymous with celebrating the beauty of those on the cultural fringes and providing a sense of community. How do you ensure that your visual narrative remains true to your subjects as the city continues to evolve?
SG: I keep all my original photographs safely stored, I have about 2000. It’s important for me and this project to keep that collection together for show-and-tell moments at the galleries and perhaps someday a museum. That would be a dream… It just seems like the right thing to do, keep them together. IDK, some people disagree and think I should sell them. But I don’t want to, and I do what I want.
I want to say, look at this beautiful collection of communities, people. You don’t need to be a model, you’re beautiful without a filter, without Photoshop and being your true freaky self. This collection shows a sense of humanity…some might look scary or intimidating but they are people just like you, who knows… they might be in the office next to you during the daytime. You don’t always know what people are up to on the weekend and late-night hours.
IP: You have gained a significant following on Instagram and have become a superstar among instant photographers. How has social media influenced your career and allowed you to connect with a global audience?
SG: Oh thank you! I wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for social media. It was the people on Instagram who gave me the confidence and support to continue taking instant party photos. This was never in the plans.
I knew my photos were good, but it wasn’t until a coworker convinced me to put them on Instagram, that I knew I had something special. Within two weeks of my first photo being uploaded, I gained a following of 1000. Since people enjoyed my work, and I enjoyed taking photos, I just kept at it. Here we are 4 years later and I’m so close to having 10,000.
So I’ll keep putting on my big platform shoes, teasing my hair to the heavens and keep buying my Instax film in bulk and continue partying and celebrating my beautiful friends.
Nightlife photographer Shadows Gather Shadow Banned:
A solo exhibition and celebration of censored photography
March 11th – April 22nd at LEON Gallery
1112 E 17th Ave, Denver, CO 80218
Photo by Amanda Tipton Photography
DENVER, Colorado – February 8, 2023 – The photographer known for her compelling portraits of Denver’s counterculture, Shadows Gather, will unveil her second solo show as part of Denver’s greater Month of Photography. Shadow Banned will be on display from March 11th thru April 22nd at Leon Art Gallery and celebrates all that our culture keeps in the shadows–with a special artist reception Saturday, March 11th, from 7-11 pm.
Shadow Banned showcases photos not seen anywhere else, photos that have been banned, flagged, and removed from social media. This forbidden collection raises questions about censorship faced heavily by marginalized groups: the policing of female bodies, the algorithmic flagging of everyday imagery in the LGBTQIA sphere, and the disproportionate censorship of people of colour. For many Americans, social media is an over-filtered, glamorous representation of themselves and the lives they wish they lived. Shadow Banned is a raw, unapologetic peek into lives lived after dark.
On display along with a collection of over a thousand original Instax images, Shadow will also display her most iconic banned images, blown up and enlarged in a way that captures the details. From the scratches, lipstick smudges, and dirt from the alley, these photos capture a historic moment in time.
Photo by Kristina Davies