Walking into a foreign backstreet bar without as much of a hint of its native language under your belt is pretty brave. Bringing your camera along to capture its locals? Even more so. That’s the situation Finnish photographer Henrik Malmström found himself in upon stumbling across der Kleine-Kiez, St. Georg – Hamburg’s smaller red light district and, in contrast, home to the city’s largest concentration of mosques.
Renting a room above one of the more ‘heavier’ pubs, he explains, “One of the first things I noticed was the mixture of the people in the streets: immigrants, prostitutes, alcoholics. You would hear fighting and shouting at night and in the morning – it was open around the clock.” Piquing his interest, Malmström couldn’t resist capturing the chaos – now released in his new book Life is One, Live it Well.
Although skeptical at first as to why he was documenting their drinking, the locals soon warmed to him and he went on to photograph the area for four years, becoming friendly with the pubs’ owners and patrons alike. He says: “What I learned was that all the people hanging out in the bars were normal, good people. But, of course, some naturally didn’t want to be seen or photographed in that environment.” To show respect for them, most images are faceless, shot from the side or behind. In a mix of off-the-hip style portraits of kissing couples, sleeping customers and poker machine players, Malmström opens a voyeuristic window proving that some of the most fascinating, yet forgotten, bars, wedged in amongst the German city’s red light district, are still very much alive – even if some of their customers have had a few too many.