In a world of socialites tagged in Billy Farrell Agency photos and party photography branded in the bottom corner, Luis Nieto Dickens’s photos stand out. On his site No Sleep NYC, Dickens documents where experimental art and music intersect with nightlife, a space where some of the most exciting things are happening in this city but an arena that often feels neglected since it belies narrow categorization and seems to be outside the purview of arts beat reporters covering institutional fare and music magazines focused on premiering digital releases. Dickens’s photos, rife with sweaty bodies and figures silhouetted in neon lights, are intimate and unpretentious. But it’s also his taste of what to cover that sets his work a part. We talked:
Do you get much sleep? How often do you make it home when the sun’s coming up?
The title of my blog does reflect my sleeping habits, but I have a day time job as well, so I have to take it slow during the week. Typically about four to five hours a night, and a 20 min nap sometimes during the day. Zzz. As for the weekend, let’s just say I see a lot of people in their morning run, it’s energizing!
How do you choose which events to cover?
I honestly rely on other people ’cause I’m not that cool, so I go on social media and figure out what’s going on, who’s going to what. By this point I’ve figure out where everyone’s going and sometimes I try to avoid those places. Most of the times, though, it’s about who I’m into and what could be the connection with the blog and who’s doing new or interesting things in the community.
One thing that’s really on view in your work is that in New York there’s a lot of overlap between experimental music and performance art and club and nightlife, but you don’t see this reflected in the way these niches tend to be covered. I’m curious how you see these worlds in dialogue with one another?
Well, it’s easy to classify these events into narrow categories, but sometimes when you have a techno warehouse party, the main attraction might not be the DJs, it might just be a group of people that come together and start performing something weird. Somehow that always happens at Ladyfag/Seva Granik’s SHADE, someone always, or most of the time, contributes something else that wasn’t expected. I feel the need to document, and, as a friend mentioned to me once, “immortalize” those moments.
I guess all these art/music magazines concentrate mostly on what their audience likes, so sometimes they won’t show certain things. I have the luxury of being independent so I can concentrate on whatever I want to cover for the blog, and feature whoever I want to feature and what feels important to me and to the people around me. There’s a lot of talent in New York but there’s also a lot of noise, so it’s a bit tricky to decide what to shoot and feature.
When did you first start taking pictures? What’s your earliest photo memory?
I’ve been hiding behind a camera for about 10 years, but it wasn’t till about two years ago that I started hiding behind a camera at venues and clubs. Early photography would feed my design and printmaking background, so I guess my earliest photo memory is more recent: I’ve had this Pentax Spotmatic 35mm for a while now, and I took it out with me one night for a Mykki Blanco concert at Glasslands, one of his earlier shows there, two years ago. I never developed that roll until recently, and only got a couple of good frames, but the whole experience, the mosh-pit, Mykki’s crazy performance, and seeing it through a lens is still very present.
What’s on the horizon for you with No Sleep NYC and your photo practice more generally?
Right now No Sleep is a post-show kind of thing, I want to transform it to pre-and-post-show (I’m looking for writers to contribute with reviews or interviews of musicians), I have a couple of mixtapes coming up from artists in the community, and some other projects/collaborations that go beyond nightlife and music.
All photos above by Luis Nieto Dickens, see more at NoSleep.Co