Party Photography From Melbourne’s Goth and Alternative Club Scenes (NSFW)

From metal clubs to hardstyle raves and über goth discos, Len “Ellway” Weigh has been there to capture the outrageous outfits and flamboyant antics of underground Melbourne’s most munted.

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Aug 12 2015, 12:29am

Images: Len Weigh

Goth / Alternative club photographer Len Weigh has been snapping Melbourne’s PVC-clad party nightlife for over ten years. From metal clubs to hardstyle raves and über goth discos, “Ellway” has been there to capture the outrageous outfits and flamboyant antics of underground Melbourne’s most munted. We caught up with him to chat about the perks and perils of shooting the children of the night at play.

Noisey: How did you get into photography?
Len Weigh: I left school at 17. My first job was a darkroom assistant. Then I was promoted to a wedding photographer in West Footscray. I stayed for a year then worked in Collins Street for a couple of well-known photographers. I eventually worked in TPNG, Perth and the UK. Upon returning from the UK in 1970 I took up another career as an antique dealer, and now I deal in vintage Scandinavian furniture. Between 1970 and 2000 I barely touched a camera. I knew nothing about digital as it was all analogue in my day.

What is it about club photography that attracts you?
The people. Having misspent a lot of my youth around cameras daily, I was more interested in having a good time than swanning about with equipment after hours - much to my regret.

It looks like you started out shooting a range of underground club events, and in recent years it's more focused in the goth scene.
I tried to spread myself around a bit, looking mainly for alternative events more recently. I covered the mainstream gigs and the gay scene, including the Mardi Gras, as well as punks and hardstyle addicts. These are the events I could find with interesting and sometimes outrageous subjects. It’s all great fun.

You must have seen a lot of waves of fashion come and go, in both how people dress in and the drugs of choice.
From my perspective it’s been a privilege to attend and witness the changes that have occurred in the club scene over the last decade. Fashions have changed along with hairstyles (and distinctively t-shirts) but the people are still the same. Years later I still get the odd look of horror when I joke that the pics are for Crimestoppers. I’ll have to find a new catchphrase. My purpose in taking the photos is to capture these changes and offer anyone interested in the subject an insight into the scene, a small archive for future reference. Drugs - what are they? The era of mass euphoria sadly seems to be coming to a close, the love and fellowship are still there but with a much harder edge these days, possibly down to what’s on offer.

You seem to have great relationships with the owners of the clubs that you shoot. How do you select the ones to focus on?
More often than not I am there by invitation - usually from the event organiser rather than the club or venue owner.

What role would you say club photography has in the promotional activity of a club?
I would hope that it has a positive impact, with social media being so widespread the images are easily distributed to friends and family thereby spreading the word. Showing people at their best (and sometimes worst) and creating “fond” memories is very satisfying for me.

What are the technical requirements for shooting in dark nightclubs with elaborate lighting systems?
I use a basic flash on camera and employ full manual control. Blending the subject with existing lighting requires a bit of practice but I’m getting ther. This adds a little more interest to the images and even the most pedestrian pics can be improved using this combination.

In some parts of the world there are strict rules in some clubs regarding taking photos of attendees. How would you describe the attitude toward this in Australia? Have you ever had issues with drunk / high people agreeing to photos at the time and then complaining afterwards?
Over the years I’ve had requests to remove around twenty images, usually for personal reasons relating to employment (I did get one from ASIO once, even spooks have fun) or folks just out with the wrong girl or guy. As far as permission to shoot in clubs goes, I’ve never had a problem, and this is helped by the fact that anyone who has taken the trouble to dress up for the night generally enjoys being photographed.

How has so much time in night clubs over the years affected your work / social life?
I find that being self-employed seven days a week, with a 10am start, it is manageable. Clubbing is my social life, luckily my wife enjoys it too - we often go to different gigs on the same night.

You must have seen some crazy things go down over the years. Do you have any favourite stories?
Broadly speaking it’s been one long funny story, although some of it is a bit blurry. I do recall an evening at The Men’s Gallery, a gay event, where the (female) strippers really cranked it up for the night. They certainly outdid themselves and I was one of the few actually paying attention. I have fond memories too of the docks and QBH. Individual experiences were many - all hilarious - just brief encounters with punters and friends who are usually totally trashed and having a ball. Tiny pieces of the fabric that went into making the scene what it used to be.