A sultry young man with come-hither eyes and a studded leather jacket is pressed tightly against the gamine young woman, smiling gamely as she presses her fingers delicately into her ears, blocking the noise. They’re packed against each other in a faintly visible crowd, though the atmosphere behind Princess Julia and Vaughn Toulouse is mostly dark. The music is loud or else the crowd is, eagerly anticipating the music to come.
Princess Julia & Vaughn Toulouse captures a moment in the heyday of a legendary London nightclub, centering two of its regulars, and stars. Vaughn Toulouse fronted the New Wave band, Guns for Hire. Princess Julia was already a successful fashion model, and well on her way to becoming an even more successful DJ.
Julia and Vaughn are glamourous and gritty, sexy and serene. They are legends but here, also, they’re timelessly young. It’s easy to see oneself in them, and the humble quality of the photograph makes it so. A 4-by-6 snapshot, untouched and taken with a simple, single-lens reflex camera. Tillmans is the most egalitarian of photographers, elevating easily-overlooked moments to a form of high art by taping a snapshot to a white wall.
In just a few years’ time from the making of the image, Vaughn Toulouse would be gone, a tragic casualty of the AIDS epidemic. Princess Julia persists, remaining at the forefront of the English music and art scene—an older, wiser DJ. It’s hard not to reflect on one’s own passage when looking at a picture like this. The drinks consumed and the cigarettes shared. The friends no longer among us and the nightclubs we will never dance in again. I know this picture; surely, many people do. I have this picture—or ones like it—in my own shoeboxes up in the closet. Maybe I should take them down, and tape them to the wall.
If, as Tillmans proclaims, “one thing matters, everything matters,” then this little 4-by-6 photograph is the center of a universe. For now, and always in this image, it’s dark and it’s late and it’s sweaty. And Princess Julia, holding her ears, and Vaughn Toulouse, tossing a smoldering, self-assured glance to someone across the bar, are young and beautiful. And they have the whole night still ahead of them.