Life of the Party


One of architecture’s most essential functions is creating an enclosure for human activity. From that perspective, the visual form of a building doesn’t matter so much as the action it makes possible. Photographer André Giesemann is deeply interested in the question of how architectural space is defined by its activation. Based in Hamburg, Germany, Giesemann photographs vacant spaces during moments of non-use. His images show plainly the physical facts of the room or building — they are almost documentary in that respect — but they are really about what goes on when the camera is not there.

Giesemann’s series Vom Bleiben, a collaboration with photographer and industrial designer Daniel Schulz, shows empty nightclubs after the party has ended. With the house lights on and the people away, the photos reveal the shabby details that go unnoticed at night. These spaces are meant to be experienced bodily, not visually. What matters is the music, the social interaction, the flow of people. Under the harsh, fluorescent light of day, the camera captures none of that, except as a trace.

These are mostly spartan spaces; they look like industrial basements or, in a couple of cases, parking garages, minimally retrofitted for the purpose. The one outlier shown here has swooping lines and a DJ booth resembling an octopus, an extravagance that may appeal to a certain crowd, but doesn’t fundamentally change the function of the space. The visual aesthetic and design varies, but it is always less important than the practical concern of making a space for people to come together. The fun of these photographs is analyzing the subtle differences and guessing exactly what goes on in each room — what kind of people come, what music is played, what is the experience like?

On the opposite extreme is Giesemann’s series Attrappe, which pictures showrooms, museum displays, stages and other places that are designed to be looked at, but not used. Some betray their artifice more readily than others. A façade of windows is an obvious and rather poorly painted trompe l’oeil, while a scene fitted with a candy-striped credenza, swan lamp and Romanesque bust could believably be in a real person’s house, albeit in a room where the grandchildren are not allowed. The surfaces are pristine, the light is flattering, but the spaces are completely dead. Their lack of real purpose is palpable in even the most believable scenes. Giesemann’s photographs show the importance of use. The nightclubs may be ugly, dingy rooms, but they are living spaces charged with the traces of human presence.

André Giesemann and Aaron Rothman, “Life of the Party,” Places Journal, December 2013. Accessed 02 Oct 2023.

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