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A Night at The Fridge

Mels Evers

While the London club scene was still recovering from the New Romantics, Punks and Blitz Kids, Wolfgang Tillmans, then an emerging Hamburg-based photographer, contemplated a move to England. A year before enrolling at the Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design, he attended a party at The Fridge, the nightclub in Brixton, London. As with many of the club’s buzzing nights, it was filled with artists, musicians and designers.

They came to inspire and be inspired – to be part of a close-knit community with whom they would explore new forms of art production, blurring the boundaries between film, performance, fashion, music and photography. Nightclubs formed the perfect backdrop for new forms of art production.

A review of the The Fridge published in the American OffBeat Magazine, in the same year this photograph was taken, stated: “Every space is crammed with screens and yet more hang from the, still burnt, ceiling, and as many as 14 go-go dancers gyrate around the sides, while the stage is always a masterfully arranged set piece – everything is on the move.”

As the young photographer snapped this picture of the songwriter and DJ Princess Julia and the openly gay new wave musician Vaughan Toulouse, he captured the chaotic buzz of the club, nudging us into thinking that we really should have been there. On the left side of the photograph Princess Julia covers her ears. Pressed to her left shoulder, Vaughan Toulouse glances over the shoulder of the photographer, looking past Tillmans’ lens.

The picture offers an intimate glimpse into the night but also records an important time in Britain’s queer history. A year before Tillmans took this picture, a new series of laws, Section 28, had been introduced by Thatcher’s Conservative government, prohibiting local authorities to “intentionally promote” homosexuality. Although these laws further institutionalised homophobia across the UK, key nightclubs continued to celebrate queer culture.

Another look at the photograph might offer an alternative reading. Whilst Princess Julia shields herself from the unwanted noise of the outside world, Vaughan Toulouse gazes beyond us, making us feel unsure as to whether we are closely being watched or just completely ignored.

March 2022

Artist / Maker