“I deal with many different disciplines including photography, design and painting. What is important to me are the relevant themes, the topics and content, which are above the discipline. I want to show, discuss and work with material that has a social impact, significant to society and even obvious within our human nature.”
Berlin based designer and architect Yasmine Benhadj-Djilali grew up in Algiers and Cologne. She studied architecture at the RWTH Aachen and taught at the Technische Universität Darmstadt where she focused on cities in transition with an emphasis on violent upheaval in the Arabic world. She is the founder of architecture & design studio YBDD in Berlin and in addition curates the Benhadj & Djilali gallery connected to her studio.
I met Yasmine when I saw her exhibit of Alfred Steffen’s stunning Prince photos, together with his ‘Comfort Zone’ series – photos taken from the unisex restrooms of the legendary long running Cookies club of Berlin. I showed her the late Chicago photographer Michael Abramson’s photos of mid-70s South Side Chicago blues/jazz/funk nightclubs which immediately fascinated her.
“The photos touched me deeply. . their clear illumination of this refuge, an escape we all know, that stands apart from our everyday lives – this parallel temporary nighttime universe of potential serenity and enjoyment. I’m fascinated by the effects of music and alcohol standing for a vision or hope of a better life. The so called ‘good life’ – this combination of illusion and fantasy – its unique fashion and atmosphere. Different from the ‘Cookies’ photos – this is a completely underground scene – there are very few white individuals. It’s an entirely black domain, totally relaxed, almost private and exclusive.”
A lot has been written about how Michael Abramson, a young white student at the time, was able to infiltrate this scene – made to feel welcome so much that he photographed there for almost three years after initial hesitation. He became a fixture at a series of clubs, a character whom Blues legend Lonnie Brooks called the ‘picture man’.
Next to his ballroom and strip club work of the same time period it is the South Side photos which have become Abramson’s most celebrated work – featured in two significant publications. As reported by the LA Times upon his untimely death in 2011, Abramson felt that as a traveled photographer he had been to ‘every part of the planet’ but had never felt so ‘far away as I was when I was on the South Side of Chicago. Not because it was exotic, in the misused sense of that word, but because it was so exhilarating.’