Culture

The millennials’ archivist

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The year is 2109. Human interaction extends as far as a retinal implant. Physical commerce has ceased and AI fulfills any remaining gaps of desire. A tradition of older generations, “nightlife” is culturally obsolete.

Until one day, someone is trawling the depths of great-great-grandma Ashley’s Facebook and piques at a curious headline: PARK AVE FEST 2009 PART ONE.

Pictured are crowds upon crowds of people. Outstretched arms embracing every shoulder they can, as if greedy for the kinship. Fake tans and fedoras. Belly button rings and chin straps. Smiles and poses and candids of a vibrant yet obscure generation.

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What this chronologically advanced human has discovered is merely the tip of the seminal iceberg that is ihadagoodnight.com.

In the year 2024, IHAGN is 20 years old. With a reputation more ubiquitous than the website itself, founder Allen Keppen shows no signs of stopping.

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“This matters to people. There's no way I'm gonna ever stop doing this,” Keppen said over a four-top table at Buntsy’s in Webster.



The table adjacent is scattered with nearly 20 hard drives of photos totaling roughly 10,000 GB. And according to Keppen, they’re all completely full. Despite efforts, there is no way to quantify the size of the archive, but by estimating 10 MB per photo, it can be assumed there were at least a million photos on that table. And those hard drives only date back to 2009.

“I wanted everyone to be involved,” he said. “I didn't care what race you are, I didn't care who you were. But if you lived past five o'clock, I was like, ‘that's how I can bring everyone together.’”

Keppen is known as the “ihadagoodnight guy,” and can always be found at Rochester’s largest events throughout the warmer months. He’s the one armed with a camera and illuminated sign displaying ‘IHADAGOODNIGHT.COM,’ quick to place it in the hands of any photogenic or enthusiastic volunteer. At this point, Keppen’s tenure affords him seamless entry into nearly every venue in the city, capturing nightlife one flash at a time.
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Some will remember the giant Zippo as the first iteration of IHAGN, used to promote the funky folk band Bacci in the early 2000s, giving way to the iconic signs after Keppen himself suffered a burn from the massive flame — though his was the only injury sustained in that era, he is quick to point out.

“It was such an eye-appealing thing that I just kept on going,” he said. “But I had to do something for myself, so I turned it into a website.”

That website is an ever-evolving work in progress, and Keppen is flush with ambition to see it become the cultural gathering point he envisions. Ever the entrepreneur, he is laser-focused on the future, but the archive's blinding relevance to the past can’t be ignored.

Fashion shows and festivals, concerts and clubs, parades and parties. Keppen may have covered more ground in Rochester than any other photographer in the city’s history. At his peak, he was capturing the booze-fueled millennial heydays: Park Ave. fests, St. Paddy’s Day parades, East End fests and nightclubs (yes, in Rochester) long before a 24/7 connection to the Internet and subsequent paradigm shift in virtually every facet of life. The archives are fuel for jokes about fashion and lifestyle — while also serving as a somber reminder of a culture since come and gone.

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Many have shied away from Keppen’s camera or look back on their memories with a mix of shame and regret. But in this modern era of perpetual scrutiny, the sight of such carefree hedonism, dubious ethics and questionable public behavior is somehow endearing. These are our friends, family, neighbors, teachers, coworkers, elected officials… ihadagoodnight.com is Rochester.

Keppen’s photos captured the potent magic of a time before FOMO, filters and employers checking Facebook. The people in those photos are unburdened by the weight of the world bearing down on them through a 9x16 screen, and it shows.

Anthropologists in 2109 might not wear such a shade of rose-colored glasses, but maybe they’ll use Keppen’s body of work to decipher the strides and missteps of a renaissance. The parties were fleeting but “the pictures will live on forever.”

Is 2024 too soon to dive back in?

Katie Epner is a creative content producer at WXXI/CITY. She can be reached at [email protected].

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