Hedonistic nights in 1980s New York’s East Village

Hedonistic nights in 1980s New York’s East Village

‘Everyone was a star‘ — Photographer Andé Whyland remembers capturing candid portraits and dancing alongside the luminaries of downtown New York's club scene, among them Keith Haring, Grace Jones, Lady Bunny and Ru Paul.

Growing up in Long Island and San Francisco, photographer Andé Whyland dreamed of moving to Manhattan from a young age. “Always feeling like a misfit, a city as large as New York had to have a place for me and a way to survive,” she says.

In 1979, Whyland finally arrived, settling into a first-floor apartment in the East Village where she paid a mere $130 a month. Two friends in the building were regulars at Club 57 – a nightclub on St. Marks Place that hosted experimental art and performance events. They asked Whyland to model in a fashion show that featured “all kinds of weird props and some meat thrown around”. Soon enough, Whyland was hooked.

New York gave me the freedom to be myself for the first time in my life,” she says. “Making money was not a priority, but staying out late and having fun was. Everyone I got to know in the clubs was celebrating our newfound family, and the opportunity to do anything.”

RuPaul, Billy Beyond, Larry Tee, Hapi Phace, Hatti Hathaway (centre front)

“Most of us had not found this connection before, not from our families or school. It was magic the way we all ended up in the same place.”  

Whyland first got into photography while living a quiet life in the Bay Area. “The camera became my friend, and was the excuse I gave myself for not having a real purpose in life,” she says.

After acquiring a Leica that fit in her purse, Whyland began making a series of photographs of the downtown New York club scene with candid portraits of luminaries such as Keith Haring, Grace Jones, Lady Bunny, Fab 5 Freddy, Tabooo, and John Sex, published in the book Shots: 1980-1986.

Every night I went out would be filled with unexpected moments. It could be a night at the Pyramid with RuPaul singing really badly and then jumping on top of the bar and working the paying customers for tips or Dead Marilyn rolling around on a found, dirty mattress with a famous porn star Leo Ford while Divine, not in drag, hung out in the dressing room.”

John Kelly in Ballet of the Dolls

Given carte blanche to photograph anywhere she went, Whyland had a blast, hanging out in the hallway of Club 57 with Holly Woodlawn as Mary Poppins and Katy K as Cinderella waiting to go on stage for Marc Shaiman and Scot Whitman’s Disney show. 

But she was just as happy spending a quiet night at Club 57 while Ann Magnuson singing to a handful of people in the room. “Everyone was a star – but we were not star struck,” she says.

“Many of the creative people from that time are still performing and staying connected with each other and the new generations. So many died young from AIDS and in Wendy Wild’s case, breast cancer.”

“We did things differently then,” remembers Whyland. “The time was the beginning of something new and just plain silly.” 

Ann Magnuson as Lina Hagandazovich

Tabboo!, Hapi Phace, Philly Abe, Kathleen Lynch

Shazork with Dmitry Briil, Lady Bunny, Sister Dimension

Royston Scott and Mr. Fashion/Gerard Little

Tseng Kwong Chi, John Sex, Unknown, Joe Dietrich

Shots: 1980-1986 is available on Blurb

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