“I had turned up at AREA looking for a job, and they gave me a camera I had no idea how to use and they told me to point it at anything interesting.”
It can be said that London born photographer Ben Buchanan’s career started by accident. Having moved to the States in 1978, Ben became the in-house photographer at the club AREA in New York in 1983. For four years he documented the nightlife at this club and downtown NYC and shot thousands of images.
Peter Harrington, the rare bookshop and gallery based in Mayfair, London, is now exhibiting unseen work from those Buchanan’s years at AREA. History is a Nightclub: Downtown AREA, NYC, 1983-87 has a spectacular array of 35-40 candid moments from the 80’s featuring the greats of modern art at their most relaxed, alongside a host of celebrity friends including Sting, Tom Waits, The Beastie Boys, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Grace Jones and John Waters. Photographs of wild nights in the New York scene sit alongside neatly displayed antique and rare books.
“They were always creating something, even when they were relaxing,” says Buchanan, who worked at AREA from 1983 to 1987. “At a meal for the assembled artists there was a sketchbook being passed around – Jean-Michel drew a portrait of (Playboy contributing illustrator) Leroy Neiman – Andy tipped out a bowl of snow peas onto his page, crushed them in, and signed it.” “You never knew who you’d find there each night,” says Buchanan, “But you could be sure they would be glamorous and interesting.”
The only rule of Area was that there were no rules. Except for one that Buchanan imposed on himself: “I always asked permission before I took a picture.” Remarkably,the celebrities rarely refused to pose for Buchanan, who was working as a photographer’s assistant when he got the job as Area’s house cameraman. “I wasn’t a photographer and I didn’t even have a camera,” he confesses. “They gave me a Nikon F3 hp on the first day and told me to set it to F11 and take the pictures at 1/60th with a flash. And for two years I didn’t press another button.”
The exhibition runs until October 31st.