21 Jan

The East Village in the 1980s: Then & Then

“Eighth Street Between Avenues B and C” 1983 | Ken Schles


I started hanging out in the East Village in my senior year at the HS of Art & Design; of course  young creatives flocked there (and not-so-young). We were advised do not go east of 1st Ave unless you were copping or selling. But many of my close friends lived right on the border (Felice, Halina, Shari, Jean-Ulrick ), and I also had friends who lived in deep in Losaida. Many a wonderful night was spent at Ms. Alexis’ and Fiodhna’s…falling asleep to the lullaby of David Bowie’s “Low” or Fela’s “Trouble Sleep Yanga”; if I was still there after dark, it was smart that a woman sleep over–the picture above leaves no question. Many jam sessions, many innovative and cheap vegetarian meals that could feed everyone, and the door was always open. I might not have befriended Fab Five Freddie, Keith Haring or Jean Michel had I adhered to that advice of not venturing East of 1st.. Yes the bird’s eye view of drug dens and bombed-out buildings were post-apocolyptic, but pioneers like Alexis and Fiodhna turned that misery into lush, stunning parks and safe playgrounds. Some of the fondest memories of my life, from a NY that we’ll never see again.

by John Leland | NY Times

A byword for New Year’s Eve parties: How much fun you have often depends on where you’re standing. Ken Schles, 54, spent the mid-1980s living and taking photographs in the East Village, and twice he edited his work into books — the first time when the photos were taken, and the second time more recently. The differences in mood are striking. The first book, “Invisible City” (1988), which Mr. Schles created while living on a drug-ravaged block on Avenue B, reflects the turmoil and death in his life at the time. “My friends were dying of AIDS, and I was living in an abandoned building,” he said. A quarter of a century later, when he went back to the work, it was as someone who had survived the era, and the images revealed themselves to him in a different light. The resulting book, “Night Walk” (2014), is the retrospective glance of a father of two living in Fort Greene, in Brooklyn. It is “much more about the people and the vitality,” he said. “There’s an excitement about going out. In ‘Invisible City,’ there’s a darkness to the book.”

Images from both books will be displayed at the Howard Greenberg Gallery on East 57th Street starting Jan. 29 (2015).

Yet 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.”

“Melanie at Veselka” 1986| Ken Schles


“Ray in the Michael Todd Room” 1985 | Ken Schles


“Maggie and Katia Entering the Palladium” 1985 | Ken Schles


“Couple Dancing at the Palladium” 1985 | Ken Schles



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