At one point in the last three decades nightlife legend, photographer, bon vivant Patrick McMullan graduated from being a photographer of the fabulous, the connected the celebrated and became a bold face name, a celebrity in his own right. If Patrick was at your event then you knew you were in the right place. Patrick has seen it all and his craft has allowed us to see it all.
He has a flair for finding what is important about an event. His images take you into the party, capturing its essence which almost always transcends that posed stop at the step and repeat. He may be the Toulouse-Lautrec of our time. For 30 years Patrick has hosted his St Patrick’s Day party. For 30 years it has been the go to party for those seeking an oasis away from the club crawl that often defines the celebration. He brings everyone out and brings out a bit of the Irish in everyone.
Nightclub & Bar caught with Patrick as he was gearing up for this year’s gala.
Nightclub & Bar (NCB): You had your 30th anniversary of your yearly St. Patrick's Day party. Please tell us about the event, how you first came up with it, how it has changed, and the venues you have chosen in the past.
Patrick McMullan: I hosted the first one in1983 when our mutual Claire O’ Connor who was the Creative Director at Limelight wanted to give me a party for St. Patrick’s Day. It was a dinner, and it was my first big St. Patrick’s Day party at a nightclub, I’d had small ones at my apartment prior to. Since then every year nightclub people would think of me, Claire was involved in all of them until she passed. It is now three decades I’ve hosted the party. It has always been held at the club of the moment, the club du jour, and so this year I will be welcoming people to XL Nightclub. Also, my artwork in being hung in KTCHN, the restaurant, which is attached to the club, for the next three months. This is the one big party I host each year, and I try to make it a fun night where everyone can come and celebrate. My biggest party of the year, one big party I have!
NCB: You have been 30 years chronicling the best of New York City nightlife. At what point did it become a real business for you?
McMullan: In the 80s Details’ nightlife columnist Steven Saban was talking with me and he asked me, “I read somewhere that you’re a celebrity photographer. Does that mean you are a photographer who shoots celebrities or a celebrity yourself?” I said “You tell me Steven.” We used to joke that people hit me when I didn’t take their photo! Everyone wants to give a label to it, but I am just a photographer. I shoot everything, mostly people. I shoot people out at clubs, stylish people, people du jour!
The reason it became a business was because often there were two things happening at the same time. I didn’t think it was fair to not cover something because I wasn’t able to attend. It really started though because I had a tumor in my jaw and I was out of service for a few months. I couldn’t go out so two people I knew went out to shoot for me. Now, I have 40 different people work for me.
NCB: Your pictures are snapshots of a moment in a place, a club, a party in time. Do you ever try to put these pieces of the puzzle together in an overview?
McMullan: I do with my books, So 80s:A Diary of a Decade; Glamour Girls, Kiss Kiss, InTents, Secret’s of the Rivera, and Men’s Show. I am currently working on a book called Klub Kids, about the period when everyone was dressing up in the late 80s and early 90s, much like the children of the Warhol superstars. I’m also working on Patrick McMullan’s Blonds, because there are so many social people and celebs that are blond. I am thinking it would be fun to do an Eyes Closed book, an Exit Signs book because I have so many photos that fit. With my work, I always try to focus on fun, happy and good. There is enough people capturing the bad out there, I like to cover the good.
NCB: You are everywhere. Do you enjoy everywhere or do you like certain types of clubs events?
McMullan: Yes, I like things that are colorful. At this point in my life, I don’t like it when it is too loud, too hot, or too crowded. I like to talk to people and find out who they are, if it is any of those other things, it’s hard to do.
NCB: Tell me about your business and why you are the Babe Ruth, the Michael Jordan, and the Pele of your field?
McMullan: The secret is longevity. If I just drew a photo or painted a frog every day, I’d be known as the frog artist. Its longevity and consistency, and also finding joy in what you do!
NCB: Are you in other cities, you have stringers in LA and Miami right? Are you able to delegate the responsibilities and rest a little?
McMullan: Yes, I have people who work for me in Los Angeles and an associate in San Francisco, and I also travel too.
NCB: Is there one photo that you took during all your years in nightlife that stands out the most? If so, why?
McMullan: The pictures of people that are gone, like Andy Warhol, who I really loved and admired stand out the most. Those are fun, Jackie O and Princess Diana, it wasn’t like I saw them every day. All my friends who are gone, of course. I was looking at a photo of Zelda, and I remember she’d always say “I’m 95 years young.” That’s my favorite right now, Zelda was an inspiration.
NCB: Is there anyone, living or dead, real or fictional, that you would love to photograph? I would love to have shot Albert Einstein or a teenage Jesus and Mohammad before they were really big! (joking).
NCB: What's next?
McMullan: I’m redesigning my website, going through archives and looking at imagery, which I love to do more than anything. Of course, I’m focusing on my first St. Patrick’s Day party at XL. I’m also working on a limited edition prints and curating an exhibition of photos of Debbie Harry in August at Leila Heller gallery. I think she is the most exciting cultural figure out there. So, anyone who has good photos or paintings of Debbie should get in touch.