By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Photos by Mark Hunter
Mark “the Cobrasnake” Hunter can pop up suddenly in front of unsuspecting partygoers and temporarily blind them with the flash from one of his Canon digital cameras, just as his nickname implies. For five or so nights a week since January, Hunter, 19, has photographed the coolest of the cool at parties, fashion shows and concerts mostly in L.A. but on occasion in New York City. Then he uploads the chosen few — beautiful, nerdy, egomaniacal, disinterested, naked, pissed — onto his Web site, www.polaroidscene.com. Through word of mouth and a network of contacts seemingly as extensive as an al Qaeda operative, the site has become a virtual society page for hipsters.
Hunter’s gregarious personality and respect for personal space, an anomaly in a profession tolerant of paparazzi, has parted many a velvet rope, including the one to the green room at the Vanity Fair In Concert benefit last month, where his focus strayed only slightly from the nameless to accommodate the faces — sexpot Gina Gershon; musicians Lou Reed, Dave Navarro, that human beat box with a mighty ’fro, Rahzel; and actor, model, musician and son of a musician Donovan Leitch. Gatherings for Fader, Filter and Black Book magazines, among others, have also helped ratchet up the Cobrasnake’s cachet to underground legend. “The amount of people who know me is crazy,” he says.
2004 Party Planning Guide: Wish you were here?Snaking through the garden of delight: MICHAEL HOINSKI follows photographer Mark “the Cobrasnake” Hunter on his party rounds. Dreaming the theme party: BRENNA SANCHEZ on what you can do with a little research and a lot of glue. The 50th birthday party: MICHELLE HUNEVEN creates a backyard paradise. Turkey among friends: JONATHAN GOLD finds family values without the family at his pre-Thanksgiving party. The comfort of tea: MARGY ROCHLIN learns to stop worrying and love the tea party. Beyond the barbecue: JOE DONNELLY on how to throw a serious party without blowing your budget ... or your marriage. Move it, pal: JUDITH LEWIS on the active party. Get close, very close: PETER GILSTRAP on Cuddle Parties. PC mommies: LIBBY MOLYNEAUX on surviving a children’s birthday party. Plus, MOLYNEAUX on potluck nightmares, CHRISTINE PELISEK on classes for the cooking-impaired, and a list of the city’s tray-chic catering services.
My first Cobrasnake sighting is the night of Ashlee Simpson’s gaffe on SNL. Earlier that day, over the phone, he invites me to a party at a warehouse on South Santa Fe Avenue, a seedy stretch just west of the L.A. River. Because he doesn’t expect to arrive until after midnight, I don’t commit to showing up. But after some ribbing from my girlfriend in the form of her singing ”Old man take a look at my life...” (it’s a game we play), I get in the car and drive downtown, past the Staples Center and into an abandoned district along Olympic Boulevard. Heading north on Santa Fe, I find the warehouse next to The Play Pen, a totally nude establishment that I imagine is a base camp for cowboy dealers selling eight balls. A couple of 20-something entrepreneurs man the table at the warehouse entrance, asking for $5 and an ID if I plan to drink. Everything checks out so I am given a wristband, a symbol of legality in a lawless land.
Once inside, I instantly realize how much of a hipster I am not. Members of the Mean Reds, a youth spaz band with an Audrey Hepburn infatuation, mill about in torn stockings. Severe but carefully cut Flock of Seagulls haircuts compete for the night's perfect coif with the bowl cuts of Ramones fans wearing supertight jeans and leather jackets. A few kids don bunny ears in what I can only suspect is homage to Harmony Korine’s cult film, Gummo. I soon became jealous of a circle of dancers getting off in a way that only drugs allow. Hunter later tells me that people as young as 15 are in attendance. Where was this palace of sophistication and iniquity when I was growing up?
Standing in line for keg beer, I spot a bespectacled, skinny, little guy with lamb chops mutating into a beard and a bush of brunette ringlets bound by a white headband — a look befitting John McEnroe circa the early ’80s. Instead of the pink Paul Frank hoodie he occasionally sports to show off his Magnum P.I. chest hair, the Cobrasnake wears a three-quarters T-shirt, jeans and sneakers. On his shoulder, however, is a Paul Frank tote bag, a gift from his friend, Paul Frank. He points and shoots at a gaggle of kids as casually and haphazardly as we all wish the inevitable shutterbug at family functions would. He then briefly exchanges greetings before moving on to the next gaggle, which he shoots the very same way — from the hip and without need of a pose. He knows practically everyone in the joint, a worthwhile trait for a society photographer, and spends at least 45 seconds making each person feel that the world appreciates him or her. Finally, he disappears outside into a swarm of smokers and I don’t see him again the rest of the night.