Irwin Barbé captures the sensory experiences of raving in new book Mydriasis
Mydriasis is a medical term for the natural dilation of the pupil, usually a result from low light conditions, trauma – or drugs. It’s from this term that French photographer Irwin Barbé, along with Lyon-based graphic design studio Service Local, have woven together a collection of photos and prose to form the book Mydriasis.
A fragmentary documentation of house and techno parties, Mydriasis pulls images from over 40 photographers, DJs, promoters and ravers embedded within a span of global dance scenes. It captures the transcendence of raving, the mind-spinning moments of euphoria and the ephemeral in-between moments deep in the rave. Outside the club, it also freeze-frames those magical post-club hours and foggy mornings after the night before.
With the images sourced from amateur, emerging and professional photographers across the globe, Mydriasis’ evocative visuals focus on the psychological, emotional and atmospheric experiences of raving. Below, we talk to Irwin Barbé on how he pieced together the book, shifts in club culture and how it’s changed over the years.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself? What was your first entry into raving and when did you start documenting the scene?
I’m a 25-year-old photographer and videographer currently living in Paris. When I arrived here, I started going out a lot but I got sick of the parties that were popular at the time in Paris. Then, through several friends like Simon [of label CLFT] and Sidney [of Latency], I discovered this other world that I had no idea existed: tiny, weird clubs with no lights except for one strobe, people dancing to super minimalist music and staying up for 48 hours. And as I’ve always taken pictures of my friends, I naturally started documenting these spaces and the people I met.
How did the idea behind this book begin?
The idea began in a very organic way: with a few friends. We simply realised how similar the pictures we took were and instinctively felt that they could become truly powerful if they were merged together in some sort of stream of thought. Also there is a sense of melancholy in the act of partying, because it is so evanescent, and creating this book was a way for us to anchor our memories and mental images into something solid; something that couldn’t be erased, that couldn’t be lost.
How did you go about finding collaborators and selecting the images?
To find the collaborators, we just talked about the project around us. It spread pretty fast, and we received some amazing submissions. We continued searching for pictures over six months, and then when we felt we had gathered enough material, we started working on the structure of the book.
Why did you choose to organise the book thematically rather than chronologically?
The pictures featured in the book were all shot over the course of the last six years, but even the photographers couldn’t remember the context and date behind each of their pictures. We quickly realised that organising them chronologically or geographically could be awkward, as our goal was not to make a visual anthropological study of these subcultures. We wanted to create a book that would be an immersive and emotional experience. A book that would translate all the mixed feelings that can be experienced throughout an intense night of partying. An imaginary space where the craziest party memories are stored.
Who wrote the abstract prose and what do you think it brings to the collection of images?
I wrote these text fragments with Clementine and Tiego [of Service Local], who also took care of the graphic design of the whole book. They are actually a blending of real memories, fantasies and stories we overheard at parties. We were inspired by trip reports, in which people write about their psychotropic and psychedelic experimentations. Some of these texts are very moving because they project you into the lives of people you don’t know, and yet feel close to in many ways. For Mydriasis, we felt it was important to add a similar narrative layer that would enable the reader to create imaginary links and stories between the images.
Why did you choose to crowdfund the book?
Crowdfunding felt like the right choice to us because, even though many photographers are involved, Mydriasis is a really personal project. All the photographers submitted intimate and honest images of moments that were, in a way, not supposed to be seen by other people, so we had to keep complete creative control over the project.
You’ve said that the aim of working with a collective of international photographers was to “discover how people from the different geographical and socio-economical backgrounds adapt these codes and rituals”. Are there any constant threads that can be found throughout the book?
It was interesting to compare all the images we received from different parts of the world, and one of the most peculiar elements is probably the use of analogue photography. It creates a very unsettling atmosphere because the pictures become extremely hard to contextualise. I even received messages from people who saw images of Mydriasis and thought it was a book about the 90s rave and club scenes. It also creates a parallel with the way electronic music has evolved these last few years, both drawing inspiration from past genres and trying to create something new from these obsolete codes and technologies.
What the book partially aims to document are “the new ways of partying that our generation (re)invents”. How has the dance scene changed for you over the years and what are your thoughts on cultural resurgences and shifts in music?
I got into techno and house around seven years ago now, and even though this is a short time, I could feel big changes. In Europe it is almost becoming part of mainstream youth culture now. I think it’s interesting because even though the movement is kind of losing its disruptive and transcendental essence, it still enables some young people to get glimpses of underground subcultures and other ways of life.
Mydriasis is by essence a one-shot project, something that we tried not to overthink, so we don’t have specific publishing plans for the future, but we had the idea of doing other books exploring the same universes as Mydriasis but more focused on specific cities. For example, there is a thriving electronic scene in South Africa and we feel it could be really interesting to have a visual translation of how they party there. We’re also super interested in how these cultures are evolving in Mexico and South America.
Photography: Agne Petraityte, Basile Peyrade, Basile Pierre, Camille Gérenton, Céline Mosz, Diane Barbé, Ella Hermë, Etienne Vergier, Florent Hadjinazarian, Francis Dufeu, George Nebieridze, Hugo Ramos, Kais Dhifi, Katerina Andonov, Kristina Podobed, Léa Signe, Lena Petit, Lesha Berezovskyi, Louise Ernandez, Lucia Martinez, Luis Nieto, Malou Raulin, Margaux Patris, Netti Hurley, Nicolas Bourthoumieux, Pauline Quartco, Zé Pedro Henrique, Polyka Srey, Sasha Vernaeve, Séan Schermerhorn, Sebastien Robert, Selma Rossard, Simon Chambon-Andreani, Szymon Malecki, Ted Shin, Cecilia Corsano-Leopizzi, Teres Bartunkova, Tom Murchie, Yu Lin Humm and Zoë Guthrie
You can help fund Mydriasis via Ulule.