BRIEF: i-D Magazine in collaboration with The D&AD New Blood Awards challenged artists to photographically capture the hidden essence of a subculture.
Skill set: copywriting, documentary photography, inDesign
Nicky Ottav for i-D Magazine
Words and photographs by Lukas Emory.
New York City is often considered a hub for eccentric and individualistic people. This is a myth. It is very easy to blend in when living in a city so heavily populated. What’s the sliver lining? The future is bright – neon green actually. In the late 80s, New York socialites James St James and Michael Alig renovated club culture. Today, ClubKids are coming out of hiding and returning to the mainstream.
A combination of extravagant, outrageous costumes and rampant drug use produce a high energy, colorful, thrilling experience. In the early 90s, St James and Alig took their culture to the streets and half-terrorized half-rejuvenated the reckless youth culture of NYC. Signature ClubKid “outlaw” parties involved showing up at a late-night restaurant unannounced and throwing a club-style party in the facility whether the owners liked it or not. Unfortunately, every party must come to an end. In 1996, Michael Alig murdered his drug dealer and sent shockwaves through the ClubKid community. Nightclubs no longer tolerated the reckless behavior of the culture and the community eventually fizzled out.
Enter Nicky Ottav.
We met Nicky in Washington Square Park in March 2015. Surrounded by school board protestors and selfie-stick wielding tourists, it was not hard to spot the 6’5” hyper-saturated ClubKid. He donned white platforms sneakers, a rainbow jumpsuit, green alien sunglasses, and a matching pink alien handbag. He immediately greeted us with hugs that he had to crouch down for. His highlighter-yellow hair was freshly dyed, given away by the stains on his hands. He was eating a Japanese brand of old bay potato chips literally shaped like crabs and offered us to try them. Without hesitation, he told us to follow him down University Place so he could show us all of his favorite stores.
On our journey, I got a real taste of what it means to be a ClubKid in the daytime. In the miscellaneous costume and clothing stores Nicky took us to, we ran into about half a dozen of his friends either shopping or working at the stores. We were pleasantly surprised to find out that ClubKid culture is once again a full time job. Nicky explained to us that many Kids still pretend to be part of the culture: “They get dressed up at the end of the day, post their pictures on Instagram, and then sit quietly in the corner of the club. Not [true ClubKids], we go hard on the dance floor just going crazy. I might not even change out of what I’m wearing for tonight because it’s already club-ready.”
Nicky’s friendly and welcoming demeanor makes you feel like no question is off the table. I asked him the usual question, “Have you gotten used to people looking at you funny on the street?” but there was nothing usual about his answer. “Honestly, I don’t see them. Not because I ignore people but because I’m supposed to wear my glasses but don’t. You standing right next to me is about as far as I can see without things going blurry. People always try to say that I dress the way I do for attention. I’m just like ‘Bitch, I can’t even see people, how would I know if I were getting any attention?’”
About an hour and a half into our walk around the city, Nicky abruptly stopped at a building not nearly as vibrant as the stores we had previously visited. “This is my building, you guys wanna come up?” Uh, DUH! An opportunity to a behind-the-scenes look at what really goes into all those Instagram selfies? Yes, please! To say the apartment was small would be an understatement – the residence in total has about the same amount of square footage as a McDonald’s public bathroom. Nicky shares the two-bedroom apartment with his cousin who was out of town at the time, leaving Nicky to take care of the cat that he is allergic to. I asked him where in this apartment he managed to take all of the glamour-shots we see on his social media sites. With an “Oh!” Nicky sprung into action. He set up a studio light facing the front corner of his apartment on the wall opposite his refrigerator and took out his cell phone. We watched as he squeezed himself perfectly into the three feet of open space infront of the stark white wall to snap a photo of what will end up looking much more professional than the means by which it was taken.
This specific moment is what really sums up ClubKid culture – using your resources without judgment on the quality. Nicky says people constantly ask him how he can afford to be a ClubKid in New York City. “I can’t.” ClubKids are not actors, they are not in costume, they are not posers. A true ClubKid is authentic, positive, glass-half-full. Meeting Nicky and his friends have confirmed that the revival of ClubKid culture is full-speed ahead, and soon enough the community will regain its status as one of the most respected and admired cultures in Club life.