Where Did You Go Last Night?

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. TC mark

image – KirillWasHere.com

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  • Uhnonnymus

    Did you just walk past the new Warhol statue or something? Fashion has always been an “event” and people will always want to document it, look at any other magazine has an out on the town feature (hint: it's all of them).

    • Madison Moore

      exactly!

  • ricky schitltiiz

    you sort of missed the point, as party photography has become sort of a parody of itself… this article would be relevant in 2009 but with how fast technology/society changes, only two years onwards and this article is hopelessly outdated… i suspect you just got into party photo sites recently

    • ricky schitltiiz

      actually i take back that last line because i just went to check out your profile, and realized i have read several of your pieces before (i usually don't remember the names of writers on this site except for a small handful) and i had liked them and also you seem to be fairly well versed in contemporary media/youth culture…. so i suspect now that you've been aware of party photo sites for a while but are only now choosing to write/publish about them… which confuses me because your other articles are relevant enough…

      • Madison Moore

        thanks for the comment ricky, and i totally take your point about the ir/relevance of this thing now. you're saying that it's become completely oversaturated, meaning its over, done. but part of the argument in the piece was that this stuff has been going on as we know it since 1969 at the *very* least (and didn't end in 2009), which to my mind means that the genre is always relevant. take a look at the street paintings of john sloan's new york in the early 20th century. it's the same kind of thing—fabulous people walking around new york in their finery. or caillebotte's paintings of an industrializing 19th century paris. same type of thing. or john singer sargent's society portraits, or titian, or…catch my drift?

      • ricky schitltiiz

        i don't really think of the party photo genre as being about fashion…

        an aside to explain what i feel party photos are about:
        the reason mark zuckerberg was able to create such a successful social networking site is because he is a neurotic person who spent much of his youth removed from mainstream social interaction, and thus able to observe it and deconstruct it. he knew what drove social circles, and how to implement that in his site
        that philosophycontinues on, and every change you see implemented in facebook is a careful consideration: including the recent change of the Events feature, to not only be a way to plan upcoming events, but also to display to others which events you have been to. if you go on someone else's page, you will likely see a “____ attended ____”, or even sometimes now you will see “Sally is now friends with Sam after attending ______” (your mileage may vary however, due to Facebook's phasing in of features, some people have some features earlier than others).

        party photos are a direct reflection of this: a way for people to show they were at this hip/relevant event, to see who else was at this event, and in the end, a form of social currency. a photo on lastnightsparty is probably worth about 15-20 facebook status 'Like's.
        also, you can bet that facebook will implement this feature soon: a way for event photos to be aggregated.

        so, yes… party photos are not about fashion, or self-expression… they are about social currency

      • http://dianamn.tumblr.com diana

        Oh Ricky, I could kiss you for this response. That is exactly the reason why Facebook makes my skin crawl, and why I always feel awkward and “less-than” after browsing through party photography. “Social currency”. Brilliant.

  • 27sandgranola

    I got on Guest of a Guest when I was 18 and my mom printed out the picture and showed it to her friends. Apparently this sort of thing is a big deal in Maryland. It's still bizarre. I used to look at Last Night's Party when I was 15 and didn't want to do my history homework.

  • Hotmail

    I don't think it's that complicated, attractive people are nice to look at.

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