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It's hard to imagine life before social media. But back in the 1990s in NYC, photos were taken using film cameras, and Steve Eichner was the one who captured images of the vibrant nightlife. Decades later, the famous photographer is releasing a new book sharing some of those never before seen snaps.
In the Limelight: The Visual Ecstasy of NYC Club Culture in the 90s, co-authored by Gabriel Sanchez, reveals what life was like before gentrification transformed the Big Apple. Nightclubs were the "it" spot for the emergence of new fashion, art, and music trends. Celebrities, drag queens, models, and more would gather at legendary nightclubs like Tunnel, Palladium, Club Expo, and Webster Hall. And fashion designers like Jean Paul Gaultier and Thierry Mugler designed rooms for Club USA, while Limelight hosted fashion shows for Adidas and experimental designers.
"Before social media, [going to the clubs was how] you networked and built your brand," Eichner told Departures. "That's how celebrities like Madonna discovered voguing in the clubs. So, the clubs were like this primordial slime that bread culture and art and fashion and music and dancing and all of these things."
As the official photographer for Peter Gatien, the famed King of Clubs, Eichner's incredible archive sheds light on one of the most vibrant and inspiring times in New York. There are images of ravers dressed in costumes in the book, dancers dressed in next to nothing, club kids partying in foam, and Hollywood's elite hanging out.
One such star photo is of Leonardo DiCaprio, a notoriously hard celebrity to photograph.
"I snapped a picture of Leonardo interacting with one of the cigarette girls," said Eichner. "A few minutes later, I get a tap on my shoulder, and it's Leonardo asking if I could not publish that photo, and he would pose for another instead. So, I asked him, 'Why didn't you want me to take that picture?' He said, 'I don't want my mom to see that I was buying cigarettes.' So, that's how I got that photo. [Leonardo] is looking right in the camera, and he's mugging for me."
Other stars include Dennis Hopper, Tupac, and Joan Rivers. Even Donald Trump makes an appearance. "You would see Donald Trump with his thumbs in his belt loops looking around the room," said Eichner.
Of course, this book is not all about celebrities. The majority are photos Eichner shot for himself; they're his art. "Somehow, I knew that [the culture] needed to be documented and that it was going to end at some point," he said. "So, In The Limelight is really the photos that I shot in between shooting the celebrities. And I'm so glad I did because when Gabriel and I started going through the files, I found photos I hadn't looked at in 25, 30 years where the colors were bold, and the subject matter was interesting, and the fashions were inspiring."
Eichner added, "I would like people to feel like they're actually walking through the nightclubs of the nineties and see all the things that you might see."
To buy: $45, amazon.com