Dustin Pittman’s gaze roamed the bustling back office of Century 21 on Cortlandt Street, where Kim Shui was prepping her fashion show. In an instant, he found his mark. She was China Lee, who would be modeling one of the giddily mismatched plaids and brocades Ms. Shui planned to unveil a couple of floors below.
Moments later, Mr. Pittman was hustling Ms. Lee into a nearby restroom, propping her against a suitably uncluttered wall and, camera raised, sweet-talking her into a series of poses, some coy, others as steamy as a night in Belize.
“I want a little bit more you, not model-y,” he said. “Kind of play with the dreads. Look at me, intense — that’s nice, fire in the eyes, that’s it, that’s it.”
Ms. Lee complied, tossing her braids this way and that. In a scant five minutes, Mr. Pittman had what he’d come for. “She lost the veneer,” he said. “Now you can see who she is.”
If he’s brash, even a little over the top, well, that’s a privilege he has earned. Mr. Pittman has forged a career of stalking the weird, the bold and the sublime in dimly lighted basements, galleries and stray pockets of Manhattan’s after-hours life. A veteran of publications including Women’s Wear Daily and W, and various Condé Nast magazines, he has been photographing the intersecting worlds of fashion, music and art since the late 1960s.
His Instagram feed, @dustinpop, some 30,000 followers strong, contains nothing less than a capsule history of New York fashion and night life. Among its cast of characters are Velvet Underground stars and Warhol divas; fashion legends including Betsey Johnson, Stephen Sprouse, Tina Chow and Marc Jacobs — the latter long before he was a marquee name; concert idols in the making, including David Bowie, Bryan Ferry and Iggy Pop; and louche habitués of the fabled nighttime haunts Area and the Mudd Club.