Suitcase in hand and without knowing a scrap of English, Spanish photographer Kiev Ro, 28, arrived in the UK in 2012. Originally from the north of Spanish island Mallorca – far from the vomit-strewn streets of Magaluf – Kiev had never really been attracted to clubbing. That changed when he discovered the techno and trance scene in London.
At KAOS in Electrowerkz and gay parties such as Dirty Diana, Kiev started to meet like-minded people who became the inspiration for his photography. Seven years on, he’s channelled his love of partying into these photographic portraits of the capital’s late-night ravers.
VICE: Tell us a bit of your background – why did you move to London?
Kiev Ro: I got here in 2012 from Mallorca. I didn’t use to go out as much. When I arrived in London, it was like an explosion of a lot of people and different things that you wouldn’t see in Spain or anywhere else. Here everything is more visible than in a small island such as Mallorca. I came here and I started to meet a lot of people and to go out. I had been looking for a job in Spain but I couldn’t find anything… I came and I loved it here. I thought, I’m not going anywhere.
Why did you decided to come to London in the first place?
I had never been here before. I grabbed my suitcase, bought my flight ticket and came here. There wasn’t anything behind it – I didn’t even speak English, zero. It was the easiest place that came to my mind. I didn’t want to stay in Spain because I thought I didn’t had many options back there. I love Madrid and Barcelona, I wouldn’t mind living there, but I really like it here and I don’t know how things would be if I were to move there. I feel like in a way I belong here [in London] now.
Were you involved in photography before coming to the UK?
Yeah some, but not based in the same topics and subjects I photograph here. Here is completely different. I started photographing what I saw. I started going out in queer places and my mind expanded in [a] certain way to see that, having not been exposed to it in Mallorca. I started taking pictures basically for that. I wanted to somehow grab all the information that I was seeing and archive it… That’s why I started photographing.
You’ve been studying at London College of Contemporary Arts. What has your work taken from it?
I started studying there last year, but it’s not entirely related to the kind of photography I’m most interested in… My photography isn’t really technical, it has a style of social [realism] but it’s not photography of perfection, like the one you do in university or art school.
How did you start getting commissioned for techno parties in London like Volt?
I knew Polanski, who is one of the organisers [of Volt] and Antonio because I used to go out partying with him before taking pictures. I used to go out a lot and met a lot of people in the scene. It was like [it] all blended in together, no?
Now I don’t go out as much in that way – I’m more chill. But when I came here I said to myself, I [want to go] big, and tried to meet people. I needed to see and take in everything to the max.
How do normally people react to you photographing them in clubs?
Sometimes I think to myself: everyone must be thinking that I’m really invasive when I just flash a picture in their faces... In general, people do react well. It depends on how you get around. If you are a bit cool and dance a bit around, not necessarily dancing, but if they feel that you are there with them – not just looking... Normally everything is fine. People tend to get more uncomfortable if you are like an outsider and only there to take the picture, which has never been my case because I’m always partying and dancing as well as enjoying the night.
What’s the best party and where do you find the most interesting people?
People are mostly the same in all the parties I go to… I love Fold, it’s really cool; I love Unfold on Sundays; Corner, I really like it. I started going out a lot to KAOS in Electrowerkz. I know the people who put on their parties as well. I like Inferno as well.. There’s a lot in London. Papa Loko is great.
Have you been around Europe much and its dance music scenes?
I came back from Greece not long ago. I was in a place called Koukles, which is like an old drag show from like the 80s or 90s – very cool. But other than that I haven’t moved around a lot... Here in London, the looks and and scene is so strong and the people that I meet are so visually powerful that having documenting London, when I go somewhere else, it doesn’t strike me as much.
Have you experienced a more closed-minded environment since Brexit?
I now have my permanent [immigration] status but I don’t know what is going to happen – I don’t want to think about it... It’s really sad because London is a lot more than this whole thing [of Brexit]. There’s a lot of people who bring a lot to the city in an artistic or creative way – maybe it doesn’t give a lot of money but it brings a lot of visibility to London and the UK in general and it helps tourism as well.
Is photography your main source of income?
I’m now studying and I have a job one day a week in a little cafe and then sporadic jobs. Yesterday I worked at the door of a club.
Your work is principally portraits – why?
What I really like is to find the difference in little things that, for me, are very beautiful. I never think of them as “weird”... The reality is that the people I photograph are people I know. Most of them are friends or people I met at parties. I don’t see a weirdness in them because I’m one of them!