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Night Walk, by Ken Schles is dedicated “to the memory of those who died in the scourge of AIDS and violence that gripped the East Village during the late 1980s”. Compiled more than 25 years after the ravages, this work is the counterpart to Invisible City, a dark book published by the photographer in 1988. At the time, Schles was living in an abandoned East Village building taken over by heroin addicts. He had just finished school and planned to pursue photography, even if it meant eating dry pasta on good days. Punk rock was resonating in underground clubs, inspiring a bubbling and carefree art scene to reinvent itself in the midst of the ambient disaster – a mixture of excitement and danger that made the 80s the most fantasized decade in New York City’s history.

Among this generation of creative agitators devastated by the whirling blow of death, Invisible City became an instant cult classic, although that was never the intention. Edited with the weight of vivid mourning, the book was more the young photographer’s torn reaction to the evaporation of his neighborhood and adopted family: a group of sassy and untameable performers that the scourge had not yet dissipated. The photogravure printing intensified the deep and sadly prescient blacks of the photographs. Now reissued by Steidl, Invisible City still possesses its captivating depth, and Night Walk captures in the same density the other facet of the disaster.

Delving into the archives of this bygone era, Schles exhumes its bodies. The images are imbued with the same fury as those in Invisible City, but here they serve life and love. Invisible City glowed with the cinders of the East Village, while the flames in Night Walk illuminate the streets or the tops of birthday cakes. The atmosphere is intact, but the restless night walk ends with a long, romantic scene in Schles’s brick apartment. From his window, we see the metal fire escapes that still today trace oblique lines across the Village’s buildings. “Human beings exist in a word of fantasy,” Schles told the Los Angeles Review of Book. “We trust [photographs] more than we trust memory because memory is ephemeral.” Invisible City mourned a vanished city. Night Walk rebuilt it.

Invisible City/Night Walk 1983-1989
Ken Schles
Through March 14th 2015
Howard Greenberg Gallery
41 East 57th Street, Suite 1406
New York 10022

Invisible City de Ken Schles
34 euros
Editions Steidl

Night Walk de Ken Schles
38 euros
Editions Steidl


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Ken Schles

Brooklyn, New York. 1960. Ken Schles is the author of Invisible City (1988; reprint 2014), The Geometry of Innocence (2001), A New History of Photography: The World Outside and the Pictures In Our Heads (2007), Oculus (2011) and Night Walk...

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