By Daniel Reskin
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3:00 a.m. An elegant doorman in a top hat unclasps the velvet rope as we enter B.E.D. Waterman's flash repeatedly misfires as she tries to shoot him; he patiently obliges her attempts until finally the flash pops and she gets the shot. "With this project," she says, "there are so many pictures I don't get 'cause the moment is just too quick." Inside the monochromatic club, strings hang from a ceiling filled with white helium balloons. The vibe is mellow: A few people dance, good use is made of the beds, and a model in a giant electronic spider costume with colored lights circulates. "This place is wild," comments Waterman, face scrunched against her buglike camera.
4:00 a.m. We go from B.E.D.'s soft light to Level's intense dark. The immense multilayered club, packed tight with players and wannabes, swallows us. Hip-hop blares. Waterman, guerrilla-style, snakes her way onto the dance floor, wedging herself and her sizable equipment between bodies, catching people grooving. Space-age pink-wigged go-go dancers with laser guns rise on platforms some 30 feet above the crowd and ignite a laser-light show/battle. On the way up to the highest balcony to catch the show, we pass not one but two couples, pressed against a railing, having sex. Waterman tries for a shot. I ask if she wants me to get a release from them. In the end she misses. Maybe it's better I didn't get it, she quips.
4:30 a.m. There is a curve to New Year's, a collective emotional roller coaster: the anticipation, the reveling, and then, notes Waterman, the abyss. We spiral into this abyss in front of the National and the Delano hotels. Their parties are shutting down, and stretch limousines and fashionable drunk people line the streets. An outdated newspaper headline proclaims: "Quiet New Year's predicted."
Midbeach, 5:00 a.m. We arrive for what we hope will be a New Year's breakfast at Jimmy'Z, a small club that somehow manages to be even darker than Level was. Latin music is playing, the party is still raging, and there is not one whiff of frying bacon. "This is crazy," says Waterman. "I can't see a thing. I'm just guessing at the focus." She settles into a strategic corner, steadies her Nikon, and starts snapping: blond "twins" dancing on a platform with a middle-age peroxided DJ; a buxom blonde in a low-cut silver dress, shimmying seductively for the camera; older men cuddling their young, enhanced beauties; a white-haired reveler vomiting lethargically into his napkin.
Waterman calls this "the opposite of paparazzi." "It's like the Pied Piper," she says of her camera's effect on ordinary people. In the best moments, Waterman seems to dissolve into the darkness, disappear from behind her camera, evidenced only by intermittent flashes of light as life swirls on around her. But even such moments have their drawbacks. After an hour shooting at Jimmy'Z, she says matter-of-factly: "I don't know if any of those are going to come out."
Home, 6:15 a.m. "Man, people really like to flaunt it here," observes Waterman. I ask if she thinks she got some good shots for her project. She hesitates and then says it takes her awhile before she's able to like the images, adding, "When I develop them, I'm always disappointed compared with the experience."