Arlene Gottfried’s Gritty Photographs of ‘80s New York City

Like many great artists, photographer Arlene Gottfried lived her life largely uncelebrated for her work. But Gottfried captured something unique. Her portraits composed in the alleys, clubs and dens of ‘80s New York City are a beautifully gritty representation of fabulous people existing in the margins.

Marsha P. Johnson and Friend at Gay Day, Christopher Street, 1980 and Man With Veil, 1980. Source: Dazed

Photographer Arlene Gottfried is being celebrated in a new exhibition featuring a selection of her portraits taken in the nightclubs, back alleys and dive bars of ‘80s NY. Gottfried’s photographs depict people existing under the weight of drug addiction, systemic discrimination and poverty. The exhibition, Arlene Gottfried: After Dark, documents the reality of life on the edge of disappearing communities.

Journalist Steve Thrasher told Dazed,

“Arlene didn’t fit into society into a lot of ways people are expected to: she wasn’t married; she didn’t have kids; she had an unusual career that for much of her life was not financially lucrative.”

Gottfried documented many of New York’s most infamous night spots, including Studio 54, Le Clique, Paradise and GG’s Barnum. The photographs featured in After Dark portray a city in the thrall of some of its most miserable times, beaten down by the cruelty of the Nixon administration and the impact of near financial annihilation.

The portraits reveal a photographer unafraid to develop sincere, mutual connections with her subjects. Gottfried makes stars out of strangers on the street, preserving their vibrancy on film.

Gottfried’s sister, Karen Gottfried, said,

“Arlene’s life was not an easy one. Sorting through her file of rejection letters and then her smaller file of acceptance letters gives one an insight into the difficulties of the life of a photographer and particularly then a woman in a largely male profession.”


Check out some of the striking images below:

Source: Dazed

Arlene Gottfried: After Dark can be seen at Daniel Cooney Fine Art in New York until October 26, 2019.

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