Molly Macindoe has been documenting the ‘Free Party’ movement for over 12 years. Inspired by what she saw in her teenage years and motivated by friends and family, her relentless goal to capture an unbiased sociological cross-section in photography has culminated in the new book ‘Out of Order : A Photographic Celebration of the Free Party Scene’.
When speaking to Molly you get a sense that she is truly passionate about her subject matter, finding intrinsic beauty in the people and places that these events take place. Whether it is the dichotomy of old meet’s new, or the practically tribal nature of the scene itself, there is a great deal to appreciate in the journey she has undertaken. One that has taken her all over the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Morocco and as far afield as Jordan and the Lebanon.
With this in mind, I ask you to take the time and appreciate the extended effort Molly Macindoe has made. Her new book, published by Tangent, the same outfit that covered Banksy’s first photographic collection ‘Home Sweet Home’, is available to buy at all good outlets.
Interview by John Dawson
"The authenticity of the photo is in the very grain of the film"
For those that are unaware, could you tell us who you are and where you grew up?
I’m a social documentary and reportage photographer and artist. I’ve got quite a mixed background: An American mother and New Zealander father, I was born in Doha, Qatar, on the Arabian Gulf and spent the first 6 years of my life there going to an English speaking school and spent every weekend playing in the desert sand dunes. Then moved to North London at the age of 6, where I spent most of my life until I moved to Bristol in 2008.
How did you get into photography?
I started learning photography and black & white printing at The Latymer School in Edmonton, North London. I was taught by a wonderful art teacher, who encouraged and supported me creatively and emotionally.
He specifically showed interest in my first photos of parties and spurred me on to continue in that direction. Moreover, my dad has always been into photography and I’ve grown up looking at his slide shows of his travels from all over the world. His love of photographing different cultures and architecture has most definitely been a big influence, not to mention the technical advice and experience he passed on.
"I’m lucky that I’ve found a subject matter that is so fascinating and inspiring, I don’t feel any need to enhance or embellish"
Can you remember your first free party?
Absolutely, It was in Wood Green Bingo hall in North London in 1997, my stomping ground. The instant I walked through the door I felt like I’d found my home.
What captivated and inspired you about the scene?
Art and community and finding people I could identify with. The unique beauty and honest self-expression to be found in the individual’s and spaces.
Do you employ any particular methods when developing your photo’s?
I would say that my approach has always been to not apply any manipulation methods. I make use of natural or found light as opposed to artificial. I’m a big believer in the truth of the image. I’m lucky that I’ve found a subject matter that is so fascinating and inspiring, I don’t feel any need to enhance or embellish.
Could you tell us about your creative process?
I follow my gut feeling; the decisions made about composition and content are all instinctive.
"I have felt under a lot of pressure over the last few years to 'go digital'. I finally came to a decision and in turn, achieved peace of mind about the subject"
What’s your position on the digital vs. analogue photography debate?
Without a doubt I’m a traditionalist. Even when digital photography started to emerge in the early ‘Noughties’ I was neither interested, nor tempted. One major technical issue for me was that most of my photography is reportage and capturing exact moments is a vital element, and unless you paid sky high prices for the most advanced DSLR’s, there was always a delay when pressing the shutter.
I have continued to use a fully manual SLR (Pentax MX) for photographing parties. The authenticity of the photo is in the very grain of the film. Viewers believe in the image more, on a subconscious level – they trust more in what they are seeing.
My Pentax MX is older than me and will probably outlive me. It can survive a few knocks. The lens and camera technology has already peaked. I’m confident that I’m using the best at an affordable price.
I have felt under a lot of pressure over the last few years to ‘go digital’. I finally came to a decision and in turn, achieved peace of mind about the subject. I would carry on shooting my personal projects, those I was most passionate about, with film, but buy a DSLR and use it for ‘work’, as this was what the commercial world seemed to demand.
Of course I appreciate that digital cameras have many benefits like instant viewing and being able to transfer images instantaneously off to an editors desk.
I actually still enjoy the excitement of getting developed negatives back after a wait even though it’s more inconvenient than ever to develop film because of the digital takeover. I wouldn’t say analogue photography is a lost art just yet. I even believe that many people in the media world, having jumped on the fast moving digital bandwagon and are now realising the limits of digital technology. Their personal preferences are turning back to the quality that can be achieved from simple film – though the reality of the industry means that digital will still prevail.
"My photography is about balanced social documentary and not about making a political statement"
10 years is a long time, how do you think the ‘free party’ scene has changed?
The book covers ten years but I have been documenting it much longer and of course the party scene has existed more like three decades so far. Again this is discussed in the introduction, but to sum it all up the party scene is ever evolving. The phrase ‘mutate to survive’, which is also the name of an techno record label, springs to mind as this is what has had to happen, not just because of new laws but also creatively. Of course the British party scene has changed—the music, the locations—breaking out and uniting with Europe and the rest of the world.
The parties to me, seem like a cultural rebellion of the ‘status quo’ and systems of control we have across Europe, becoming for some, a lifestyle choice. What’s your take on it?
I wouldn’t say that the lifestyle choice is necessarily exclusively to do with rebellion. In some cases it has nothing to do with reacting politically like you suggest. For many it is about community and music.
The media often suggest, as do politicians that the scene is potentially dangerous to or inflammatory against the so-called system. This is a stereotype I am trying to break through my photography by showing creativity and positivity instead of opposition and negativity.
The scene is about so much more than that and this is somewhat hidden under layers of politics that not everyone in the scene necessarily agrees or empathize with. I would say it’s not so much the scene reacting against the system in many ways, but the system reacting against the scene. This topic is explored in the introduction of the book and is a parallel narrative to the personal journey throughout my photographic career.
Do you think this is healthy?
My photography is about balanced social documentary and not about making a political statement.
"Encouraged by my art teacher to take a camera out at the weekend... that’s where the love of both photography and parties began"
Was there a particular place, time or person in your life that motivated you to these parties and photographic style?
I was picked out by a couple of friends at school, presumably because I had an alternative look at the time – purple and black hair and piercings. I’m guessing that my look indicated an open-minded attitude. These two friends were excited by their recent discovery of squat parties and urged me to come along. At that time I wasn’t even into dance music, but I eventually gave in, and was instantly attracted by the wondrous new community I saw.
Back at school, in art A-level lessons, we’d started looking at photography and learning how to develop black & white prints, and I’d consciously decided that I wanted to excel in this new subject. Encouraged by my art teacher to take a camera out at the weekend…I did…to my second party…and that’s where the love of both photography and parties began.
My style, wasn’t consciously shaped by anything, but I’m sure I was influenced by my dad’s work. Also the need to gain people’s trust in this underground scene was a stylistic influence, because no-one liked the idea of being photographed I had to prove I wasn’t about voyeuristic sensationalism. I was very aware that a sensitive and respectful approach was needed. I go into describing these hurdles in greater detail in the book.
What have been your top 3 parties over the years and why?
Wow…Difficult. Best to just go with ones off the top of my head:
New Year’s Eve 2000-2001 in Badalona, Spain. I’ve never seen so much creative effort go into a party of such size. Even in that vast empty building I had to fight for artistic space to do slide projections. The midnight parade of stilt walkers, fire breathers and a mechanical dragon was breath taking. Most importantly you knew you weren’t at a commercial club with a huge entertainment budget. This was a maximum effort done for minimal money in a free space by passionate people. Unforgettable.
Any one of the legendary Headfuk/Hekate Halloween parties. Again, so much creative effort gone into producing an all round experience, not a just a loud sound-system.
East Runton, Norfolk Aug 2003, due to a mistake on the phone lines, not a single punter turned up—at first a huge disappointment, but with no pressure to please any crowds, much fun, silliness and bonding was had amongst the crew. I wish I could add more but I could go on for ever.
"I knew that I wanted to carry on taking photos at free parties and that one day I’d have a collection that could be turned into an archival book"
Did you consciously plan to create this portfolio of work (an artistic vision) or did it evolve over time?
I can’t remember a specific moment, but right from the beginning, say 1998, I knew that I wanted to carry on taking photos at free parties and that one day I’d have a collection that could be turned into an archival book, that would truly represent the scene over time. but something like that had to be done properly and not rushed, so I kept on partying and photographing and no matter what else was happening in life, the book was always in my mind, and I couldn’t commit to any other career path without completing it first.
Are you planning any exhibitions for your prints?
There was a small exhibition of prints (small in context with the number of photos in the book) at the Foyles Gallery Space, where I had the London launch. It was very well received, however it was limited in size and duration. Partly because the lion’s share of work has gone into producing the book. Now that it is published, I would love to do more extensive exhibitions….galleries, get in contact!
Summer’s just kicking off… What do you have planned?
Well the event I’m most looking forward to and big event for me this summer is the Boomtown Fair – this festival has all the energy, creativity and vibe of the free party scene but with a much more family friendly atmosphere and an unbelievable line up of reggae, ska, gypsy, rockabilly.
I’m also working as an official photographer at Glastonbury Festival for Arcadia and also at Boomtown, for Dystopik Productions who I’ve worked with on the macabre and futuristic Bodyshop venue at various festivals. Of course there will be free parties going on throughout the summer, either in the UK or Europe—I’ll definitely be going to some, but don’t know which ones yet. I’ll see which way the sound waves blow!
"There's been a resurgence of squat parties in England that have taken on a new bold form partly due to the recession"
With your book about to hit the shelves, you must be wondering ‘What’s Next?’ Have you considered what your next project will be?
Yes, and I can’t wait to get going on it. Out of Order spans 10 years 1997 – 2006. at 448 pages, it’s a hefty book, I had to stop somewhere. But that doesn’t mark the end of my work in this subject.
Since 2006 I’ve been traveling further afield, following the growth and movement of the free party scene in places such as Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco. There’s been a resurgence of squat parties in England that have taken on a new bold form partly due to the recession. I don’t plan to be photographing parties forever mind you, but traveling and documenting cultures will always appeal.
I also hope to give lectures at colleges and Universities about ethics and consequences of documentary photography because I feel very strongly about the morals and impact of social documentary photography, despise the culture that exists of photographers abusing the trust of their subjects, forsaking ethics in order to further their careers and feed the media love of sensationalism.
Any shout-out’s to friends, family and party crews?
Massive shout out to my incredibly talented and indispensable team, Caroline Stedman (writer), Marie Ponting (Designer & Creative Director), Robin Moree (digital imaging mastermind and patron saint of damaged negatives), Jon Lewis (printing Tsar) Tangent Books my publishers, my parents for untold amount of expertise help advice and encouragement. Every person involved in producing this book, publicist to printer to financial adviser…were all persons who had roots in the party community. That added more than a little magic to the project. Big up to all the free party sound-system crews, past and present, for keeping the movement going and all who gave me their trust and were their beautiful honest selves in front of the camera.
All photography by Molly Macindoe. Order a copy of Out Of Order here.Molly MacindowRave