Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The East Village of Nelson Sullivan

The following post was written by EV Grieve contributor Shawn Chittle:

Long before Twitter, Facebook, cell phones and cell phone cameras — in 1980s New York — there was Nelson Sullivan. He pointed a bulky 8mm video camera with a wide fisheye lens at himself and filmed everything. As the first video "lifecaster" he was years ahead of his time. Not a narcissist by my definition, but someone who wanted to document the culture that he clearly realized was something special. I have a bunch of his stuff. Sadly, he died in 1989 of a heart attack.

This clip below was just released yesterday — destined to become a classic as Avenue A, East 6th and Avenue B are captured in all their grimy glory. In this video, he tries to get a table at (a yellow painted) Sidewalk Cafe, but "all the freaks" have the tables. Instead he improvises and drops in on his friend who lives on East 6th Street and Avenue B. They all head back to find friends and an empty table at Sidewalk where the video fades out.

Waiting for a Table at an East Village Sidewalk cafe

Previously on YouTube. (Find more of Nelson's work on YouTube here.)

A Trip to Avenue A in NYC

You can read more about Nelson and his role documenting his surroundings during the 1980s here. He died of a heart attack on July 4, 1989.


LDL said...

Than's really cool. Thanks for posting. I always wondered what those apartments above east side ink looked like inside.

Bowery Boogie said...

Pretty funny how he introduces that mug yuppies mural.

Ken Mac said...

Poor dude. Wonder if subconsciously knew he had four months left. Its pretty standard stuff, then he inserts drag queens running like mad. Funny stuff. Then the chick with the snake. Ah, a day in the life

VH McKenzie said...

I'm impressed by how he manages to keep himself perfectly framed througout -- at first, I thought he had another person shooting it!

He seems awfully young to have had a heart attack in that year. Are there many more of these? Fascinating stuff.

EV Grieve said...


There are 221 of his videos videos here!

The videos include interviews/scenes with Lady Bunny, RuPaul, Larry Tee, Michael Musto, etc., from the day.

Anonymous said...

yah how sh-tty is it that he went down with a heart attack. RIP
Remember Stuff Your Pockets on A?
and the glory days of rivington school six o clock and missings martini marks?
I never documented the e.vil in those days. I thought it to be heretical to point a camera. Clayton really bothered me, but I understand it a necessary e.vil.
I still think it is difficult to go back to look, as looking now I see how it will eventually be Bloomberg's East Village Land at the entrance on St. Marks and 2nd where you buy your tickets to be a bohemian for a day.
but I watch the stuff that is flooding the net about e.vil like a sicko voyeur.

Marty Wombacher said...

Thanks for the post, Shawn. I'm checking out the rest of the video's tonight. And like VH McKenzie, I'm wondering how he worked the camera.

Anonymous said...

If I may about the camera. It was probably a small one, though with a good heft. It look to me that he tucked his elbow into torso. And the fisheye lens is too cool.
Works wonders with his shooting style - or is it his style? Thanks EV

lindsay said...

These are wonderful! It's going to take a while to get through all of them! Thank you for sharing these!

Anonymous said...

I'm w/ anon @ 11:33 - gawking the same streets I lived in 1989 - looking for my friends who might be at sidewalk or @ 6/B or me! - strolling the eVill -
ooo, Apr 89 a few months after crackhead rapists broke into my apartment and - well, lets just say it took some time to trust my fellow man again.
ah - good ol, bad ol... my youth.
Poor Nelson - dead so young - like too many others - AIDS, Coke and/or bad luck.
thanks for the blast EVG!

Shawn said...

One of the side effects of shooting the way he did was that he shot "up" on himself most of the time, making him appear larger than life.

Quite the metaphor for everything he did.

Check out his theories/video on the death of Judy Garland influencing the Stonewall riots.

Fascinating stuff...