Before she was one of New York’s best painters, Nicola Tyson was an 18-year-old shutterbug and a student at London’s Chelsea College of Art. On Tuesday nights in the fall of 1978, she snapped pictures at Billy’s, a gay disco in Soho, where Rusty Egan and Steve Strange hosted “Bowie Night,” with a glam-rock soundtrack and habitués decked out in heavy makeup and stylishly outrageous clothes. None of this would be remarkable, save the fact that clubgoers included Simon Le Bon (soon to become the lead singer of Duran Duran), Siobhan Fahey (of the future Bananarama), Midge Ure (Ultravox) and an impossibly young Boy George, with a short pompadour and a baggy pink-and-blue plaid jumpsuit. Egan and Strange themselves would form the band Visage. In Tyson’s photos, printed as ten large blowups of contact sheets, we see the first stirrings of the new romantics, a short-lived movement that would turn into new wave and have lasting influence on the music and style of the decade to come. What we really witness here is the birth of the 1980s.
Despite the later ubiquity of some of these figures, Tyson’s images seem slightly uncanny, like pictures of our parents before we were born. We already know what happens to these bright young people: their meteoric rise to glory and much longer descent from it. That prescience imbues our looking with a doubled nostalgiaÑfor the pops stars we once loved, and for who they were before we loved them.—Joseph R. Wolin