Sugar and Spice

The Elephant & Castle project was a big challenge for me. When I was exploring the work that has been done during the past years I felt like I was shown an invisible part of the area, which I would pass through on my way to the college, ignorant to its features and problems. Though, the determined approach focused on local issues did not feel like the best path for me as I do not fully recognize the conviction that people have the right for certain standard just because they are holding a British passport and not according to their merits. That mentality is too foreign, yet local to me. When I visited London for the fist time as a tourist the only thing I knew about Elephant & Castle was that the Ministry of Sound is there. Living here revealed that actually the area is known for the concentration of night clubs, which started around ten years ago. My first impulse led me to want to cover all of them in my project, yet after some consideration and practical advice I gave that ambitious idea up in order to focus on the one largest club in the area – the Coronet Theatre.

I started my research by gathering information about the history of the place. Briefly, the story might be described like this: originally built as a theatre in 1898, then converted to a movie theatre in 1930, subsequently surviving the Blitz of 1942 and even serving as a shelter during this time, it was abandoned in 1999 and re-opened as a club in 2003. The Coronet had an impressive past that I just could not visualise literally. So I decided to look for the traces, left from the grand theatre design of the Victorian era and the behaviour sings of influence by the genetic memory and cultural heritage to the way people enjoy weekends as those did in the past. I continued with an on-location observation that was comprised of interviews of people attending the club and photographs. First I considered using black and white photography to give a historic touch of the contemporary look of the place, but the result missed the colourful emotion that the lights and the music provide for a modern party. Therefore I continued using color film. The gathering of the material for the end result of multimedia continued for six Fridays.

In the process of collecting visual and audio substance I have followed the hectic movement of groups of people through the space boundaries of the main room, second scene, VIP area, bars, toilets, and smoking area, defined by the time of arrival, current line-up, lifestyle, and music and social preferences. The will to squeeze through the crowd, making your way to another part of the club usually characterizes the typical night out. It also embodies a collective set of emotions such as the apprehension of missing something, the ‘hunting’ instinct, the thrill to show a glamorous new outfit, or just a nicotine craving. Regarding that, it seems to me that the most natural way to organize my final presentation is to follow this model of behavior, though at the beginning I was tempted to go after striking guard testimonials, drug stories and to focus on the dark side of the weekend pleasures. But the more I tried to picture that in the context of the club, the more I felt like searching for the most affective and shocking imagery, a tendency endorsed by the news media as a selling point, which distorted the general perception to a sensational reality.

For technical reasons the sound recording of all interviews is done in the smoking area and the ladies’ rest rooms. The ambient sound follows the passing through the different spaces in the club. During the tutorial sessions Paul Lowe suggested the idea to focus on what happens in the ladies toilet, as I shared that photographically the conditions there favour the result and the overheard conversations seem appealing. But attempting to develop a story, I faced the problem of quality recording a genuine conversation, as well as the ethical issue of secretly taping the informal talks. That is the reason why I approached the subject in a more testimonial way.

While putting together the multimedia I faced the dilemma of adding too much content that seemed interesting and funny or keeping the narrative concentrated and short. Resolving it was a difficult stage that started as a sacrifice and then I kept cutting dialogues and photographs until I started to forget some of the selected pieces and was able to assemble the most prominent ones in five minutes.

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