Vagabonds: Following the Final Moments of the NYC Punk Scene

All images and text by Olivia Pasquarelli.

The Vagabonds project happened naturally, starting in 2012 and spanning all the way until 2015. Prior to starting this project, I had already been going to concerts and shooting, but I began becoming more interested in the subcultures of the people attending the shows and the spaces they occupied than the actual performers. I had just moved to a new place, and the passion and dedication some subcultures I discovered in Brooklyn and lower Manhattan fascinated me. I went to more and more shows, having my camera on me at all times ready to shoot anyone who would let me. The people in the photographs became my friends, and the more I took their photos and learned about their lives, the more obsessed I became with shooting more and capturing their unique point of view.

At the time I started this project, I was new to photography and the only camera equipment I could afford to have on me was my old film camera. The entire project was shot with an Olympus omG 35mm from the 80’s passed down to me from my Dad, on Ilford Delta 3200 black and white film for the grainy, dirty effect or 400 speed film with a tiny battery operated flash. Any color images were shot using disposable color film cameras. I developed and printed all the film myself. Even when I gained access to digital equipment, the images didn’t have the same authenticity.  I lost the excitement of waiting to see the images until after developing the film.

I named the project Vagabonds because many of the subjects had found their home in the concert venues, music houses, and squats they occupied. Some moved from city to city–following music, friends, and a place to sleep. The main theme between everyone I shot and the thing that made me feel connected to my subjects: we all lived unusual lives and weren’t accepted by mainstream society. Not everyone I shot was traveling from city to city; many of the subjects were born and raised in New York City and still lived there. They were Vagabonds in their rebellion and their refusal to conform. The first photograph I shot that started this project was outside a punk venue in Queens during their last farewell show before closing down. This guy I knew, Bernard, was leaning against a brick wall, shirtless except for a leather vest, smoking a cigarette. I shot the photo with a flash in the complete darkness. That out of focus image became the precursor to everything I shot for 3 years. I shot tons of photos of Bernard, his hands are the ones that have “VAGABOND” tattooed on the knuckles, which inspired the name of the project. I spent a lot of time shooting in Bushwick and in squats in Alphabet City made famous by crust punk bands that still lived and played in them.

I chose to shoot this for the same reason I choose to shoot a lot of my subjects. I’ve always been naturally drawn to people that live outside the confines of society like myself. Anyone considered “strange” or “unusual” for their lifestyle and didn’t care what other people thought of them were always interesting to me. Sometimes I dig beneath the surface and learn that these people are not as interesting as I thought, sometimes I find my worldview and life changed forever by what I learn from my subjects. The vagabonds project was the first one: not much depth behind the hard, zero fucks given exterior.

The project ended how it started: naturally. Almost every single concert venue I shot in throughout the project has been shut down by now. The subcultures are dying, and I rarely find myself inspired when I go to shows anymore. The images feel like a piece of history. New York has changed so much over the past 5 years, looking at these photos feels like looking back on a forgotten time. Maybe that’s just my nostalgia for an expired part of my life and a dissipated community I used to be a part of.