Explore Berlin’s Kinky Side with KitKatClub Photographer Gili Shani

Explore Berlin’s Kinky Side with KitKatClub Photographer Gili Shani

photos: Gili Shani.

I first met Gili Shani when he took my photo on a Wednesday night three years ago at KitKat. It may seem ironic that one of the most famous sex clubs in the world has a photographer, but no night by the pool would be complete without the sleek black and white moments it conjures up. Shani refuses to call himself an artist, insisting instead that he simply captures the atmosphere inside KitKat. Her photos offer a taste of what goes on within the legendary walls of the notoriously hedonistic space. However, his work simultaneously subverts the sexual nature of the nightclub, “What I do is a documentary,” he says, “it has nothing to do with sex”.

I sat down with Shani at Alexander Platz for coffee and discuss his time in Berlin, his job at KitKat, and what he did during his quarantine.

Let’s start with the basics. Where are you from and what brought you to Berlin?

Freedom brought me to Berlin. I’m from Israel but I didn’t like it there so I decided to move to Berlin 16 years ago. I worked for the Sage Club for six months before I came here – pulling flyers for them in Israel. I thought this was my opening to find a way to move to Berlin. Then they invited me here to be the house photographer for Sage Club. I left everything I had in Israel as a fashion photographer to come to Berlin and work in clubs.

How did you first get involved with KitKat?

I was still hanging out at KitKatClub. My girlfriend worked behind the bar there. It was the only club I went to – I mean of course Bar 25 and Berghain, at that time Ostgut – but always after working at Sage I went to KitKat. When I came to Berlin for the first time for six days, I went to KitKat and I was like, “OK, I’m home”. So when I moved to Berlin, I was there every weekend.

Photos are so taboo in Berlin clubs that they even put stickers on our phones. How did you get the privilege of being the photographer for one of Berlin’s most private and explicit clubs?

Well that’s a long story. Officially there is no photographer at KitKat, I was there for over a decade trying to take pictures. I have asked the owners for years, but they have always refused. I fully understand the no-photography policy, especially at the time. No one had Instagram, no one took pictures; we didn’t feel like we needed it. But I think with the progress of the last few years, KitKat has become much more open to the public, especially since he moved to Mitte and wasn’t very far in Tempelhof.

“When I first came to Berlin for six days, I went to KitKat and I was like, okay, I’m home.

My work with them started thanks to Gegen, they asked me to photograph their events and then I went to the owners of KitKat and showed them the photos and they liked them. We have set some ground rules for what I can photograph. Of course, I don’t have the freedom to do what I want; I have to get people’s consent and the others in the background have to be removed. I don’t know if anyone notices, but in a lot of my photos there are headless bodies in the background. Anything that can be used to identify a person, a tattoo or something like that needs to be touched up. This is the case at KitKat, but if I work for Symbiotikka or Gegen, they advertise that there will be a photographer, and everyone knows about it so it’s a lot easier. But of course I always ask people first, I would never take a photo without consent. But still, I am allowed to take pictures of the whole club at these events. It took me a long time to convince the owners of KitKat, but we finally came to an agreement. That was about four and a half years ago.

How do you balance the explicit nature of what’s going on at KitKat with a public art form such as photography?

Like I said, I always ask permission from people. But I always try to show KitKat from my point of view; to capture the most open-minded and interesting people.

What is KitKat in your opinion? What is the atmosphere you are trying to capture?

Well, first of all, the freedom to do whatever you want. I mean, that’s why people go to KitKat. I think KitKat has changed over the years, even people who hang out in the most traditional clubs around the world come to KitKat as tourists. They come to Berlin specifically to come to KitKat, they buy the right clothes to get in and put all that effort into attending the events. I think it’s important for me not to shoot people who come from H&M and have bought a bodysuit. I like to photograph people who stand out, people who are free.

How have the club and the scene evolved over the past decade?

I remember when I first came to Berlin I was working in traditional clubs and I used to party at KitKat and invite my friends from these other clubs and they said to me: “You are crazy? KitKat is a BDSM club, there are some crazy people in there. But I think today KitKat has become – I wouldn’t say mainstream – but it’s more accessible. First of all because he moved to Mitte. Second, thanks to Instagram, people can look online and see what’s going on at the club. But this development is part of Berlin’s history. I never call myself an artist, I just document. I seize the moments, I seize the time.

“I have to give back to the club that is at home.”

How has the pandemic changed your line of work?

Well, I think it touches me like everyone else: no job. But I think it’s particularly important to support the club at this time; there is the Etsy page for KitKat where people can buy my photos. I have to give back to my home club. I also did a book called Voyeur.Berlin.Kinky during this time …

Tell me about the book!

Voyeur.Berlin.Kinky’s idea was to start shooting people in their homes because all clubs were closed. I found it a bit exhausting to go all over Berlin and talk to everyone, but Chris (the promoter of Symbiotikka) came to me and wanted to collaborate on making the book. I told him if he organized people, I would shoot him. In two weeks, Chris had 250 people who wanted to be put down in a perverse way for the book. We drove about 2,500 km around Berlin shooting corona on people in their homes. It was a really amazing experience for me because at KitKatClub I come to take pictures and leave, I don’t talk to the people I photograph or spend time with them. But if someone lets you into their house, you really get to know them because it’s their house; it was a very intimate project. I’m really proud of the book and I don’t think anyone has ever done something like this in Berlin. It took us about six weeks to shoot; while everyone was locked up, I was pretty busy. I didn’t even have time to finish all of my Netflix series or be depressed like everyone else.

So how and when can we get our hands on a copy of Voyeur.Berlin.Kinky?

We wanted to release it at the end of October. We were going to print it in Poland, but they’re Catholic and haven’t let us in so it looks more like mid-November now. You can still pre-order or support Voyeur.Berlin.Kinky for a few more days here.

Diesen Artikel auf deutsch lesen.

Adri
by Adri
October 13, 2020
in Party, People

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