Miami, like other major American cities in the 1970s (ahem, New York) watched helplessly as its glory days gave way to a drug-riddled war zone, one that left hollowed out landmarks and blocks of Art Deco hotels in rueful ruins. Hindered by corrupt law enforcement and a significant Latin American narcotics pipeline, it struggled along until the latter end of the ’80s, when a music/fashion driven revitalization began to at last introduce new hope.
During that time – 1988, to be specific – Barry Lewis, a London based photographer on a family vacation, was captivated by the newfound vitality and the diverse group of people that were bringing life back to the once trendsetting destination. So much so that over the next seven years, he made Miami his home base, documenting the snowbirds, the flourishing LGBT scene, the Cuban expat community and finally, the tres fashionable crowd, through his all-seeing photographic lens.
The stunning new book Miami Beach 1988-1995 is a collection of Lewis’ evocative black and white photographs from that time, that before now had never been made available to the public. From drag queens and models on the Ocean Drive party circuit, to the migration of retirees from the north and Cubans from the south, readers are taken on a visual tour of the eccentric and lovable characters that revived this tropical paradise. And to give it some palpable chronological context, this was all before the infamous 1997 assassination of Gianni Versace in front of his mansion at 1116 Ocean Drive.
No stranger to photojournalism, Lewis, who earned a humanitarian award for photography in 1990, has worked with magazines from Life to National Geographic, been exhibited at the V&A and other museums, and produced numerous films and books – this latest of which, certainly, is possessed of a particularly personal resonance.