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 scene.

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 after dark.

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 in New 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.

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.

PUBLIC EXHIBITIONS 1990–2016

Akasha Art Projects (2016 Toronto)
Subterranean Society: Photos by John Simone.
Over 75 vintage photographs featuring famous artists, celebrities and nightlife personalities
exhibited as part of Nuit Rose and Toronto Pride 2016.
(Independent Artist)

Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (2014 Toronto)
Legends of N.Y. Nitelife: Photos by John Simone.
(AKA Subterranean Society)
Over 70 photographs featuring famous artists, celebrities and nightlife personalities
exhibited in the Antechamber during Nuit Rose 2014 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.
(Featured Artist Award; Ontario Arts Council grant)

The Gladstone Hotel (2014 Toronto)
Exploding Pink Inevitable: Photos by John Simone
11 monumental canvas photographs of celebrities and nightlife legends
exhibited in the Gladstone Hotel’s Ballroom as part of Nuit Rose 2014.
(Featured Artist Award; and OAC grant)

Edward Day Gallery (2004 Toronto)
Flash – Queering the Field
58 color and black and white prints of New York nightlife
personalities and celebrities in a group show.
Curated by Kelly McCray.

Art Gallery of Ontario (1998 Toronto))
New York Media Whores: Photos by John Simone
69 color slides of Warhol superstars, celebrities, and nightlife denizens
exhibited in Walker Court as part of “The Warhol Party” to celebrate the opening of
The Warhol Look: Glamour, Style, Fashion exhibition.
Curated by John Simone.

Serge Sorokko Gallery (1997 New York City & San Francisco)
The Last Party: Nightworld in Photographs
37 black and white photographs of celebrities and club kids
exhibited in a 250-photo retrospective on 100 years of nightlife
which included work by Andy Warhol, Diane Arbus, Brassai,
Wee Gee
and Richard Avedon and 50 other artists.

The show was featured in its own
special edition of American Photo magazine.
Curated by Helen Varola and was inspired by Anthony Haden-Guest’s tome
on nightlife, The Last Party: Studio 54, Disco and Culture of the Night.

Realart Gallery (1990 New York City)
The Battle of the Paparazzi: Mark Sink VS John Simone
60 color and black and white photographs of New York nightlife
personalities and celebrities in a group show with
Warhol protégé Mark Sink and Warhol print-maker Donald Sherman.
Curated by Melinda Hacket and Charlie Finch.


Visit jetsetjohnny.ca for great travel photography:
Quick links to all of John Simone's Design and Photography sites: