You’re chilling with Becka, Yerxa, and LeLe over at the Jane. Somebody’s telling a funny story—you don’t know who—but before you know it: POP! POP! FLASH! This dude with a ginormous camera just grabbed your image. Says he’s from Patrick. Asks you to speak your first and last name into this microphone, then spell it slowly. Later that night you zoom home to see if your photo made it up on the site. It did! Liquid leggings, chandelier earrings, head shaved on one side, the rest of your hair flipped to the other side. A black jacket with studs all over it.
You look cool and everything, but what’s the point of me knowing what you wore out last night? Why do so many people care about the way other people dress?
Patrick McMullan. Guest of a Guest. LastNightsParty.com. TheCobraSnake.com. Purple-Diary.com. If you click on any of these sites, you’ll be treated to an archival image bank of what people wore out on the town that night and what they did. The photos document the styles but also the situation and context you were in. There, fashion becomes an “event”—something worth documenting, archiving, jotting down. And in many ways, perhaps, fashion is the real event people are attending. We are getting dressed to be seen, and it’s no mistake that the words “seen” and “scene” play off one another as closely as they do.
With all this recent emphasis on so-called “party photography” in the last decade or so, it might seem that “party pics” are a new kind of genre. But as far as I can tell, the genre extends at least as far back as Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, which launched in 1969 as a title focused primarily on interviews with film stars and personalities of the period. Interview was one of the first “lifestyle” magazines on the circuit, coming right on the heels of New York magazine, which was born in 1968 and was possibly the first magazine devoted to documenting life in New York City.
By the mid to late 70s, in the heat of the disco period and the transformation of “downtown” New York City into a specific type of avant garde, polysexual, experimental “scene,” Interview also transformed into an art/fashion/music magazine devoted to chronicling the “downtown” cool of urban nightlife. In this way, Interview fulfilled Warhol’s artistic vision of destroying the boundaries between fashion, art, music and life. Through reportage on fabulous parties and “it” people throughout the city, especially Grace Jones and Studio 54, Interview developed into an archeological record of ‘cool’ in New York of the 70’s and 80’s.
Bob Colacello’s column OUT, a regular feature in Interview, described all the world’s greatest parties, essentially mediating them verbally for people trapped in Middle America or somewhere else less glamorous. And as if Interview wasn’t enough, Warhol himself documented the party in his Exposures, essentially a black and white collection of party pics from New York City.
The one thing all these contemporary party photography websites have in common with the rise of the genre in the early 1970s is the articulation “downtown” cool. Whether people realize it or not, expressing themselves through fashion at night encourages people to imagine the selves they really aspire to be so that when you go out at night, you’re probably being your most you. This “downtown” cool is a performance of self-expression, one that lets the partygoer constantly invent and reinvent her or himself for the crowd each night in such a way that normative identities and sexualities are constantly challenged or completely unravel altogether.