Ken Schles: “Invisible City” – Portrait of 1980’s Downtown New York

Ken Schles is a photographer and writer, the author of five monographs. A native New Yorker, Schles currently resides in Brooklyn, NY. He is a graduate of Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art and studied with Lisette Model at the New School for Social Research. Born in 1960, he grew up in a turbulent era and has been engaged in the issues that have shaped his world. As a student at Cooper in the late 70s and early 80s, he helped revamp an ailing photography department. In the 1980s he documented his life in the underground art and club scene and lived in what became an abandoned tenement in the East Village.

USA – 

New York has always been the city of ultimate extremes, extremes in terms of social classes, races, wealth, behaviour. Ken Schles‘s keen observations of the American landscape, in his legendary book ‘Invisible City’, recently re-published by German publisher Steidl, is a provocative document of the East-Village in 80’s, presenting an inside perspective on his sublime youth madness, from his late 20’s.

While living in an apartment on Avenue B in the East-Village, which was lousy with crack addicts and burglars, Schles was creating images in an abandoned building where his neighbour was a woman with three kids, a heroin addict and dealers were using her apartment as a shooting spot.


Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 12.39.17 PM


In late 80’s, Ken Schles was not happy with just showing his work on some gallery walls and get over with it. And that is how the idea of making a book fell in place. With a cult-following then, Schles legendary book ‘Invisible City’, was a big success in pre-internet age as it was a New York Times notable book of the year in 1988 and had won an award for book design from the American Institute of Graphic Arts. With his traditional love for photography books and fear of loosing to a generation with small number of books, originally published by Twelvetress Press in 1988, Schles wanted to explore the growing interest of the photobook enthusiasts and had published a free online edition of his book with The Photobook Club in 2012 and re-published edition with Steidl in 2014.

His rough, raw and uninhibited style captures the city’s energies with his experimental images of underground parties, couple fucking in the open, or a little boy in a shopping cart holding a toy gun with a murderous expression amongst others the performances and street scenes. Sensory overload of full-bleed black and white images, ‘Invisible City’ is an insightful and powerful depiction of the New York’s one of the dangerous neighbourhood.

Photography Reviewed by Manik Katyal



Related Posts

Asger Carlsen: From Crime-Photography to Mutilated, Disfigured Human Form

USA – Asger Carlsen’s images consist of mutilated, disfigured and distorted human forms with a typical obscure quality to them. He …

Desapelo : Sofia Lopez Mañan

Argentina – I started shaving my head in June last year in an internal process of healing and letting go …

Goodbye My Chechnya – Diana Markosian

Russia – “Goodbye My Chechnya”  chronicles the lives of young Muslim girls in the aftermath of war.  This piece aims to …

Kursat Bayhan : Away From Home

Turkey – I saw the work of Kürşat Bayhan while I was teaching a workshop in Bursa in September 2012. …

Monk… Its personal – Ekkarat Punyatara

Thailand – I believe Buddhism or the middle way of Buddha is the personal journey of each person’s mind, observing …

Colombian Gangsta and other stories – Kosuke Okahara

Japan –  In an attempt to find new ways of communicating a story, Kosuke has recently produced the first issue …

Wenxin Zhang: FIVE NIGHTS, AQUARIUM

China –  Five Nights, Aquarium is a non-linear narration weaved by photographs and five short written works. I try to …

Howrah High Jinx – Pablo Bartholomew

India – Photographs create a frame of the world and the photographers place within it, a personally composed fraction of …

Adam Lach: Stigma

Poland –  “STIGMA” tells the story of 60-person family of Romanian Romas living in the encampment in Wroclaw. This is …