Arts and Culture

A Lens of Liberation: Seeing to the Heart of NYC's Nightlife

Jara Lopez Sastre Painting
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A Lens of Liberation: Seeing to the Heart of NYC's Nightlife

Love in a city like New York is hard to grasp, gifted in unexpected hands, blooming and wilting like flowers at the deli. It exists, like the city itself does, in a haze collectively formed, subject to whims seemingly beyond the reach of any one individual. A game of chance played by the millions, constantly shifting; It’s all energy really.

For Disposable Relly, a Brooklyn-based film photographer-event producer-jack-of-all-trades, this energy is best understood through the essence of a moment and the emotion that permeates it. Whereas his editorial photography devotes itself entirely to matters of the twisting heart, that knife-edge balance on which it dances, his snapshots of nightlife capture the unique time, place, and people that make the dream of the night real. Inspired by references ranging from friends and family to the raw and rambling writings of Charles Bukowski, his passion for life is primarily translated in his art as a narrative form.

In contrast to many of the other event producers in the city, Bodega Flowers and Seltzer Water - Relly’s own production company - prides itself on an ethos of honesty and vulnerability. With the name itself coming from stories of past love affairs, each post on Instagram is carefully executed, revealing a story far closer to the heart than you might expect of another contender in the city’s nightlife space. The posts often alternate event fliers or information with aesthetic references, texts from exes, and more sentimental pictures directly from Relly’s life. The captions often display a remarkable honesty, a poetry of sorts, that is as candid as it is tender, fantasizing on love lost, the beauty of community, and finding solace in art and music. “My openness and vulnerability, because it's coming from me, make people feel the ability to be more open and vulnerable themselves”. Inspiring others to open themselves in ways they might not have otherwise.

Elementary (2023). Medium 35mm Film Photography.

The history of parties and the photography that captured them was originally predicated on an element of chance, some lucky ability to be in the right place on the right night. The constructions of persona were left to the tabloids, pop art, and the oral traditions of those that were there. With the advent of the Internet and its increasing prevalence in the role of story-telling and persona-building, parties take on a tone that tends towards the performative, the mythological event. The sheer presence of a camera, according to Relly, is enough to trigger a qualitative reaction, a total shift in the vibe if you will. “It changes the entire nature of the space [...] I take pictures and see the shift happen just then and there. They’re like, okay, flashes are going off. Pictures are going to be happening.”

Rather than responding to these observations with cynicism or overzealousness, Relly carries on with a uniquely positive disposition. He carries an ability to see that distinctive self-effacing performance itself, or a resistance to it, as a form of authenticity. “You actually sometimes get a more authentic version of someone who might otherwise have not felt comfortable. But just the invasion of privacy that’s happening in a photo forces them to be who they are and engage.” The characters in his photographs are stripped of their normalcy, endowed with a luminescent quality, radiating from the screen.

A party lasts one night but its energy, the thing that gave it life in the first place, remains singular, floating above temporality. In a few years, we’ll be able to track the lineage of the collective vibe of the city in his photographs, see the delicate balance of performance and timidity hiding behind the smiles of his subjects, feel the way the street lamps and headlights and neon and LED phone screens danced behind our eyelids when we finally made it home. What remains in the darkness between camera flashes, whatever momentary adjustments in pose, whatever fear lay dormant behind glossy eyes and curated conversations--all of that, ultimately, is lost to the night. The momentary fragments that glimmer and shine are what remain. 

Broken (2023). 24" x 36". Film Photography.

Connect with Relly on: Instagram