Best Nightlife Photography of the Past 20 Years
Photo: Shy Glizzy, © Sean Maung
Great nightclub photography is much harder than it looks. It’s very easy to fall into the traps of sensationalism of sex and drugs, recreating a stale cliché rather than showing us something deeper and more revealing about the people, the place, and the times.
Not only that, but from a sheer logistical perspective, if you’re not totally sober, catching the moment as it unfolds and framing it so that it’s not a complete mess involves a level of skill and comfort few consider when looking at the photographs. Capturing that intense yet ethereal sensation of nightlife requires the artist to not only be in the moment but of the people. In celebration, Crave spotlights the best nightlife photography of the past 20 years, showcasing artists who know the scene from the inside out.
Dustin Pittman is always everywhere. He first arrived in New York in the late 1960s and hasn’t let us since. Pittman stays on the cutting edge of the scene, forever with his finger on the pulse of the underground. Taking the long view of his archive, you can say he paints a picture of Raw York, documenting the people who keep the city fresh and exciting no matter what the circumstances.
On the other side of the globe, deep in the heart of Uganda, Italian photographer Michele Sibiloni captured the “Street-walkers, good-time girls, vagabonds, village fools, rastas, pimps, drunken expats, drunken locals, drunken everybody, underpaid guards, overworked bouncers, old-timers, orphans, urchins, beggars, hoodlums, hustlers, grasshopper vendors, all kinds of cops, NGO workers and back-alley exorcists,” as David Cecil explains in the introduction to Sibiloni glorious photo book Fuck It (Edition Patrick Frey).
Late at night, after the last Tube has run its course under the streets of London, the “Night Flowers” bloom. When you see them, you know: a loose-knit community of drag queens and kings, club kids, alternative queer, transgender and gender-queer people, goths, artists, and cabaret, burlesque, and fetish performers in full make up and costume cavorting under the moon’s knowing glow. Australian graphic designer and photographer Damien Frost began taking portraits of these incredible creatures every single day of 2014, and collected them for his exquisite book Night Flowers (Merrell).
Known by everyone on the scene, SLUTLUST keeps it afterhours and underground, emerging only to do it again the following evening. His photographs and writing are like that fly club that only a select few know, remaining uncorrupted by the mainstream. His archive is so vast it’s practically inconceivable what lies in wait of some intrepid gallerist or editor who years for the freshest take.
Crave fave Alexander Thompson did it up back in the days, with his trusted Polaroid on deck to capture the downtown New York club scene as the millennium came to a close as Electroclash brought a new generation of kids to places like Beauty Bar and Don Hill’s. His first Polaroid was a photo of Michael Alig and Robert Freeze together, capturing an historic slice of club history—and over the next decade he continued to document the legends of the scene.
Photographer Sean Maung has been documenting nightlife for over a decade, capturing all the magic and madness that can only happen under the cover of darkness. He hits the spots that are strictly for those in the know, entering into worlds that only a select few regularly go. The result is a portrait of the life in the new millennium, liberated from the vapid, plastic overlay that daytime demands from many of us.
Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Vogue Online, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Aperture Online, and Feature Shoot. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.