I’m just curious about what’s going on.
Recently I was able to speak at length with the artist and educator, Paul Mueller to reflect on his 1996 “Night Clubs” project.
We began our chat on how the idea for such a project came about. Mueller was attending the Academy of Art in San Francisco and working as a valet at a hotel next to an upscale nightclub.
On New Year’s ’95, his shift ended in the late evening and he went next door for a drink. He tells me, “I wanted to photograph, I had a small flash and Henry Wessel had lent me his [Leica] M2. I didn’t know what the exposure times were, I just set my camera to bulb and pressed the test button on my flash and hoped for the best.”
This began his obsessive year-long project on documenting nightclubs in the SoMA and Tenderloin districts. Mueller’s initial attempt to tap into the night-life culture as an introvert was challenging. “I hated nightclubs. I wanted to be at home listening to jazz,” he laughs. As time went on Mueller began to assimilate to the gaudy nightlife culture. With permission from the club owners, he could essentially be a fly on the wall and photograph freely.
Mueller’s photos present a unique take on the idea of nightlife and the partying lifestyle. Energetic and without hesitation, Mueller’s compulsion for formality can be seen throughout the series.
Though photographed two decades ago, the final edit was completed in 2015. I raise the question, “did you ever notice a theme about alcohol as a solution for sociability”? He tells me, “You know, it’s funny, at the time I didn’t but looking back now it definitely seems that way”. It’s ironic that people who intend on having a good time socializing must force themselves too by drinking. There also seems to be an apparent subtext of the way men look at women, yet appears to be aloof or lost in thought. “In a way I think it is a statement about the male gaze,” he says.
Mueller’s photos present a unique take on the idea of nightlife and the partying lifestyle. Energetic and without hesitation, Mueller’s compulsion for formality can be seen throughout the series. His work examines the blatant sexuality and overt masculinity which inhabits this portion of our society. More than that, it is an impression of a reclusive mind at work and one as curious as any, in recent times.
Paul Mueller is a commercial and fine art photographer and photo educator based in Oakland, California.
See more of his work