The New York Historical Society recently obtained some great “Old New York” photography—beautiful shots of the ladies from New York’s formerly infamous Meatpacking District. Though it’s now one of the trendiest (and most expensive) neighborhoods in the city, in the 1980s, the Meatpacking District was the most notorious destination for sex clubs, drugs and prostitution, particularly from trans people. Many of the sex clubs were even forcibly shut down during the height of the AIDS scare by the Koch administration.
It’s a contentious part of the city’s history, and although the characters who populated that part of town at night are long gone, Jeff Cowen’s photographs are proof that they once existed. From The Historical Society’s website:
When New-York Historical acquired these images, Jeff Cowen included a typewritten, four-page narrative he titled “The Drag Queen Stroll.” In it, the artist details his subjects from their first-hand accounts and his point of view, utilizing an abrupt writing style that’s reminiscent of the Beat Generation.Cowen maps “The Stroll” from 17th Street and 9th Avenue, running west to the Hudson River, to the southern edge of the Meatpacking District on Gansevoort. His writing draws on the rampant homelessness, drug use, prostitution, theft, and assault in this area at night, which serves as a sharp contrast to the union workers and family men who work in the meat markets and warehouses during the day. Cowen calls this area “a haven for the largest transvestite subculture on the east coast.” And with the advent of crack and HIV/AIDS in the 1980s, he says “the cost of sin has never been higher.”
Posted by Amber Frost