New York Photo Review
from the NYPR Archives

Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat
The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino
Soho Photo Gallery
Central Booking Magazine

And the Downtown Scene
wowe
Nightclubbing
Ed Barnas
wowe, Nightclubbing, Grace Jones 1985

While still in his 20’s, German-born portrait photographer wowe (Wolfgang Wesener) came to US in the mid-1980’s and got his start at Details magazine, photographing New York nightlife. Shooting with the subject’s permission in the various clubs on the downtown scene, wowe captured straight black & white portraits of those making the scene: the well known, the soon to be known, and the anonymous.

Taken at close range with off-camera flash, and generally from waist up, these images are mostly of individuals but occasionally show two or three people together. The distance is comfortable, the subjects do not appear crowded by the photographer, and there are many familiar faces on the gallery walls - Keith Richards, Billy Idol, Keith Haring, Basquiat, Spike Lee, Frank Zappa, Leo Castelli, Brook Shields, Michael Musto, Nureyev, Tito Puente, Fela Kuti, Liz Smith, Gloria Steinem, Miles Davis, Christo, Grace Jones, Mapplethorpe, Rauschenberg, Tom Jones, Billy Idol, and many others.

A number of these portraits are quite memorable but a few really stuck in my memory: a wide shot of Liza Minnelli, well-lit, but surrounded by a dark crowd; Andy Warhol seated with Patrick McMullan, both holding cameras; Steven Meisel’s head rising above a table edge; Divine not in drag; and the matched bald pates of Peter Stack + friend. However, a number of the more anonymous subjects also deserve attention: a young man with a square frame cutout on his shirt (“Art”) revealing his bare chest, contrasting nicely with the net cutout in a photo of Linda Lust; the “Fake Photographer,” a veiled woman with a Mamiya RB67 in hand; and the symmetry of the “Twin Waiters.”

 by unidentified photographer.
wowe, “William Burroughs and Madonna” 1984

While the notes for the exhibit feature a quote from Details Founding Editor Stephen Saban about the decadence of New York in the 80’s, this was not evident in the majority of the prints on view (too many men in jackets and ties). The few images that did show any form of decadence were rather tame (men in drag, some frivolous, some serious).

In addition to the sixty-two 12x16 inch prints in the main gallery, the exhibit also featured a selection of twenty-four moderately priced 5x7 inch prints in the display case in the front room. These were mainly more portraits of notables (Fellini, Ginsberg, Koch, Scuvallo, Samaras, Mailer, Sandra Bernhard, John Lee Hooker, Ann Magnuson, Peter Max, Tim Leary, et at.) Unfortunately, those images that were horizontal were printed on a vertical sheet so that the image area was much smaller than that of the vertical images.

wowe
Nightclubbing


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The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino
Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat
Central Booking Magazine
Soho Photo Gallery