Photograph essay: London-based photographer John Brief was determined to depict the death of New York’s inventive scene, but his pictures of its after-legendary arts venues proved that the spaces are far from “misplaced” .

Quick set about capturing the forgotten innovative spaces in New York City, which he believed to have all but disappeared due to the city’s growing rents.

In this essay written for Dezeen, he describes his discovery that many of the city’s lofts, bars, studios and clubs had not been lost at all – just renamed or repurposed inside the discipline of arts.

Short has presented his images of these spaces, alongside archival photographs from their heyday, in a guide titled Unforgotten New York – Legendary Spaces of the Twentieth-Century Avant-Garde. The volume was designed by graphics studio Praline and is published by Prestel.


Unforgotten New York – Legendary Spaces of the Twentieth-Century Avant-Garde came about from a collaboration between myself, David Brun-Lambert – a author specialising in the arts and culture – and David Tanguy, a respected graphic designer and founder of Praline.

Unforgotten New York by John Short Studio 54

Brun-Lambert was making a radio documentary for Swiss National Radio around the concept that New York had misplaced its cultural importance on the globe stage because its financial renaissance and that significantly of its cultural historical past was currently being forgotten. He considered there could be a book in it and I need to have agreed, as I was on a plane to rendezvous with him at JFK five days following our first introduction.

So, there we have been in the Decrease East Side with only the loosest of tips and much less than a week to come up with enough content to promote the concept to a publisher. That 1st night in excess of a number of beers we came up with a stronger notion of what we desired to say. That transformed of course, but first we went about striving to proof our concept that the New York that had been the hotbed of the arts from the 1950s to the late 1980s was dead. And the purpose it was dead was that the city had turn out to be as well prosperous.

We knew it wasn’t a case of every person in New York was too comfy that they had nothing to express, but we did feel it was a situation of there not being sufficient affordable room left for people to develop in. Whether that be to rehearse, create fine art, carry out or just congregate.

Our theory was that the New York from the 1950s to the late 1980s was dead

We wanted to draw attention to the spaces that we imagined had permitted New York to flourish by means of the latter half of the 20th century. By displaying them as they were today, we would display that the city was devoid of spots that permitted individuals the room required to evolve.

David had carried out his study and had a record of ten or so spots we had to access. We just knocked on people’s doors and informed them what we had been undertaking and asked if we could shoot the inside of their properties. We had been slightly astonished that most said: “Sure, come back tomorrow and you can shoot what you like”.

Unforgotten New York by John Short Maripol’s Salon

That trip we managed to shoot eight iconic spaces and we knew we had been onto anything special. We would accessed Jean-Michel Basquiat’s last loft, Warhol’s Factory II, Jack Kerouc’s apartment the place he’d written On The Road, Paradise Garage, and the Undertaking in the Bronx in which Kool Herc held his Block Parties exactly where he played his initial break beats – now deemed the birthplace of hip hop.

We realised that really a number of of the spaces were truly nevertheless in operation

When we arrived back in London, we went about studying a lot more and contacting some of the much more corporate spaces like Studio 54 and CBGBs to arrange shoots for our up coming trip. As we delved deeper into the investigation we realised that really a few of the spaces had been actually nonetheless in operation – Village Vanguard, El Quijote, Stonewall Inn, St Mark’s Church and Judson Hall. Other individuals had changed in name only and had been still currently being used for a related purpose – Merce Cunningham Dance Company Studio had turn out to be the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, Studio Rivbea was now a fringe theatre and efficiency area and the Leo Castelli Gallery had grow to be the Michael Werner Gallery.

So, our first notion was transforming from a guide about the forgotten New York to the unforgotten legendary spaces of New York’s avant-garde. We also realised that our original prepare of covering spaces in all of New York’s five boroughs was possibly also ambitious, so we made a decision to only target on Manhattan. And most of what we shot was in the decrease half of the island as that’s in which the low-cost rents were, and hence the place the artists took spaces, worked, showed and hung out. It was also exactly where later the city’s 1st artist co-operatives had been formed and in which several older artists even now dwell and operate.

Unforgotten New York by John Short William S Burroughs/The Bunker

The 2nd and third trips went effectively but with a number of much more rejections. We interviewed some excellent individuals who talked about the New York they’d lived in twenty, 40 and even 60 years earlier, and the people who had been close to then but have been no longer with us. There had been some fantastic stories, but what came out of most of the conversations was that the inexpensive rents allowed them to be experimental in a way younger artists now in the city could not, and the nature of the city back then made them all reside for the moment a minor bit a lot more.

They acknowledged that the avant-garde was not dead in the city, but it was now to be found out in Brooklyn. The pictures in the guide highlight this. Plenty of the artist’s lofts have become personal residences, bars are nevertheless bars, theatres nonetheless theatres, but the larger clubs have been redeveloped into galleries, supermarkets and branded retailers.

I handled every single shot as an honest portrait of a room as it was

In terms of the photography, I shot every little thing on movie on my outdated Hasselblad for each an aesthetic reason – I like the grain – and simply because it truly is a lot faster. You commit when shooting film, with digital you’re always striving to make factors much better. This project was never ever about perfection, it was about capturing a sense of the area in the brief window offered (frequently thirty to 60 minutes), and trying to make a visually exciting image in the approach.

Everything was as is, I did not move issues all around. I handled every shot as an honest portrait of a area as it was. All the spaces had been shot empty and I tried to capture a sense of what they have been being employed for. Some have been photogenic and I knew exactly what to shoot as quickly as I walked into them. Other folks in which much less clear, but we felt they had been just as critical in the story of what had happened to the city.

Unforgotten New York by John Short The Kitchen

When it came to the design and style of the book, by David Tanguy and his team at Praline, we desired to include yet another level and demonstrate what the spaces had been like just before with out detracting from my imagery. We did not want to go for a conventional “prior to and right after” shot so we made the decision on a single archive picture of every single room getting inhabited. We located some wonderful archival shots, which you can see in the book.

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