Wednesday 07 March 2018

Ben Buchanan on New York City's art and music in the early 80s

Ben Buchanan on New York City's art and music in the early 80s "This shows David Hockney & Keith Haring during the AREA artists dinner at Mr Chow. All the artists were given gifts and Hockney got that crazy 60’s tie and a book on witchcraft."

British artist and photographer Ben Buchanan worked at New York's AREA nightclub in the 1980s. During that time, an explosion of new art and music was happening around him, from people such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat as well as more established figures including David Hockney and Andy Warhol.

At the recent exhibition of his work at the Peter Harrington Gallery in London, we caught up with Ben to ask him about his work, and to talk about his memories of specific photographs from the era.

Please introduce the exhibition: why you have chosen now to exhibit photography never-before-seen by the public.

BB: This is an exhibition of photographs I took at the AREA nightclub where I worked from 1983-1987. Recently there has been a lot of interest in Basquiat, which has increased further due to the Barbican show, so I thought now might be a good time for people to see and enjoy these photographs.


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"This photo of Andy Warhol & Jean-Michel Basquiat was taken during a Fairy Tale themed evening."


How did you get the job as in-house photographer for AREA? What were they looking for, and how did you fit the bill?

BB: I had been good friends with Eric Goode from the underground music scene in San Francisco from 1978 to 1980. I was making slides for the rear projection screens for each themed party at AREA and because of this, Eric imagined that I could take photos of people as well. He was obviously able to see hidden talents in people, as I had no idea I could do it.



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"This photo was taken during the day at the club when we were changing over to a new theme.
Whilst I was photographing him [Basquiat], he handed me the joint that he was smoking.
It was so strong that I had to go and lie down on the floor in one of the rear projection rooms, which I had the keys for."



Did you know AREA before? How did it feel, more generally, living in NYC at that particular time?

BB: This was Eric’s second club - the first was in his own loft and only took place once a week. NYC was the most exciting and free place in the world at that time where you imagined anything was possible if you had a creative mind.



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"This is Keith Haring and Painted Boy, Juan, who was very proud of his painted body."


You always politely asked permission to take a photo. What other criteria helped you to get that shot (eg location, whether the subject had been drinking, time of day)?

BB: I would wait until the right time, when there was a break in their conversation or they were looking at one of the installations or performances. After a while, you develop an instinct for when people are likely to let you take their photo.


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"Grace Jones was photographed at her birthday party at AREA with the lion, at a natural history themed evening.
Her boyfriend Dolph Lundgren rode into the club on his motorbike."


When you look back on that period now, what are your own feelings of it?

BB:At the time I didn’t think this exhilarating feeling would end I just thought that’s how NY was and would always be. I was fairly casual about photography and didn’t take it too seriously. I suppose, looking back, I should have taken more photos and spent less time socialising and partying.



These and many more original photographs by Ben Buchanan are for sale through the Peter Harrington Gallery. Ben's website is Buchananfoto

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