Her Web site and moniker have become synonymous with the sloshed and sweaty shenanigans of L.A.’s cool kids and the underground ragers they frequent, but Shadowscene’s Ellei Johndro is far from just another “club photographer.” Unlike some novice shutterbugs who hopped the snapwagon when lens-toting characters such as the Cobrasnake started getting attention for their Web sites, Johndro’s had a passion for photography, editing and storytelling of all forms (creative writing was her major in college) since she was a teen growing up in Boston.
She started Shadowscene.com while still in Boston back in 2002, its original incarnation more of a personal showcase for her stark and, yes, “shadowy” cityscapes (lots of “streets and alleys,” she recalls). It wasn’t until she moved to Los Angeles seven years ago that the subject matter turned to after-dark hell-raising and earned serious hipster approval.
“When I first got here, I was still shooting shows and band stuff and doing some magazine work,” Johndro says. “I was going out every night just for fun, and sometimes I would bring my camera and shoot, and put it on Photobucket. I didn’t really have a section for that on the site yet, but people started requesting it.”
The site’s success really started to snowball when Johndro went from observer to promoter, throwing parties and events with the likes of Franki Chan (IHeartcomix) and Anne Lee, a close pal with whom she currently throws two consistently packed parties: Awesometown every other Wednesday at The Short Stop, and the downtown monthly Blow Up L.A. (the sister event to San Francisco’s popular dance party).
“Promoting comes from wanting to showcase up-and-coming artists,” the cute, unfussy 28-year-old explains over coffee. “You can only do so much when you’re the photographer for the party. ... I wasn’t getting enough fulfillment out of that.”
These days, photo sites are the ultimate promotion, and given Johndro’s friendly, seemingly restless nature, as well as her desire to provide an atmosphere rather than simply chronicle, it isn’t surprising. Despite the name, Shadowscene isn’t about looking — or lurking — from the outside but rather, being immersed right in the thick of the party, capturing a moment in time when the band hits its groove and the dance floor is about to combust.
Of course, in this narcissistic era of camera phones, Facebook and Twitter, it’s also about giving people a place to look at and promote themselves. What sets Johndro and her work apart from the rest is her genuine enthusiasm for who and what she’s shooting, and her level of participation. She doesn’t seem jaded by the relentless posing and partying, either — she’s still out every single night. “I’m very passionate about people in general. Meeting people and just documenting life. Every moment of life, every aspect of it. It’s not about going out and just snapping,” she says.
Johndro’s ability to showcase a moment, a person, and maybe more importantly a trend, has led to some high-profile gigs, including a Kitson ad campaign; an exhibit of her work on the walls of star-shopper hub Ron Herman/Fred Segal; and band shots in mags like BPM and Urb. Other pursuits/projects include a clothing line (“Botwear” featuring tees emblazoned with her drawings of robots), editing (an impressive video-booth project offers party patrons a chance to go wild and later be part of a music video she splices together), and a retrospective exhibit, titled “Fragments and Figmentations,” which opens on Thursday, April 23, at The Standard Hotel downtown.
“It’s based in the clubs but it’s more about the moment,” she says, fully realizing that scenester types will be looking for debauched high-jinx or pretty mugging seen in the nightlife section of her site. “It’ll be the stuff that most people probably look right over.”