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Bright nights in the Big Apple — a review of Tod Seelie’s Bright Nights: Photographs of Another New York


[Nate pinpoints exactly what makes Tod Seelie’s photographic explorations of New York stand out from the pack. — the Artblog editors]

These days, it is nearly impossible to discuss the Empire State’s First City without mention of exorbitant living costs, insidious gentrification, and, depending on to whom one is speaking, the decay of the “old” New York–a city divided into countless neighborhoods rich with culture and a unique New York energy.

This nostalgia for a less-refined NYC is absent in Tod Seelie’s Bright Nights: Photographs of Another New York. Taken over a period of 14 years, the images in Seelie’s compendium are a cry of defiance in the face of both the progenitors of modern-day gentrification and proponents of the “old” New York City.

New York’s new face

Bright Nights: Photographs of Another New York, by Tod Seelie.

The modest book of glossy color prints and short essays contrasts Seelie’s shots of depopulated streets and interiors with his edgier, more evocative images of young people in the underground scene. While scenes of ransacked rooms, garbage on the street, and dead animals communicate nothing original, Seelie’s shots of young people in underground parties, cramped basement shows, sweaty dance competitions, and back-alley antics rise above the triteness of street scenes and interiors.

Indeed, the best images in Bright Nights are those in which young New Yorkers take center stage. It is through these photos–which assault the eyes with raw depictions of rebellion and intimacy–that viewers are made privy to a simultaneously thrilling and terrifying underground world that spits in the face of those who say modern-day NYC lacks intensity, ingenuity, or the DIY ethos.

Vogue dance battle at La Escuelita, Manhattan, 2012
“Vogue dance battle at Escuelita,” Tod Seelie, Manhattan, 2012. Image courtesy of

Through images that juxtapose unforgiving environments and vulnerable, yet none-too-innocent human beings, Seelie shows what it feels like to be young and adrift in post-9/11 New York City. While at times reminiscent of the work of Nan Goldin and Ryan McGinley, Seelie’s photographs primarily deal with groups of people and their relation to urban environments, rather than singular subjects. Perhaps what renders this group aesthetic so organic is the artist’s history: In addition to working as a commercial photographer for clients such as Vice Media and the New York City Opera, Seelie was a founding member of a traveling community art project called the Miss Rockaway Armada.

Although Bright Nights catalogues moments throughout the course of 14 years, the spirit of the human beings Seelie photographs remains ageless throughout the course of the book. Through Seelie’s photographs, viewers see the unique energy of New York City and its young citizens, who continue to thrive and adapt in accordance with the passage of time.

Bright Nights: Photographs of Another New York, Prestel, soft-cover, 192 pages, 168 color plates, $30.51.