The bartender and the photographer are similar people. They are both present and not — there physically, yet separated from their subjects by a barrier or sorts. They observe the vulnerable and can be witnesses to intimate moments. One probably sees more vomit in their line of work, but, then again, maybe not.
Neal McClure has been working at one of Fort Lauderdale's most beloved watering holes, Laser Wolf, for two years. But the Florida native and longtime Broward County resident has never been content to stay behind the bar. McClure was part of the Fort Lauderdale rap group Death Jam Posse under his alias Swap Shop Kid. Death Jam was an unapologetically loud hip-hop trio funded by Laser Wolf Records. Since its birth last year, the group has remained dormant. But Death Jam does have the immortal achievement of telling Russell Simmons — whose label, Def Jam, sent the group a cease-and-desist letter for its similar-sounding name — to fuck off.
But in the past year, McClure has been embarking on a different artistic journey, one decidedly quieter: photography. It all started when Laser Wolf co-owner Chris Bellus handed him an old Canon DSLR a year ago. "My mind expanded," McClure says. "When I'm passionate about something, I dive headfirst into it and never take a breath."
Since discovering this new love, McClure has been compiling a series of photos he will display on May 29 at the space next door to Laser Wolf. The show is called "Swap Shop Kid Presents: Sunshine State of Mind," and the photos will all explore the life and culture of South Florida.
"There's a strange beauty in all of South Florida's woes," McClure says. "You can find it in the locals, their struggles, the structural landmarks, the history, the hustle and grind, the perseverance of families keeping afloat."
Like a National Geographic photographer camping out in the canopies of the rainforest, McClure has had plenty of time to study South Florida's inhabitants in their natural environment: a bar. "Working behind the bar has allowed access to a surplus of insight towards other people's lives," McClure says. "I've become desensitized to South Florida's insanity, and I'm still not sure if that's a good or bad thing."
Either way, it's helped McClure capture some striking images of our slice of the Sunshine State. His photos attempt to give a local perspective on South Florida while still capturing the area's magical weirdness. "It's not always the beautiful vacation spot that ends up on cheesy postcards," McClure says.
South Florida is many things all at once, especially to those who call it home. It's a relationship McClure himself is still trying to figure out through his photography. "South Florida and I have a very special relationship," he says. "It is very much love and hate at times. Being here most of my life has made me the person I am today. I've learned lots of lessons dealing with the people and diversity here."
And you can see the result of those lessons on May 29 at Laser Wolf. You can even purchase any Swap Shop Kid originals that catch your eye.
"Swap Shop Kid Presents: Sunshine State of Mind," 7 p.m. Friday, May 29, at Laser Wolf, 901 Progresso Drive, Fort Lauderdale. Admission is free.