New York by Night, 1990 - 1995
photographs by Joanne Chan
Coming in January 2019
In the early nineties, I was living in the Lower East Side, in Manhattan, and attending Cooper Union, an art college in the heart of the East Village. I got a new roommate, Maria, who was studying to be a nurse at NYU. We got along well. Shortly after she moved in, she had a hard time covering her bills. She got a job as a karaoke hostess working late nights from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., in an unlicensed club that catered to Japanese businessmen. The role of the hostess was mainly to pour drinks, make small talk and entertain the customer, but often the customers would make propositions to the hostesses. Unfortunately, during her first payday, after working every night for two weeks, the owners closed the club and left without paying all the hostesses. After this incident, Maria was in a more urgent position to make rent. This is when she came up with the idea to do exotic dancing.
The first night dancing was mentally very difficult for her. She came home from Honey Buns, an exotic dancing club located in the East 40s, completely soaked in sweat with a high fever, and was sick for days. Eventually it got easier. I would sometimes hang out with her for a few hours until her shift ended so she didn’t have to go home alone.
At the time I was 21 years old and green. I was completely intrigued and fascinated with this world of exotic dancers. The dressing room of Honey Buns was located in a dark basement lit with one bare bulb. Visually, I was captivated by the textures, the grittiness and the surreal quality of the environment. My roommate suggested that I take some pictures. Once I took out the camera, many dancers were open to being photographed. That was how I began my night project.
I continued photographing different aspects of nightlife in the city off and on for the next few years. Some nights I would wander through the Meatpacking District and Chelsea until 4 a.m. with my child-size bicycle. Other nights I would venture to different exotic clubs in Manhattan and in Queens.
There were times that I put myself in compromising situations I shouldn’t have. Once, I found myself in a car with a pimp named Scotty, headed to middle-of-nowhere New Jersey. The only reason he agreed to let me go was that he suspected that I was an undercover cop. He dropped me off at a bus that took me to Port Authority.
Looking back, I simply jumped down the rabbit hole and put what I saw in photographs. This body of work was a diary of my exploration into a world that captivated me. Now with many years passed, revisiting the images again, I recognize stories of hardship, tenacity, endurance and humanity that my subjects were kind and open enough to share with me.
About Joanne Chan
Joanne immigrated to Queens, New York from Hong Kong when she was 11 years old with her mother and sisters. Later Joanne attended
The High School of Music and Art and the Cooper Union for the Advance-ment in Science and Art in New York City. After college, Joanne pursued a career in photography. Her subjects included actress Rosario Dawson, Jeff Bezos CEO of Amazon, Bernard Arnault CEO of LVMH, directors Julie Taymor of The Lion King and John Waters of Cry Baby. In 2010, along with her family, Ms Chan relocated to Asheville, NC. In a new environment, Joanne is discovering different mediums in arts and craft.