Quantcast

Ken Schles-East Village-Lower East Side-Night Walks-Photography-1980s-NYC.27 AMView from 224 Avenue B. Photo by Ken Schles.

Ken Schles lived in an abandoned building in the East Village in the 1980s, photographing and witnessing drugs and AIDS destroy the people he knew. While the nature of vintage photography often lends itself towards nostalgia for an earlier era, Schles actively fights such characterization of the East Village. As the New York Times writes:

Ken Schles-East Village-Lower East Side-Night Walks-Photography-1980s-NYC.46 AM8th Street Between Avenues B and C

Mr. Schles, who studied photography at the Cooper Union and the New School, rejected the recent tendency to view the East Village of the 1980s as a golden age of louche glamour. As much as anything, he said, he remembers people wanting to get out: artists into better galleries, residents into less chaotic climes. Often, he said, he was afraid of the people around him. “I don’t pine for the days when I’d drive down the Bowery and have to lock the doors, or having to step over the junkies or finding the door bashed in because heroin dealers decided they wanted to set up a shooting gallery,” he said. “A lot of dysfunction has been romanticized.”

Ken Schles-East Village-Lower East Side-Night Walks-Photography-1980s-NYC.51 AMSusie Streetwalker at Limelight

His latest book, Night Walk shows a different side of the life he documented. Compared to his first book Invisible CityNight Walk he says is “much more about the people and the vitality…There’s an excitement about going out.” Indeed, when you look at the photographs in Night Walk, there’s a sense of intimacy you have with the subject, a direct result of the connection Schles likely had with the people he photographed. With a partial face caught on the edge of a frame staring directly at the photographer, a blurry winter scene reflecting the photographer’s own state perhaps, and by naming the photographs with those who are in the image, the images have an immediacy beyond pure documentary.

Ken Schles-East Village-Lower East Side-Night Walks-Photography-1980s-NYC.21 AMKim Whispers into Valerie’s Ear

At the same time, there’s a universality to the images–for us, the direct style of photography brought us back to New York City in the days of Studio 54 with Patrick McMullen or Paris in the 1970s, when society was dominated by fashion mavens like Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld.

Ken Schles-East Village-Lower East Side-Night Walks-Photography-1980s-NYC.47 AM“Melanie at Veselka”

Places familiar today and in the past pop up in Schles’ collection of photographs: Veselka, Palladium, Limelight (not in the East Village but included in Night Walks), 

Ken Schles-East Village-Lower East Side-Night Walks-Photography-1980s-NYC.04 AM8BC Bar

Ken Schles-East Village-Lower East Side-Night Walks-Photography-1980s-NYC.37 AMMaggie and Katia entering the Palladium

Ken Schles-East Village-Lower East Side-Night Walks-Photography-1980s-NYC.31 AMRay in the Michael Todd Room, Palladium

Ken Schles-East Village-Lower East Side-Night Walks-Photography-1980s-NYC.17 AMWinter East 4th Street

Ken Schles-East Village-Lower East Side-Night Walks-Photography-1980s-NYC.12 AMEmbrace at Danceteria

Ken Schles-East Village-Lower East Side-Night Walks-Photography-1980s-NYC.53 AMBaby Carriage in the hallway of 224 Avenue B

Ken Schles-East Village-Lower East Side-Night Walks-Photography-1980s-NYC.58 AM

Ken Schles-East Village-Lower East Side-Night Walks-Photography-1980s-NYC.41 AMCouple Dancing in the Palladium

Ken Schles-East Village-Lower East Side-Night Walks-Photography-1980s-NYC.08 AMCraig and Mario

Photos from both of Ken Schles’ books will be on display starting January 29th at the Howard Greenberg Gallery. See photographs of Tomkins Square Park in the 1980s and 1990s here.

1 Comment

  1. Angelo Moscarello says:

    Lovely photos in their gritty destitution. I was photographing in that area for those same years, but was more of an outsider, not imbibing much in the local culture. Your photographs evoke the feeling of the East Village for me at that time. It was a time of social and political corruption and ills that precipitated many of the problems in the city we have today, gentrification, police brutality, to name a few. I soaked up too much of the despair and was unable to release it through the use of a camera; thus, I stopped shooting in 1997.

Leave a Comment