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29 Rooms: Photo After Photo

Last weekend I was able to attend the acclaimed 29 Rooms, Refinery 29’s art and fashion interactive funhouse. My friends and I woke up early on a Sunday morning, grabbed our coffees and headed over, knowing that the wait time for the past two days of the exhibition had been on average 3-4 hours. This event is only open for 3 days, once a year, and is known for having the capability to take enough pictures to last your Instagram account for a year. Last year was the first year Refinery 29 created 29 Rooms, celebrating their 10-year anniversary, and there was less press about it but it was such a big turnout that they decided to make it 9 times bigger this year.

Arriving at 10 AM, for an opening at 12 PM, we sweated in the heat and distracted each other for 2 hours. Before the installation even opened they had to close the line because of the crowds. We were told that because of our promptness we would be included in the first wave of people allowed to enter the installation. As we were walking toward the entrance we saw rows and rows of people on line glaring at us, with the ominous sign next to them saying 7 HOURS WAIT AT THIS POINT. Ouch.

The installation itself was in a huge warehouse, gutted and painted over in black. It was a frenzy of girls (and some guys) wearing their best outfits, running around taking pictures. The first of many photo booths was set up with the backdrop of “A GIRL CAN DREAM” and low and behold there was another line for it. Within the warehouse there were 28 different rooms to enter (the warehouse being considered one room, hence 29 rooms.) Lines were forming for the more popular rooms and there were spotlights going on and off for even more photo-friendly moments while you wait.

Since my friends and I were so adamant about seeing all the rooms...we waited. The sponsors of the rooms varied from RuPaul, Lady Gaga, Ford, Michael Kors, Kate Moross etc. There were rooms filled with paper lanterns, balloons, phones hanging from the ceiling, wigs, space installations, neon signs, confetti, rainbows, etc. It was stimulation overload times 100. Anywhere you looked, there was another great photo to be taken. There was no shyness or hesitancy between strangers to ask for a photo either. Everyone knew what they were there for and it was all about the photos. The photo booths set up throughout made it even easier for this achievement, but these weren’t your normal photo booths. They made gifs, using a new app called PHHHOTO, which collected all your gifs created from these photo booths. But even though these photos could be saved for future Instagram or Facebook posts, there was also a need for the instant social media.  “Should this be on my Instastory or Snap?” "Should I save this video for you on Boomerang?"  “Did you download that PHHHOTO app?”

After five hours of waiting in lines and taking photo after photo, my friends and I were burnt out. We told each other that once we got home we would do a mass share of all the photos we took. In the age of social media and all the craziness surrounding it…I couldn’t help but wonder where we having fun? Were our brains even capable of internalizing what each room had to offer? Perhaps not. But one thing I do know is that maybe not in the moment was I able to appreciate it but because of the photos I can look back at the memories with fondness. Something that ironically ends up being not so instant.

(c) Adena Berkowitz, September 2016

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