Long Days and Longer Nights with David Armstrong

Ashley W. Simpson
David Armstrong

David Armstrong is probably best known for his languid, painterly portraits of young men and sublime fashion editorials for the likes of French Vogue and Purple Fashion. They're almost always timelessly romantic, naturally lit, and unavoidably intimate in tone. In his latest book, Night and Day (out next week on Morel Press), the artist reveals an early body of work that takes a look into his own life and conveys a sense of  immediacy rarely seen in his current work.

"They're all taken over nine months in 1979 when I was living on Elizabeth Street between Bleecker and Houston," explains Armstrong of the richly saturated, Kodachrome images that make up the new book and serve as a sort of photographic love letter to the enchanted nights and anxiety-free mornings of pre-AIDS downtown New York. "It's really just about us, the nights downtown and in Chelsea, and the months spent jumping in the car and going to Provincetown and back. They're snapshots from a period when I was rarely awake during the day."

The images, which are some of the only photos Armstrong took in color until the late ‘90s, are candid shots of friends getting high, girls in bathtubs, and guys sprawled on the beach. "I love this," says Armstrong in reference to an image of a mirror reflecting a man and a woman passed out on a hotel bed. "This is at the Chelsea, and if you look closely, it's got Dolores, who was one of the big dope dealers around, in the background and in the mirror in the foreground—look, spoons and syringes and I think... What's My Line, or one of those stupid game shows, is on the TV."

They're a tribute to the people—Jean-Michel Basquiat, John Waters, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, and Rene Ricard (who designed the book's cover) and about 15 others, many of whom who aren't around anymore—who defined that time for Armstrong. "These are from a period when I really had a life," says the Massachusetts-born photographer. He sees this work as a companion to last year's 615: Jefferson Avenue, a collection of portraits of male models shot mainly at his storied, Bed-Stuy brownstone. "[I think of Night and Day] as life and [615] as imitation of life," he explains. "Most people look at [the images from '79] and see a watered down version of Nan [Goldin's] work. But Nan's a genius, and they really weren't about that for me. They were a snapshot of a time, of a scene, and oh, it was so much fun."

Night & Day can be found at Morelbooks.com. The prints are also on view at Half Gallery, June 26 through July 23.  

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September 2014

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