Back in 1997, Jason Manning started photographing lively events like gay pride on Clapham Common in South London. “It was comprised of people of all sorts and I think I was quite moved by the inclusivity of it all,” he remembers. “London was, to a greater or lesser extent, like a never-ending party. There was always something to attend.”
Inspired by the work of luminaries like Garry Winogrand and Larry Fink, Manning started building a portfolio to secure work as a photojournalist. As fate would have it, his friends had just launched the "post-drug culture" magazine and style bible Sleazenation, and needed a nightlife photographer to take their club listings section to the next level.
“We didn’t want to be Mixmag, we wanted to be National Geographic,” said Tristan “Stan Fontan” Dellaway, Sleazenation’s first art director. “We wanted to do club photography like it was war photography.”
Manning was just the man for the job. Over a ten-year period, he traveled the globe chronicling intimate scenes of intoxication, pleasure and release at a time when many clubs maintained a strict “no photos” policy.
“I would often be the only person in the place with a camera,” Manning says. “Most people were fine about being shot but not always and that was okay with me. I was looking for rarified moments and that informed the choices I made. Sometimes the most interesting people or situations were also the most difficult to negotiate. In those situations, the urgent need to get the shot ultimately drives the whole thing and I think most people respected my motivations."
With the opening of his new exhibition Night by Night at Lebenson Gallery in Paris on April 28th, Manning revisited this seminal era of club culture in over 20 cities around the world at the turn of the millennium. From Ibiza to Helsinki, Moscow to Seoul, Manning chronicled scenes of hedonistic bliss and escape, crafting an exquisite archive of nightlife history that only becomes more resonant with the passage of time.
“The clubs I frequented offered a kind of refuge from the ravages and mundanity of everyday life,” Manning recalls. “I saw them as fictional spaces with a colourful cast of characters that by and large welcomed all comers. There was definitely a sense that ‘anything goes’ which was indicative of the inclusivity that was celebrated in these places."
To capture the energy of the scene, Manning stayed late, taking it all in, not making any pictures until the night was at its peak. “Put simply, when people attain a certain level of inebriation, they tend to make better subjects,” he says. “I also found that if I attained a certain level of inebriation then the whole exercise took on a kind of fluidity, a choreography.”
After rediscovering these images in 2020, Manning reconnected with a forgotten chapter of his past. “Remembering things having been prompted by a photograph is a tender way of reminiscing and some of the resulting evocations have been strangely detailed,” he says. “It’s been quite a mysterious process. Sometimes it’s like looking at someone else’s work.”