john simone: biography
I left Toronto in 1987, after graduating from the University of Toronto. In Toronto I had sold Polaroids to approximately
20,000 people at Sparkles disco in the CN Tower, The Copa Nightclub in Yorkville, The Diamond on Sherbourne and the party
boat, Mariposa Belle. That was a gig that I could repeat in New York, so I left Toronto on a quest for glitz and glamour.
In New York I set myself up as house photographer at Club 10-18 (The Roxy), after a short stint at the Cat Club in the
Village. This club was one of the biggest in Manhattan, attracting the high-end "Bridge and Tunnel" crowd.
They were the top echelon of the drug world from Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens, with yards of thick gold chains and medallions,
embossed Gucci leather sweat suits and gallons of Cristal.
For two years I supported all of my artistic activities in New York with ten hours a week selling
Polaroids at 10-18. For a short time, October 1987 – January 1988, I even moonlit at the re-opened Studio 54, where on
Halloween and New Year’s Eve, at both clubs, I sold more than 800 photos.
My career as a photojournalist started with the original Details Magazine . I began getting invited to club events so I
bought 2 Minolta Maxxum electronic 35mm cameras and starting to photograph the fabulous, almost-famous people that I met, in BW and colour,
developing a liking for the subtleties of 35mm. I met Stephen
Saban who was the legendary nightlife columnist for Details twice in my first week, shooting parties,
and he asked me to show him my contact sheets.
No-one captured the flavour and zeal of clubland better than Stephen Saban.
His taste shaped my approach to the Details material,
because he was particular about whom he selected for his column, but honest when it was time to acknowledge people’s transition
from wannabe to celebrity.
My big move from Polaroid hustler to party hustler came courtesy of Michael Alig, whose promotional talents tapped into
the pulse of a Manhattan youth-quake. This happened in the nick of time, because Club 10-18 closed following an explosion
of gang activity. One patron was found stabbed in the men’s room. At an all-ages event featuring La Toya Jackson,
on Christmas Day 1988, gangs had a shootout there; I ran for my life as bullets were flying.
I had already been working with Alig as Chief Photographer on his Project X Magazine, supplying photos for his Club Rub column,
my Celebrity Sheet column, fashion spreads, and the magazine’s covers, so Alig said to me, “John, you know people, bring me parties.”
Alig had organized a show of my club photographs, called Subterranean Society: The Photographs of John Simone, at the Tunnel
nightclub in May, 1988. The first party I produced and promoted for Alig was a publishing event for Lee Tulloch’s novel Fabulous
Nobodies at the Red Zone in 1989. It was a novel about a girl in love with her clothes and it was set in the New York nightlife
The event featured a slide show of my photos of just such fabulous nobodies, who happened to reign over New York nightlife
at that time. Many of these mavens are the people represented in my work. They were the fiercest, most fascinating fashion freaks
to hit New York nightlife in a decade. Not since Studio 54 and the Mudd Club’s heyday had so much energy been put into dressup
There was major cross-over between Alig's original club kids and Susanne Bartsch's dancers and performers.
But the shamelessly self-promoting club denizens were no less important to me than the mainstream celebrities who were the other
subjects of my work. The tension between pose and personality captured my interest, whether it was Michael Jackson or Cher, or
club kids like Fuschia Baby Doll, Harlequin Romanzes or club kid patron saint Leigh Bowery.
When Anthony Haden-Guest published his history of Studio 54 and nightlife The Last Party: Studio 54, Disco, and the Culture of
Night, it inspired the group exhibition The Last Party: Nightworld in Photographs that launched the Serge Sorokko Gallery
York City in 1997. To illustrate 100 years of nightlife history, curator Helen Varola chose 37 images from my archive, in a show
with over 200 other photographs by artists as legendary as Arbus, Avedon, WeeGee and Warhol.
The show was captured in its very own
special edition of American Photo Magazine.
In 1998 I subsequently exhibited 69 slides in a show called New York Media Whores, in
the Walker Court at the Art Gallery of Ontario, during the opening night Warhol Party, for The Warhol Look exhibition.
In 2004, the Flash! Show at Edward Day Gallery showed 58 of my images spanning my years in New York, in a group exhibition.
Over the last two decades, the range of my creative interest has enlarged, to include nature photography and documentation of world
cultures. Thus, I have built my archive by traveling to 70 countries, using my work to illustrate my own photography course,
Just Great Photos: 95 Easy Tips by John Simone which
I have taught to thousands of people.
It is twenty-five years since I took the New York photos, but these images are not merely nostalgic; they revisit a unique milieu,
recording social history of particular relevance to today's media-driven and scandal-focused culture.
Simone spent 5 years traveling
to over 80 countries as Senior Photographer
and Photography Teacher on Princess Cruises
These are the first Forty-four cities posted - with more to follow
Click any city to visit on John Simone Photography's jetsetjohnny.ca:
Quick links to all of John Simone's Design and Photography sites: