The 2000s were a cultural reset in every sense of the term, introducing a new era of digital technology that would revolutionize the way we lived. With the advent of high-speed internet access, digital photography, early social media, and the proliferation of blogs, photographers suddenly found themselves able to produce, distribute, and publish their work in 24 hours or less.
At the same time, no one felt the need to transform every encounter into a photo opp to feed the insatiable machine of influencer-inspired content that drives popular culture today. People readily took selfies without a care in the world, never thinking of filters, likes, or followers. As a result, there was an extraordinary flourishing of organic culture, particularly in nightlife as the last days of analog paved the way for our brave new world.
Perfectly poised in the eye of the storm, photographer Mark Hunter documented the hipster party scenes in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Paris, and Tokyo with a Polaroid in hand, quickly becoming one of the forerunners in the online world of photo blogging for his site, The Cobrasnake. His candid snaps of 2000s icons like artist Dash Snow, actress Chloë Sevigny, electroclash musician Peaches, fashion designers Virgil Abloh and Jeremy Scott, and a host of stylish revelers who were equal parts glam and gauche, captured the look of a generation whose sense of style could best be described as “indie sleaze.”
Inspired by Patrick McMullan, who had just published his iconic book So80s, bringing together his vast documentation of the era’s nightlife scene, Hunter positioned himself as an insider, photographing the world he knew best where everyone was at ease with — if not wholly oblivious to — his presence.
Is This It
“When I graduated high school, most of my friends went off to college. I went to the Troubador. Sometimes in a threadbare vintage t-shirt, sometimes in a Lacoste polo, but always with my camera,” California native Mark Hunter writes in the new book: The Cobrasnake: Y2KS Archive.
“I started taking pictures and posting them on my website when I was just eighteen. I wanted to capture the excitement I felt going out to shows and parties with the coolest styles and the wildest characters, and I thought people might want to see the scene through my eyes. Growing up, I always felt like an outsider—I never got picked for the team. But through the Cobrasnake I finally got to make my own team.”
Long before life went digital, Hunter kept tabs on his plans through the old standby: the pin-up wall calendar. In The Cobrasnake: Y2KS Archive, he includes a collage of photographs, post-its, and pages from a random month, filled with handwritten notes every day of the week indicating where he was planning to be that day or night. Replete with concerts, art shows, photo shoots, birthdays, and various appointments, Hunter describes his calendar as that of “a young nightlife photographer on the make” — an apt description of what came next.
Just Let Go
Working as an assistant at Shepard Fairey’s Los Angeles gallery, Mark Hunter was perfectly poised to be in the thick of it all. “It felt like living in a dream to be working for my hero and meeting so many cool people in the art world,” he writes in The Cobrasnake: Y2KS Archive, “but I had just graduated high school and still got really nervous at these parties. My social anxiety would manifest through wearing really loud neon outfits and constantly hiding behind sunglasses, which ironically made it seem like I was the least anxious person at every party. Fake it ‘til you make it.”
An apt summation of youth culture writ large, Hunter’s photographs complement his words, offering a snapshot of a time in life when there is nothing more important than being seen on the scene, managing any spots of awkwardness with good old-fashioned sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.
What makes Hunter’s photographs and this era as a whole particularly endearing is a resounding sense that everyone is living for the moment, rather than performing for the camera in the hopes of gaining clout. As a result there is the perfect balance of self-consciousness and messiness, a world free from filters and brand partnerships. No one is scrolling their phones. They are dancing, drenched in beer and sweat, looking wholly undone — as you should when the party is good.
The Cobrasnake: Y2KS Archive is published by Rizzoli New York, $39.95.