Lionel Kiernan’s MACK-shortlisted book, At Night, explores the mechanics of club life in Melbourne, and the interactions, desires, and dramas that collide in after dark
“I’ve spent so much time in the dark, listening to loud music and just watching people, trying to see who I can take photos of and sussing out the environment” says Lionel Kiernan. “My work is a recording of what we can see with the naked eye in these constantly repetitive environments”.
At 21, Kiernan is the youngest photographer, and only Australian, to ever be shortlisted for the MACK First Book Award. After graduating from the Photography Studies College in Melbourne in 2017, Kiernan was nominated for the award this year with his first major body of work, At Night, documenting Melbourne’s diverse nightlife.
Inspired by British photographer Derek Ridgers, Kiernan’s images are tightly cropped and confrontational, drawing on years of experience working as a club photographer, making useful connections with nightclub owners, DJs, and promoters. “I’d been in so many nightclubs that I knew the mechanics of it and how it worked,” he says. “Every weekend I was going to three or four different clubs and observing people for hours on end,” he says.
Rather than photographing stereotypical scenes of intoxicated young adults, Kiernan wanted to present a different way of seeing club culture. “I wanted the viewer to realise sights they might not have registered in the past – sights that, if you were to look closer, you could recognise for what they are,” he explains.
“A lot of clubs I worked at had themed nights, like halloween or ’90s pop, which led to unusual outfits,” he adds. “People behave differently than they would in a normal setting, which I was really attracted to.”
Kiernan wanted to create a sense of unease and tension in his images, through the subjects he shot matter but also in the way he cropped them post-production. “Creating new images from within another image allowed me to express a whole other meaning,” he says. “It makes you wonder what’s going on and where it’s actually been taken.”