I remember the first email ever I got from Chris Chen. It was back in 2006 or 2007, and we had just started BYT. At the time, we were essentially a photography blog, mostly made out of nightlife captions of concerts and dance parties, with community calendar included, which listed mostly concerts and dance parties. I was really young, new-ish to the city, and concerts and dance parties were all I knew about. Chris knew one of our contributing photographers at the time, Joel Didriksen (whose flickr handle, back when flickr handles were as important as instagram handles, was “caught in the flash”), and offered his photography work for our use, with the caveat that “he was the exact opposite of Joel… using natural light, trying to capture things as they are”. I loved the natural, documentary quality of his work, and the rest is, well, BYT and DC photo history. Since then, it has been a privilege to know Chris both as a person and as a photographer.
Chris is NEVER without his camera and never not AT SOMETHING. No person in Washington D.C. can claim to be a bigger supporter of the arts and culture than Chris. Sure, some people spend more money or buy more art, but Chris is always there, and his camera is with him. If you have a gallery opening, you know you will have a photo to show for it. If you have a concert, no matter how small or dingy the venue (actually, the smaller and dingier the better), Chris will make you look like a rock star, but also a human. If you have a random dance party in an El Salvadorean restaurant in Mt. Pleasant or a warehouse skateboarding pop-up, Chris and his camera will be there. Chris came to my wedding and my favorite photo, of all time, of me and my Mother happened when he captured a private moment on his polaroid. And then, a year, five years, a decade later, maybe even during a pandemic, he will tag you on his instagram and remind you of that one night, day, pool party or house party, where he took the most natural, relaxed photo of you and you will feel connected to the world around you a little more, even for just one moment.
I am, in fact, confident that one day the Washington Historical Society (or, frankly, probably the Smithsonian) will wake up and acquire his collection as a snapshot of what Washington D.C. looked and felt like for decades.
So, with the kick off of the 3rd month of the pandemic quarantine about to happen for all of us, and our independent venues and artists needing our support more than ever, I thought it would be a nice time to ask Chris to do a recent edit of some of his favorite moments in the last couple of years. I should have done it sooner, frankly.
Maybe you are in the photos below. Maybe you were THERE that night. Maybe you wanted to be there but couldn’t. Regardless, here is our city, creative, resilient and weird, through the eyes of Christopher Chen, a friend and documentarian:
All photos: @furcafe
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