Careers & Ed: Photo pro

Making clubbing a career

A line snakes down Fell Street on a Friday evening in front of the Rickshaw Stop, where Meleksah Jurgenson cradles a large camera and surveys the over- and underdressed revelers in Hayes Valley. A man in bright sneakers and slouchy jeans calls her over: "Dude, Meleksah! You gotta take a photo of this!" He gleefully points to a poor shlub on the curb resting a weary head on his knees. The guy's been there, immobile, for at least 20 minutes.

Jurgenson smiles apologetically. With her long brown hair pulled back and bangs cut straight across her forehead, her face is girl-next-door lovely: sweet, a little sly, and essentially nonthreatening. Like the sidewalk lush, her camera remains fixed in her hands. She doesn't shoot.

"I want everyone to look back at the pictures and be just as excited [to see them] as I was to take them," she explains later. A native of Washington, DC — her mother is a photographer at the White House — Jurgenson is now a resident cameraperson at Mezzanine, as well as at the weekly Frisco Disco and Blow Up parties cohosted by her husband, Jeffrey Fare, at the Transfer and the Rickshaw Stop. (Fare, a former member of postpunk dance purveyors the Rapture, DJs at these parties under the names DJ Jefrodisiac and Jeffrey Paradise.)

A rigorously spontaneous career track — "I never make plans for the future," she says — found Jurgenson working as both a model and a party planner. "So it was a natural progression to move from booking and throwing parties to [hosting] nightclubs," she says. "And to move from shooting fashion editorials to being on the other side of the camera. I just fell into it."

As she walks around the Rickshaw Stop, the regular disco kids light up. Hugs and air kisses are exchanged; everyone poses, happily and extravagantly. The photos, tagged with a hot-pink stripe signed "Lady Meleksah," then pop up on the various outlets where she serves as contributor or founder: Blow Up's official Web site, Jurgenson's makeshift party-photo outlet, and electro-music blog, in addition to her personal MySpace and Flickr accounts.

But Jurgenson isn't on the typical photographer career track. These days, young arts professionals are pushed to consolidate their work online, have extensive multimedia experience at their fingertips, and create profiles on sites such as LinkedIn to attract employers. So there's something old school about what Jurgenson does: take photos, make friends, and get hired. The ease of social-networking sites comes along with random and uneven exposure, so she figures if you're not being seen around town having a legitimately good time, then maybe you're not the right person for the job.

In fact, Jurgenson, who only began shooting professionally two years ago, doesn't even — gasp! — have an online portfolio. Despite this, she's done some band shoots and magazine work. But her bread and butter is the nightclub scene. "I love the people, I love the music, I love the sex. I love the dancing. I love everything about it," she says. "Having the camera is almost secondary. I come home after these parties with bruises and beer spilled all over me, and I wouldn't have it any other way." And the parties keep getting bigger: she shot the Winter Music Conference in Miami last month and will shoot at Coachella.

Perhaps one reason Jurgenson is so successful is that she has a slightly different take on club photography from the norm. For example, sites such as Los Angeles's Cobra Snake or New York's Last Night's Party often court controversy for their photographers, who are criticized for taking advantage of the subjects' inebriated states as much as for their photos. Visually, the images feature the short-range flash that briefly illuminates bleary-eyed faces and exposed bodies.

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