St. Marks Place in 20 Years of Photos

Jesper Haynes 2Stephen Rex Brown A new gallery exhibit by Jesper Haynes chronicles 20 years of living in the East Village.

Plenty of longtime locals love talking about the good old days in the East Village, but Jesper Haynes can point to his photography as proof of what a great time he had in the neighborhood.

“St. Marks: 1986-2006” is an exhibition of Mr. Haynes’ photographs taken inside his two-and-a-half bedroom apartment at the corner of First Avenue and St. Marks Place that is opening this evening at Gallery Onetwentyeight on the Lower East Side. A diverse group of close friends, pretty girls and kooky characters are shot in various states of undress, intoxication, and exuberance.

HouseguestJesper Haynes One of Mr. Haynes’ houseguests.

But the photography isn’t just pure nostalgia, Mr. Haynes said.

“It’s a celebration of a lifestyle that I embrace, and that I still see in other big cities but less so in New York,” he said. “No one I knew had a day job. They were bartenders, writers, artists, photographers — people who didn’t just want to work all the time so they could pay the rent.”

Judging by the revelry that went down in Mr. Haynes’ fourth floor apartment, work was the last thing on his guests’ minds. Indeed, he was swept up in a bohemian paradise in the East Village from the moment he arrived in 1986 at the age of 24.

“It felt like the center of the universe for someone who had just moved from Sweden,” he said. “There was so much art going on in the neighborhood. Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat — the scene exploded.”

Riot in the street!Jesper Haynes Troublemakers on St. Marks.

But the joie de vivre had its dark side: one wall of the exhibition bears six photos of friends that have died, some of them because of AIDS.

“We felt like every couple of weeks we’d go to a memorial service,” Mr. Haynes said, recalling the funeral for Keith Haring and many others. “When you have death all around you really appreciate life. It’s intense.”

Ultimately, Mr. Haynes’ time in the East Village followed a familiar path, culminating in him being run out of the neighborhood due to rising rents. He said that after his beloved landlord died, her daughter renovated the building, running out old tenants.

By the time he left in 2006, he had soured on the neighborhood, which had moved on to another stage of gentrification — one that had priced out his fellow artists.

Wacky photographerJesper Haynes One of Mr. Haynes’ friends.

“I found people peeing in my doorway on Fridays and Saturday nights,” he said. “When people move to a neighborhood and disrespect people that lived there for generations it’s pretty ugly.”

So Mr. Haynes moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where — just to add insult to injury — his bike was stolen after just one week.

But it’s not all gloom and doom for the photographer, who is 49 years old and still dedicated to a life of pleasure before work.

In fact, he’s thinking about moving back to the Village, albeit a little further east in Alphabet City.

“I still find it charming,” he said. “I’m always coming back at least a few times a week.”

The opening reception for “St. Marks 1986-2006” is tonight from 6 to 9 p.m. at Gallery Onetwentyeight at 128 Rivington Street between Norfolk and Essex Streets.

Update | June 24, 1:17 p.m.

An Exhibition Opens

Kaitlyn Bolton and Chris Blackett, of NYU Journalism’s Hyperlocal Summer Academy, share a video of the opening night of “St. Marks 1986-2006.”