Cleo Campert Interview

Thisisprogressive had the honour of chatting with Cleo Campert as she finalizes the details of her ADE Playground exhibition ‘After’. The exhibition is part of the celebration of Holland’s 25 year old love story with dance music, Cleo will show photos from her years in the scene. The pictures are a mixture of photographs taken at parties in the RoXY, where she was the in-house photographer, but also photos taken at private after parties with djs, friends and artists in the Netherlands, and abroad. Cleo will run a display of her pictures at two locations, both in the Red Light District.

For those who have not heard about the RoXY it can best be described as Holland’s Studio 54, and its guest included some of the first djs, famous musicians and well-known artists from all over the world. They opened their doors in the late 80’s and had a great decade until 99’, when the venue unfortunately burned down. The fire happened on the same day as the funeral of one of its owners; Peter Giele.

If the walls could talk they would tell you stories about sex, drugs and dance music. RoXY was also the first club in Holland to play recoded electronic music, not to everyone’s admiration, and the venue itself was trend setting with its decorations and flamboyant themes that changed every six weeks.

When turning on Skype we are straight away stroked by Cleo’s natural beauty, dressed in a grey t-shirt and casually lounging on her sofa, she speaks with a charming Dutch accents and talks with great positive and enthusiastic gestures. Cleo captured images at RoXY from 98’ with her Niko F2, but as her photos became popular worldwide her career grew and she began traveling abroad and beyond to capture other venues and parties.

Firstly, thank you Cleo for taking time to talk to us, tell us a little about you, how did your story with photography start?

I always had an interest in photography from early school days, and my mum influenced me as well. I wasn’t really sure what to do with my career, so I thought” I’ll give photography a go”.

So what are you working on at the moment, just weeks away from ADE?

I am exhibiting 40 photographs in two locations, so at the moment I am having them all fitted and framed. It’s been a stressful few months, but seeing it all come together it’s such an amazing feeling. I am also working on an art installation that incorporates me collecting cigarettes butts, you know how there is always cigarettes butts and ashtrays everywhere in an after party, anyway, you will see…

Was it your idea to run this exhibition at the ADE Playground or how did the project surface?

Yes it was my idea actually, I had contacted the ADE organizers in the past, but the timing was not right, but this year, with the 25th anniversary of dance music, everything fell in to place. What better way to celebrate 25 years of dance music than with great “behind the scenes” photography?

You will be showing photographs outside the official ADE area, in the “off stage” part of ADE known as the ‘ADE Playground’, both locations being in the Red Light District, how come that you wanted to do show your photos there?

I think the The Red Light district is such a great part of Amsterdam, and a big tourist attraction. It is the perfect location for me to reach new audience, but also, the photography’s of love, party and music fits well in that environments. But I think from a tourist point of view, they will visit the Red light district to view my exhibition and will get to see all the other stuff as well.

Have the pictures you will be showing ever been viewed or exhibited before?

No, the photos on show in this exhibition have never been shown before. But three years ago there was an exhibition held from my other archives here in Amsterdam, I called it “The RoXY years”, and it was the 10 year anniversary after RoXY burned down. There was a big party in Paradiso to honour the club, and I held the exhibition in collaboration with the anniversary- it was great. I thought it was a good opportunity to get the photos shown. I also published a book in 2002 which I hold very dear, there is now initial talks of me possibly publishing another book, maybe… I haven’t decided yet.

So how come that you started working at the RoXY?

I was going out sense since I was 14 years old in Amsterdam, I went to all the clubs. One of the friends I made during the new wave period was Joost van Bellen, he was a dj working at The RoXY, and also one of their creative directors. So in 89’ I went up to him to ask if they needed a photographer. I had a bit of experience from taking pictures at legal raves, and I loved to take the pictures there as everyone was so outgoing and no-one was bothered by me taking pictures. So basically I just asked if they needed a photographer, and he was actually looking for someone to be the in house photographer. I have later been told that he liked the idea of a girl taking the pictures. As soon as I started it was a great “klick”, the photos turned out great and everyone was very supportive of the idea. So between the years of 89’-93’ I was there three times a week, with or without camera, and I loved it. The team where great, and they became my second family.

But I need to ask you, back then there was no internet, Facebook or twitter – where and how did you use your photos?

Yeah, it was actually a bit weird, I had an agreement that RoXY would pay for the films and development, as long as they could use the photos for whatever they liked. I would still have the copyrights, but if they wanted to they could use the photos for flyers, decoration and such. For a while we also had a monthly newspaper that went out to RoXY members, and in the magazine we had pictures, news and information about the events coming up, an agenda. There you could also read about the themes coming up and the idea behind the themes. But it was a great career turning point for me, because as the club got more known, journalists and magazines started approaching me for photos, and my work got printed in other media in relation to the RoXY. I am so happy that I today have this massive archive with amazing photography. As you mentioned the times where so different then, you were not so conscious with posing in pictures and the photos was much more natural and really different. If you takes photos today of people everyone naturally goes in a group and poses for the camera. Somehow then everything was more innocent, people was not so aware of themselves.

What is your fondest memory from working there?

Something that I always found very important for the RoXY was the building itself, it was an old cinema, from 1910, and the building was beautiful. The building for me is very special, I really love it. It had this beautiful celling, and very particular, for instance the other famous club during the time was The It. The It. was really popular but it was more of a box shape venue so it did not offer any particular atmosphere, the RoXY had great ambience and atmosphere. Of course the best times you had was on the dance floor at RoXY, the sound was great, always perfect. I think this is very important in a club, if the sound is good the rest follows. It was such a shame that the RoXY building burned down.

Can you tell us one crazy story from your time as a photographer in the music scene?

There is one story I can share, it was during a concert with Snap! abroad, they had a some huge euro house hits during the beginning of the 90’s and I was taking photos as their concert, and it was huge event in a stadium, very different from the smaller surrounding in the RoXY. When I take pictures I go it to my own world, and I just see what it in front of my lens. So I was working away, taking pictures of everything interesting that was happening, and then at one point I kind of “snapped out of it” and I realized that I was standing on the stage, next to the singer and had the whole stadium looking at me! So my initial thought was “I need to get out of here” and I made my way off the stage, but I realized the singer was following me down off the stage! It was an incredible moment that I will always remember. The best place to place you equipment is always in the dj booth, and I remember a few times dropping my things off in the dj booth at different clubs, and then standing up seeing the dance floor with all these people looking up at you, kind of worshiping and appreciating what you -“the dj”- do; playing music. I was not used to being the centre of attention, but there found myself really being looked at, and I understood the feeling that the dj’s and singers must have all the time – I will never forget that. There is probably more stories but this is the one that comes to mind instantly.

Which is your favourite photograph from Club RoXY?

It’s actually one from my book, this one…( She shows a picture of a lady wrapped in bubble wrap as a dress, with her breast out on a full dance floor at RoXY, and a big smile), this woman was always getting her breast out. For me this picture really captures the atmosphere at RoXY really well, how people could just be how they wanted, outrages and liberal, be really free. The previous show I had in 1999 was about the liberal view that RoXY had, anything could happen there, things that are not possible anymore, like drugs and sex. This picture is a really innocent example of what happened, but it captures the feeling. Another photo I really like is one that have been give great feedback and it will be shown in ‘After’ at ADE, it is a picture over the dance floor, in strobe light, so it kind of gives a “three photos in one” look. It shows a full dance floor at RoXY, and everyone that have ever been there always goes “Yeah, that’s exactly what it was like” so I’m really happy with that picture, that I was able to really capture a moment of how it was in there.

The picture you sent me, the one with the girl in the chair, with feathers, can you please tell us what we can seeing in the (photo above), let us in on the story?

Yeah that was me, at an after party in a friend’s home. He used to have huge garbage bags filled with decorations and feathers, and we were sitting there one morning, totally wasted, and he got all this stuff out for entertainments….and I don’t know if you ever have done ecstasy, but if you have, you might understand that everything got even better with the feathers all over me! The picture is taken by someone else that was at the party. Most of the time I went to after parties straight after working at RoXY or other venues, so I always had my camera with me, which now I am really happy for. Later in the 90’s when I was working for magazines and I was making reportages, then I was “really” working and not so much involved in the after parties. But the picture above is before those times…

So even though you were mostly taking photos in the RoXY and its after parties, you also mentioned you travelled to capture other parties, can you elaborate on that, where did you go and what did you see?

I went all over, as my career progressed I became the photographer that was asked for to capture events, which was great. I travelled to Berlin, in 96’ I went London, and Ibiza- of course- in 92. Ibiza wasn’t really work but we went a big group of us from RoXY and had a great time. There is a photo from an after party in Ibiza in the show. Of course I took a lot of pictures while there! I don’t remember all the parties I visited, it is too many to remember, but I do remember one trip we took with me as a photographer and driver, and we drove from Amsterdam to Milan, 18 hours in one go, for a set of one of the dj’s from RoXY. And ones we went Berlin for a Pink Floyd concert, and clubs, and when we went we had all white overalls with a big letter on the back, and when standing in order it spelled out the sentence “East West E is the Best”, of course when trying to spell it out in a full concert crowd it was a big mess – but it was fun!

Do you think there is any club as RoXY nowadays in Amsterdam?

There is a yearly great parties at the Paradiso which is really good, this party started originally in the RoXY and it is still a good event. Paradiso is a central concert venue that also does house music parties. Then there is an old pressroom club in the east part of Amsterdam called, Trouw, with a great sound system, I had a real “wow” experience. I visited that venue first time a few years ago and was really impressed with the sound, and that does not happen often nowadays.

So after its close in 1999 (after the fire), where did you go, what did you do?

I worked for a lot of magazines during the 90’, and sense 2000’ I done much more art photography. I wanted to broaden my photography to include more art, and still shots, which are more time consuming but great in other ways. I was a little bit tired to working in a very hectic environment and always on tight deadlines, so I started to emerge myself on the Amsterdam art scene a bit more. During the years I worked in the RoXY I did all my own stuff, I was very free in the role, which was great, but after the RoXY when moving to work with magazines it was very different, after a while I felt that wanted to do a bit more of my own stuff again. So sense 2000 I am very much in the art scene in Amsterdam, working on commission and all that. As I have got a bit older I prefer to hang out in bars, and friend’s houses then night clubs. Club land is not really happening for me anymore…

What are you doing currently, outside your ADE Playground exhibition, and what are your plans to come, more party pictures?

I am very happy with the exhibiting at the ADE playground, as the public and industry people get to see my archives, so I hope the “After” exhibition will be appreciated internationally, which is why I am happy that you, and thisisprogressive, have taken interest in my work. And hopefully more will come out of the photographs then just this exhibition.