Photographs have become indispensable to our nightlife: there’s no party unless it’s pictured. Amid the lazer beams, and tri-coloured stage lights, is the cacophony of tiny camera-phone flashes, setting off about the crowd. Snapping images is part of what it means to share, enjoy and curate our after-dark experiences. A night on the town clusters around various photo opportunities: getting dressed, meeting up with friends, the taxi ride, the big arrival, the bathroom graffiti, the pavement banter, the ride home, maybe even a selfie before bed. It’s a life documented, a record of existence.
Although we are now all Insta-photographers, we are not simply interested in being seen and recorded: we also hope to be captured well. If anything, an Insta-culture has attuned our eyes to quality lighting, design and composition. We are an aesthetically discerning generation, concerned with packaging our lives with the right colour schemes and filters: the quotidian as art.
Curating our visual record becomes far more difficult after dark. Phone cameras flail in a low-light environment. Increasingly, nightlife promoters are recognising that part of what makes an event ‘lit’ is expert photography. That has been the business of On-Air Entertainment.
On-Air is comprised of young photographers. Nights spent taking pictures in clubs soon flourished into a business. Entirely self-taught, the crew accumulated more and more gear as they continued to work. In their early twenties, they established a company. ‘Over the years you get your style’ Leander explains. ‘That’s how you know that’s the shot you need to take. Your creativity comes out in that space’.
On-Air have now been in the business for eight years, splintering into corporate work, fashion shoots, photo-booths, social uploading, videography and an array of events photography. Their newly renovated studio is tucked away in a suburban area in Montgomery Park. Simply driving past, one would have no idea that behind the neat lawns and flower beds, were three of the biggest events photographers in the game, who spend their nights capturing sound, light and bodies at high velocity.
Amid the lightning-fast traffic of uploaded night-photography, On-Air recurs again and again in the image peripheries. Jo’burg’s nocturnal city is being captured by their lenses. From Black City and Pop Bottles, to J-Cole at the dome, massive Zone 6 gigs, and the most recent SAMA Awards.
Scan through an On-Air catalogue and it’s difficult to miss their sharp-lens perspective: a top-lit crowd receding into a horizon of smoke and spotlight; a DJ ascending from the decks, basking in purple light; a sea of heads arched in submission towards the stage lights. Despite the dark room and crowd current, bodies are captured and suspended in perfect technicolour. On-Air are shaping how we remember our nights on the city. Their photographs, astutely composed and lit, offer a shortcut to nostalgia.
There’s a now well-known idiom: ‘Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like’. And that is what On Air have done: pictures of awe, power, ecstasy, release, and solidarity. Through these selective images, audiences are able to extract blissful moments from the long hours spent waiting in line, the drinks spilled, the desperate scrambles towards the stage, the broken glass. The carefully chosen images tease out these transcendent moments from the negatives, re-enchanting us, keeping us coming back.