New York City is where the “creative souls” live. The smart girls who listened to The Cure in high school, and the lost boys in thrift store suits that dreamed of them. Maybe the entirety of the city is not this romanticized and cinematic, but the artistic life of photographer Ash Fox is… very much so.
As a fixture in the New York rock ‘n roll nightlife scene, Fox is more than just a powerhouse party photographer, but also a fashion blogger, clothing designer, multitalented media artist, and advocate of the art of the “rock n’ roll confidence”.
“When you’re working nine to five in a cubicle, picking yourself apart, held back by fear of living the life you wish you had,” Fox says, “the ‘rock star’ who seems to live life outside of normalcy is like a superhero. It seems like a life like that is out of reach, but it doesn’t have to be.”
Ash Fox sees the world in a way that seems to connect all of her passions (music, style, art.) into one singular, unified lifestyle. She lives based on accepting the unconventional and admiring the iconic in order to be the “best ‘you’ that you can be”.
I sit across from Fox on her metallic silver couch in her midtown Manhattan flat as she answers my questions about how she connects the dots between rock n’ roll and fashion.
“Hearing a song isn’t the only entryway to rock n’ roll, fashion can also be the spark that draws you to rock culture.” She elaborates using the example of one of the musicians she grew up with. “You can hear Mick Jagger without ever seeing him, and it’s amazing, but just as well, you can see Mick Jagger without hearing him and you’re still interested. He has this unconventional beauty and great style, which exudes confidence. Rock stars have this light that sort of sucks all of the air out of the room, but you don’t have to be an actual rock star to have that.”
The New York rock n’ roll party scene, which draws heavy influence from punk, hippie, and glam fashions of bygone rock eras, thrives on this exact “unconventionally sexy” poise that Fox believes in. Think men in white women’s boots and glam rock pin-up dolls in vintage runway punk.
Lounging around in the apartment in minimal makeup and a floral dress that she apparently got “in fifth grade”, Fox says “Someone who has confidence and natural charisma will look just as great naked or in a jeans and t shirt than in their ‘iconic rock looks’. Rock n’ roll fashion is all about feeling comfortable in your own skin.” And lucky for Fox, she’s the very girl that gets to document the filth, fury, fashion, and frenzy of the flourishing nightlife scene that lives these ideals.
For just about over a year, Fox has been the primary party photographer and social butterfly of the Hudson Hotel’s celebrated weekly glam rock party, Ladyland. After an online invitation by nightlife curator, Kelle Calco, Ash attended Lady Starlight’s party at the Royalton Hotel, one of her first experiences in NYC rock nightlife.
“I went out one night and Kelle introduced me to everyone and it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. To see the way the whole community dresses… it’s like a society of rockers, or at least people who looked like rockers,” she says. “And then I remember somebody saying ‘Are you coming out to the next place after this… the after-party’, and I was like ‘Wait, this is the party’, I’d never heard of anything like that.”
A few months later, when Ladyland was a brand new weekly event, Fox jumped at the chance to fill in for a nightlife photographer who relocated jobs. Now, you can see her dancing through the crowds and waving her camera at beautiful(ly wasted) men and women, capturing some of the most glamorous spur-of-the-moment scenes in New York nightlife.
“This is something that I wanted to do because I get to be creative and mingle with tons of people and make friends, all while listening to rock music,” Fox explains. “It’s a pleasure to shoot at Ladyland because everyone loves to pose and dress up. It’s great to shoot people involved in the scene as well as the ones who are there for the first time, standing by the bar or in the corner with the twinkle in their eye that says ‘I know that this is where I belong’. I love talking to them and taking their pictures.”
A big part of Ash Fox’s style of photographing is based on personal connections with the subjects in front of the camera, shooting during conversations just as frequently as she plays the role of the ‘fly on the wall photographer’.”
“When you’re taking someone’s photo, it can be intimate, or you can be a paparazzi, but I try to make people trust me and work with me while I’m shooting. I want to make you feel good about getting your picture taken. We all look at ourselves a little too closely and see distorted imperfections rather than our own spark and beauty. I like to look for the attractive qualities in these people and help them relax and feel good about themselves. I think a lot of us need that.”
“It’s such a shared experience, photographing at this party, because we’re all friends just moving around listening to music together. I never want to be that uptight photographer in a boring outfit, running around with a business card, trying to get you to buy my photos, it’s so much more enjoyable being organic. I feel like I’m on this crazy adrenaline rush, it’s euphoric.”
Soon, Fox and I are looking through her many closets, filled with purple furry coats, animal print, skintight pants, bejeweled halter tops, and retro platform heels. We’re picking out clothes for the photo spread, which as a photographer, she’s very hands-on about.
Eventually, Ash is styled to the likes of what I call “the sexy-tough front woman of a 90’s grunge band”, clad in shiny black vinyl pants that compliment the pop-art dream couch. Then, we stumble upon a black low-cut shirt covered completely in large multi-colored jewels, a piece from Fox’s clothing line, Tit Tees.
“In high school I really loved mixing the fashions from different styles and genres of music,” she says, a philosophy that eventually worked its way into her clothing brand. “I’d wear a polo shirt with tattered jeans and vans, and I’d mix hip-hop with punk and throw on some big hoop earrings. Then places like in New York and LA, I started seeing all of these rock stars with clothing lines and I was like, ‘Hey, I can do that!’, so my friend and I started doing these rock ‘n roll T-shirts, and the idea was putting a little taste of rock into basic fashion. Something that anyone could wear and get a little bit of that rock edge”
Then, with the launch of her clothing brand, soon came a website that featured the clothes modeled by and for people who wanted that “rock edge”. “Around that time I started my blog in order to market the clothes, I was looking into fashion blogs and thought it was just the most amazing idea. They were like democratic fashion magazines, just cool girls putting on their best outfits and taking pictures of themselves in their bedrooms and talking about it.”
Nowadays, though, Ash is ready to take her blog into a more broad direction, including fashion and lifestyle writing based around the rock ‘n roll ideals that she loves and lives by.
“I want to write articles about cultivating rock style and confidence, I want to talk about what people, and particularly, women, see in rock culture and rock stars. I really think it’s all about the iconic message of breaking down walls,” she says. “And I want to explore these messages beyond sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. Living the rock lifestyle in a free-spirited, modern, and healthy way.”
It’s getting late, and I’ve been at Fox’s apartment for about six hours now. In some of her most honest and relatable thoughts, she starts to reflect on how rock ‘n roll helped her “find her place”.
“My friends and I used to have all of these crazy experiences at concerts and with rock stars, but I was always frustrated because though I loved the music, I didn’t really see anywhere I could fit into the rock world aside from being an ornament to some guy. I’m an artist, not a musician, so I could never be a rock star, and I felt like it was such a male-dominated world,” she says. “But now I realize how I’m supposed to fit into the rock thing, though, being a documentarian in the community. Capturing the energy and giving people the opportunity to perform.”
The element of the “performance”, something heavily stressed in NYC rock nightlife, is understood by Ash Fox better than anyone else, because she’s the prime spectator.
“If someone wants to portray themselves as ‘glamorous’, they might strike a certain pose, or if they want to be perceived as “punk rock”, they’ll stick their tongue out or put their fist in the air in a photo. There’s a line between the real person and their ‘performance’, but I’m not looking to expose or reveal the real thing, I like that people have fantasies about themselves and rock ‘n roll life,” she says.
“I think there’s something to be said about people who live their art twenty four hours a day, and that means performing even when you’re out. But the people who are most interesting are the ones who can live their art while remaining genuine. I love the theatrics of rock, but with no substance it falls apart”
And this is much like Ash Fox herself: a woman of substance trying to poke holes through the surface of a fast-and-loose rock scene, just to let a little bit of light shine in.
Ladyland photos by Ash Fox
Editing by Kelle Calco