Sweaty bodies, sexy snaps

He thinks you're swell: Native Texan and current New Yorker Antwan Duncan trots the globe to capture the 'normal kid' nightlife

He thinks you're swell: Native Texan and current New Yorker Antwan Duncan trots the globe to capture the 'normal kid' nightlife

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Party at Full Service. Photo by Antwan Duncan
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Mott St. Fight Night. Photo by Antwan Duncan
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Philedelphia block party. Photo by Antwan Duncan
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For the NYT's T Magazine. Photo by Antwan Duncan
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Backstage at New York Fashion Week. Photo by Antwan Duncan
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ASAP Rocky in New York. Photo by Antwan Duncan
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Art Gallery opening. Photo by Antwan Duncan
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4th of July in Brooklyn. Photo by Antwan Duncan
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Lower East Side, New York. Photo by Antwan Duncan
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Art Basel pool party in Miami. Photo by Antwan Duncan
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4th of July in Brooklyn. Photo by Antwan Duncan
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Antwan Duncan. Photo by Antwan Duncan
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In the early 2000's, a certain burgeoning party scene ran rampant in major cities like L.A. and N.Y. that considered itself the very definition of Thou Who Art Hip. And from the depths of these sweaty bars and exclusive invites sprang forth several controversial characters who solidified themselves as the definitive hipster culture photographers — prime examples being Mark Hunter of The Cobrasnake and Merlin Bronques of LastNightsParty.

Alongside the accolades for shots of beautiful people in dark venues came nauseating egos and camera happy hangers-on. But one young guy (and we do mean young — he had to use a fake I.D. for the first part of his career) launched a website aptly named ithinkyoureswell that challenged this notion of entitlement and focused on capturing the spirit of something that generally went unnoticed in glossy coverage — "the normal kids."

Now a hired gun for the likes of BlackBook, Interview Magazine, Vice and the New York Times' T Magazine, native Texan and current New York resident Antwan Duncan first garnered attention for, well, being nice. He didn't advertise his website, he didn't demand entry to events and he remembered hundreds of people's names to such an impressive extent that Interview Magazine once called him their "social lubricant."

His is a story of a likable person (he peppers his sentences with "Holy smokes!") being real (he drank only Shirley Temples at parties) and finishing first, for once. While he was on sabbatical in Austin, one of his favorite cities for recharging and indulging in personal photo projects, I caught up with him about how he manages to stay grounded and maintain a steady career focus all while documenting the relentless energy of the New York City nightlige circuit.

"I didn't think [other sites] really captured what, in my opinion, was the most important stuff that was actually going on at the parties and socially," he says when asked to compare different nightlife photographers. "It's never the hot people that want to get on the dance floor and get sweaty, ever. It's the normal kids."

Duncan first launched his ithinkyoureswell as a place to house the thousands of polaroids he'd taken at house parties, concerts, gallery openings and musical festivals in and around New York City. "I studied environmental science and anthropology," Antwan explains. "I've always been interested in what organisms are doing in their environments, and it's the same thing with people in clubs or at parties or just eating a meal with friends."
 
 "People like to know they're just as human as you are."
In true effort to eliminate any personality-changing variables for his subjects, be they his friends or celebrities, Duncan prefers to shoot in 35mm film. "The reason I use 35mm versus digital is because the way people react [to it] is totally different — guards are way more down with a film camera. When it's digital, people immediately want to know 'What's this for and where's it going to be.'"
 
With such an unintimidating methodology, it's no wonder word traveled quickly about the young lensman who could capture the authenticity of a notoriously capricious subject — partying. But Duncan has a delicate balance to strike: commerce versus art. Every young, cultural city has its go-to nightlife photographers (Austin's current darling being Miguel Angel of ulovei); but with so many vying for the job, how does one stay original and relevant without playing into some of the unsavory stereotypes that forefathers Hunter and Bronques may have set?

For starters, Duncan approaches all of his work from an equalizing perspective: "People like to know they're just as human as you are," he says.

"Not [all photography] needs to be of commerce, some things should just be artful and interesting. That's what I like to straddle on ithinkyoureswell. Sure, I go to events, but [doing only that] would change me in a way that I don't want to change."

So he diversifies his portfolio (i.e., the website) with a wide array of nightlife, personal and fashion lookbook photography, all exemplifying a consistent come-as-you-are, unfussy aesthetic. It's not forced and it's not perfect. But that's who Duncan is. 

"I feel like what a lot of websites are missing are personalities that embody the essence of the website or magazine that they work for. That's why Interview Magazine worked so well. . . It was [Andy Warhol's] magazine and it was his personality."

It’s Duncan's grounded (and adored) personality that's landed him gigs backstage at London and New York Fashion Week, Miami's Art Basel and just about every major music festival around the country, including SXSW and FFFFest. Simply put, clients, fans and friends alike are drawn to the way Duncan captures casual, uninhibited personalities in his photos, not to mention the voice and reach he gives them online.

Keep tabs on Duncan and expect to see him in Austin for several months of every year as he continues to extend his reach cross-country. Don't be surprised when you, the normal kid, show up in his portfolio.
 
"Exclusivity is annoying," he says, after all. "That's never the tone I'm trying to set. Anything and anyone could be on the site, and that’s the beauty of it.”