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November 5, 2018

The Drag Queen Stroll: Vintage Photographs of Prostitutes in the Meatpacking District in 1980s New York City

In the 1980s, the Meatpacking District was the most notorious destination for sex clubs, drugs and prostitution, particularly from trans people. Many of the sex clubs were even forcibly shut down during the height of the AIDS scare by the Koch administration.

Photographer Jeff Cowen who has become widely known for his unique, painterly portraits and collages, but in the 1980s, earlier in his career, he captured several striking images of New York City’s drag queen culture.

When New-York Historical acquired these images, Jeff Cowen included a typewritten, four-page narrative he titled “The Drag Queen Stroll.” In it, the artist details his subjects from their first-hand accounts and his point of view, utilizing an abrupt writing style that’s reminiscent of the Beat Generation.

Cowen maps “The Stroll” from 17th Street and 9th Avenue, running west to the Hudson River, to the southern edge of the Meatpacking District on Gansevoort. He calls this area “a haven for the largest transvestite subculture on the east coast.” And with the advent of crack and HIV/AIDS in the 1980s, he says “the cost of sin has never been higher.”



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