Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Nicky Digital: Nightlife Photographer

Throngs of 20-somethings pack the dance floor for Girls and Boys, Webster Hall’s weekly night of trance and electro music. DJ duo Crookers mans the turntables, surrounded by a semicircle of VIPs. Nightlife photographer Nicky Digital ping-pongs across the stage, capturing the DJs in action. One partier is so caught up that he nearly falls off the elevated stage, but the photog grabs him by his flannel shirt, saving him from certain injury. The reveler promptly responds by nearly spilling his beer on Digital’s camera.

Nicholas Rhodes, 26, aka Nicky Digital, didn’t plan to make nightlife photography his livelihood. The former magazine art director started in 2005 as a photo blog for his images of friends at downtown clubs. Four years and 150,000 photographs later, Rhodes has become a fixture on the scene, and a celebrated one at that. Paper magazine dubbed him Best Nightlife Photographer at their 2008 Nightlife Awards, he has been featured in Photo District News, New York magazine and New York Press, and his photos have run in publications across the country.

“This definitely wasn’t something I planned on making a career out of,” Rhodes said, “but once I started the whole thing kind of snowballed. But I love doing it so I’m very fortunate.” is one of New York’s hottest party photo sites. Rhodes’ most popular photos of hipsters drinking, dancing and posing have been viewed over 35,000 times. His photos feature New York’s stylish, beautiful and famous as well as partiers caught up in the moment. Some smile for him, some pose with a too-cool smirk, but all Rhodes’ photos show people simply and genuinely having fun. And he relies on the quality of his work rather than the salacious, while many nightlife photo sites are notorious for such exploitation.

Adam Laukhuf, a former colleague at the now defunct pop culture magazine Radar, says he tried to convince Rhodes to sex up his site with racier photos, but Rhodes wasn’t interested. “He doesn’t exploit female sexuality. He’s like the PG-13 nightlife photographer,” Laukhuf said. “I tried to get him to take more T and A pics, but to his own detriment, he won’t do it.”

Rhodes explains that his decision hinged on the esteem of photo subjects rather than site traffic. “I don’t want to take a picture of girls getting naked in the bathroom or something like that, when they’re drunk, and then have them see it on the site the next day and embarrass them because they regret it,” Rhodes said.

According to his sister Madeline Rhodes, 23, Rhodes has always been a night person. “When we were growing up, our bedrooms shared a wall and I would always be banging on the wall because I’d be trying to fall asleep and he’d be up listening to music and reading magazines,” she said.

Rhodes and his sister grew up in Katonah, N.Y., an affluent suburb 50 miles north of New York City. He first became enamored with photography at 8, when he found his father’s old SLR in a closet. In his pre-teen years, Rhodes took up an interest in magic and convinced his psychologist mom and dentist dad to let him attend Buck’s Rock Performing and Creative Arts Camp in New Milford, Conn., where he honed his skill in illusions. But, his sister says, he always held on to a love for photography, and would take a camera with him wherever he went. In high school, Rhodes combined his love for magazines and photography by becoming yearbook editor. After graduating Somers High School in 2000, he attended Emerson College in Boston. There, as a photography major specializing in street photography, classmates dubbed him Nicky Digital because of his preference for digital over film photography.

“He doesn’t exploit female sexuality. He’s like the PG-13 nightlife photographer”

Before becoming Nicky Digital full-time, Rhodes essentially had two full-time jobs: his 9 to 5 at the magazine and moonlighting as Nicky Digital until 4 a.m. When Radar folded in October 2008, Rhodes seized the opportunity to make his first priority. Now he spends nearly every night at events, returning to his Lower East Side apartment at 4 or 5 a.m. and rising at 9:30 to upload photos, meet with business partners and spend time with his girlfriend before hitting the clubs again.

“I’m amazed at how often he goes out,” said Clayton Hauck, an acquaintance and fellow professional photographer who once worked in the Chicago nightlife scene. “To keep that kind of energy level is beyond me.”

Working the four floors of Webster Hall, Rhodes is a flurry of activity. He stalks the dance floor, always hunting for his next shot. He goes at most six steps before finding a friend or a subject to photograph. Rhodes finds subjects everywhere – in the hallways, on the dance floor, on stage, backstage. On the floor, people call out, “Nicky!” and throw their arms up, posed and eager to be photographed. Tonight he finds a thin, pale punk in Marilyn Manson-style makeup, pretty young things with Technicolor hair and sleeve tattoos, and a 4 a.m. pizza party backstage. A 20-something with neon plastic jewelry and a fur shawl recognizes Rhodes and hands him a blue, sparkly light-up toy. He accepts it, snaps a few more photos, and gives her a double thumbs-up before returning to VIP.

With his thick, black framed glasses, bandanna, and handlebar mustache, Rhodes is instantly recognizable. The mustache is reminiscent of his magician past, and the bandanna he wears around his neck, he says, is an ode to his father. “My dad used to always wear a bandanna, whether it was on his head while he was working in the yard or around his neck or whatever. It’s a style I picked up from him,” Rhodes said.

His sister says Rhodes has always had a unique fashion sense. “He wasn’t always fashionable,” she said with a laugh, “but he’s always had style, definitely. He’s gotten better.”

Madeline Rhodes, a jewelry designer who lives in Bridgeport, Conn., joined the staff in 2008 as a fashion blogger. She says her brother is an easygoing boss without a heavy editorial hand. “He’ll clean up grammar if it needs to be cleaned up, but otherwise he’s sensitive to letting me write about what I want to write about,” she said.

Sensitivity, Rhodes’ sister says, is a family trait that runs strong in her older brother. “We’re a very sensitive family, maybe too sensitive, but I think that’s what makes Nick so caring and nice, and one of the reasons I’m proud of him,” she said. “Whether it’s those girls who are a little too drunk or if somebody needs help, he’s always looking out for people.”

Rhodes shrugs off his benevolence, saying he just wants people to have a good time. “Sometimes I’ll see people who have maybe partied too hard and I’ll bring them water or ask them if they need me to get them a cab,” he said.

Rhodes is currently in talks to expand his web site and develop Nicky Digital as a lifestyle brand encompassing music, fashion and photography. “I know what the people who come to the site are like because I actually have conversations with them about what they’re into, and we’d like to have people come to the site for reasons other than vanity,” he said.

Rhodes says traffic to his site has increased significantly in the six months that it has been his main focus, even reaching audiences across the globe. He recounts the story of Japanese tourists at West Village hotspot Le Royale who told him, “We came to visit New York for the week from Japan and we always go to your site and we’re here ‘cause we wanted to see the party in real life,” Rhodes said. People from fashion centers like Paris and Milan are also going to the site, Rhodes says, to see what people in New York are wearing. “I don’t think I’ll ever have a corporate job again,” he said, chuckling.

Later in the evening, the flannel-clad partier who Rhodes kept from falling encounters him again, this time backstage. “Dude, I follow your shit on Twitter,” says Ted Gushue, 20, of Wilton, Conn., offering his cell phone as proof. “That’s how I know when to check your blog.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Take Back NYU! Protester Clara Totenberg Green

NYU student activist group Take Back NYU! (TBNYU!) staged a protest February 18-20 in the university's Kimmel Center to bring attention to their demands for social accountability at the university. The students occupied the Kimmel Center overnight despite threats of academic dismissal and possible arrest for trespassing. Eighteen students were suspended.

After suspensions were doled out, protesters and members of TBNYU! and even their supporters were reluctant to speak to the media for fear of punishment by the university. Twenty-two press inquiries were sent out by before one interview was granted.

The following is NYU student and TBNYU! member Clara Totenberg Green's explanation of the events, as told to

I was part of the group Students Creating Radical Change, which is the group that Take Back NYU! came out of. I’m interested in politics and social justice and I’ve always felt that you have to approach social rights issues within the community you’re a part of before you can affect change on a broader scale. I’ve always felt that disclosure was necessary in order to keep the NYU administration accountable to its students and to provide for transparency and democracy and the students’ say in what’s going on at our school. The ideas behind this campaign are absolutely necessary for all political campaigns on campus.

For everyone the disclosure demand was the biggest demand, the thing we’ve worked around most for the last two years, and that’s a representation of all the other demands. Besides that, the demands that go along with disclosure are important: the financially responsible committee, and also having a student on the board of trustees.

Administrators know that if they disclose the budget there’s gonna be mass political debates on campus and opposition. If we find out that women get paid substantially less than men professors, then of course there’s gonna be massive protests to that, and they know that, so
that’s why they don’t want disclosure. They know that they’re hiding something and they’re afraid of what would happen with that.

They don’t want to negotiate with us because that says that we’ve won in some manner, and they did the same thing with the graduate students [in fall 2005]. That’s just their way of shutting people down. By not even giving them someone to talk to, they’re silencing them.

Their public [statement] was that we students have no right to [occupy Kimmel] and this is an inappropriate way to project dissent, that there are proper channels to do that and this is not one of them.

It’s necessary that they speak to the students because the students have attempted to travel down all the traditional paths of expressing their opposition to what’s going on right now, and we’ve been consistently ignored. It’s time the administration actually sat down with them and talked about what we’re demanding: give us full disclosure of the budget because without that we can’t be a fair and democratic university in the public service.

They are Bernie Madoff in this case. That’s the most ironic thing about it all. They are filing all these claims saying that they were deceived and should have been told about everything. It’s the exact same thing because they were giving their money to someone who lied to them about where it was going and didn’t tell them the right places it was going. Of course, they’re doing the same thing to us. They were businessmen participating in a business and that’s exactly what we’re doing – students are shareholders and this is just another corporation. We give our money to this big business that does what it wants with our money and we have no idea where it’s going and we have no say in it.

Clara Totenberg Green

Take Back NYU!:
Take Back NYU's demands
A video of the protest 2/19/09 5 p.m. via YouTube
More videos of the protest on YouTube
February 18, 2009 New York Times article

Ciga-rhett of The Chainsmokers

With pale skin, dark, messy hair, that subtle smell of old cigarette smoke and dressed all in black, 22-year-old Rhett Bixler hardly looks like a kid from Orange County, Calif. As his friends tell it, he’s a New Yorker at heart who thrives on the chaos of the city that never sleeps.

Since moving to New York in 2005, Bixler has used time outside his studies at NYU to explore his many interests and entrench himself in the city’s nightlife scene. Bixler is one-half of the DJ duo The Chainsmokers, known for spinning into the wee hours of the night at hipster hangouts like The Annex. He also runs a nightlife photo blog, A Coterie, where his job is to identify the who’s who of New York scenesters.

Bixler certainly has found no shortage of hobbies to explore in New York. Aside from DJing, he draws political cartoons and has done stand-up comedy at the Gotham Poetry Club. “Rhett’s really surprising,” said Lee Smith, a friend from NYU. “He’s always doing new things you didn’t know he could do.” Bixler interned at Rolling Stone magazine, a typical venture for the double major in journalism and politics, but he also interned at Harper’s Bazaar where he explored the possibility of becoming a wardrobe stylist.

Brent Shiohama, one of Bixler’s friends from California, recalls a night out at Costa Mesa nightclub La Cave in which Bixler spontaneously got into a rap battle. “There was this guy freestyle rapping outside for 30 or 40 people waiting in line, and Rhett walked up to him and said, ‘Sir, would you like to battle?’” Shiohama recalled with a laugh. “And he ended up totally schooling this guy, and we found out later from that guy’s friends that this guy is like a real rapper signed to Def Jam and has a track coming out with T-Pain. And Rhett beat him.”

According to Shiohama, Bixler has a unique ear for music and a taste for the unusual. When the two were teenagers, they would get together and jam on the guitar, exploring the blues and emulating greats like Stevie Ray Vaughn. “Not too many people our age were into that,” Shiohama said.

It was around that time that Bixler began honing his skills as a tastemaker. His sister Brittani Bixler still has the mix CDs of new music he would push on her as a high schooler. Five years later, Bixler still passionately exposes people to new music as Ciga-rhett of The Chainsmokers.

Bixler is cultured but not snobby, said Smith. “He’s not obnoxious about it but he definitely knows what’s going on in the entertainment world. He’s very down with what’s happening culturally,” Smith said.

His diverse interests can seem chaotic, according to Katie Willhoit, a friend and former classmate at Calvary Chapel High School in Costa Mesa. “Honestly, Rhett has had so many hobbies, it’s unbelievable,” Willhoit said.

His sister agreed. “He never really kept one interest for very long,” said Brittani Bixler, who also lives in New York City. “When we were young, one week he’d be really into yo-yos, and the next week he was into Star Wars figures and then baseballs cards. Then he wanted to go to law school, and then he wanted to be a doctor, and then he wanted to be a politician. That’s how he’s always been.”

His sister imagines New York is where Bixler will stay, and she envisions him involved in a career that will afford him the time to keep up with personal hobbies like DJing. “Rhett always has new interests,” she says, “but a lot of them are lame or they don’t really go anywhere and he’s not necessarily good at it, so it’s nice to see him have an interest in something and he’s actually really good at it.”

Rhett Bixler aka Ciga-rhett

The Chainsmokers
Interview @

A Cotierie links:
A Coterie {blog}
A Coterie @twitter

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Behind the Scenes: Jacob Yoffee Interview

Last Monday I had the pleasure of interviewing Jacob Yoffee, a film scoring student at NYU who is also an accomplished jazz musician. Unfortunately, due to the length of the piece, I was forced to omit a lot of things we talked about. Here are a few of them:

After graduating from the Peabody Conservatory, Yoffee spent four years in Pittsburg entrenching himself in the Midwest's jazz scene. He became such a regular at one club, the owner approached him and asked him to assemble a house band for the club, a sequence of events Yoffee described as "unheard of."

His first piano lessons, which were his idea, not imposed by his parents, were at 8 a.m. Saturday mornings. He was eight years old and his teacher was less than ideal. “She was a chain smoker, she would just blow smoke in my face,” he explained with a shake of his head. “I don’t think she was a very patient, positive person, and I didn’t enjoy my lessons very much.” After enduring a few lessons with the smokestack, Yoffee quit piano, and didn't start again until middle school, when his family moved to a new town.

He also talked about how, especially in jazz, they say that to be a good musician you have to go crazy for a while, and he suspects that maybe he did, because he "woke up one day at 23 and was like 'I miss my family!'" Yoffee's family lived in Japan while he was studying music in the States, and during that period he only saw them once a year, but he says he was so focused on music that he barely realized he had become so isolated.

While studying at Peabody, Yoffee had the privilege to learn from famed jazz saxophonist Gary Thomas. At 18 years old and an ocean away from his family, Yoffee looked to Thomas as something of a father figure. “Gary Thomas was my mentor & idol for many years," Yoffee said. "He’s given me a shining example of how to carry yourself as an adult."

It was through Thomas that Yoffee was introduced to Greg Osby an accomplished musician on the Blue Note label, who signed Yoffee to his own label, Inner Circle Music.

Jacob Yoffee's first CD with Inner Circle Music, "Dead Reckoning," is available now at CD Baby. You can also listen to some tunes at Jacob Yoffee's Official MySpace, and keep up to date with his latest happenings via

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Welcome to my web log. I am female living in New York City, and I have the shrink and the tiny apartment to prove it. I'm disgusted by people who think they're something special, yet my job is to write about that something special in anyone.

I grew up with a dog named Pippin, years before that brief period of time in 2004 when it was cool to like Lord of the Rings. I once drove from LA to Vegas and shared a hotel with a nudist mom. I love horror flicks for their comedic value. I think Brandon Boyd is living right. I am an omnivore. I have vivid dreams and will gladly recount them to the nearest unsuspecting victim who calls himself my friend. I often wonder where all my free time has gone, then I remember this thing called the Internet.

In 1995 I started an online zine all about the Red Hot Chili Peppers, called Funky Monks. I would spend hours each week writing news stories, collecting fan musings and photos, designing the layout and sending the digest out to my 600 subscribers.

While I was getting my AA in Communications and Media Arts at SUNY Westchester, I was the entertainment editor of the school paper and received a "community builders" award for helping to reshape the tone of the paper and for bringing new, exciting musical acts to the college. I have also held a number of internships in the music industry.

I thoroughly enjoy working as a freelance writer. Unless you've got some Jim Halpert type looking for his Pam. Then I'd consider working in an office.