The Nine Lives of… Part II

Kathy Lo
Words & Casting:
Alex Hawgood
Krystle DeMauro

The Nine Lives of… Worn-torn bodega cats and nomadic strays tucked away in back alleys are not the only New Yorkers who possess nine lives. The five boroughs of New York City are teeming with ambitious individuals stumbling through their personal and professional second, third – all the way up to ninth, but who’s counting – acts. You could make a case that a reverence for creative reincarnation (or rehabilitation) is the defining trait of most people who call the City home. Straddling past lives and future selves, the weird and wonderful New York characters on the following pages always find a way to land on their feet.

Greta Lee

At the time of this shoot in March, the actress Greta Lee was eight months pregnant. “I was hav-ing contractions every four minutes,” she says. That wasn’t her initial diagnosis. “I thought it was gas,” she adds, jokingly. “So, you know, just a regular day in NYC: photo shoot for PUSS PUSS, dumplings, ma-ternity ward.” Currently starring alongside Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler and Lesley Headland in Russian Doll, a Netflix series about being reincarnated over and over, Lee knows a thing or two about finding meaning in routine. “If I lived anywhere else I’d spend this time like a recluse shut in drying and archiving rare herbs,” she says. “Instead, I’m riding the train and looking at people while building my two-year-old son’s immunity by rolling him up and down the subway train like sushi maki. I plan on doing the same with the second kid. Basically I’m building an army of kind, entertaining people to take care of me when I start to mould with age. That’s the real reason we procreate, no?” She and her husband, who she affectionately calls “my hydration police,” view the city as an on-call nanny. “NYC has become something like a co-parent with its summertime park sprinklers and museums,” she says. And then there is her “chosen family of nosy strangers,” which includes “the fruit stand man who tells me I’ve either over or underdressed my child” and “the bossy Korean lady at our corner smoothie shop who tells my son she’s his grandmother.” Simply put, she says, “it takes a NY village to raise a child.”

Elegance Bratton

Elegance Bratton embodies the Warholian tradition of New York artists living and breathing the subcultures they document. Similar to how Nan Goldin’s unfiltered photographs portrayed her peers during the AIDS era of the 1980s, Bratton chroni-cles today’s influential vogue ballroom scenes with insight and intimacy. My House, his GLAAD-Me-dia-Award-nominated documentary series, debuted on Viceland last year. “The ballroom has been the place where I’ve kind of cut my teeth, but what I love about the ballroom is that it resonates,” Bratton says. “There are universal themes of family and together-ness that are really about human behavior as a whole. I look at the ballroom as my life’s work.” Bratton’s unique perspective comes from a place of perseverance. At the age of 16, he was kicked out of his mother’s home in New Jersey for being gay. He spent the next decade living on the street. At the age of 25, he enlisted in the military during the height of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” During his stint in the military, he was taught how to use a video camera as a troop photographer. He enrolled at Columbia University in 2010. Five years later, Bound by Night, a photography book featuring Bratton’s intimate behind-the-scenes snapshots of Harlem’s un-derground house ballroom scene, was nominated for an award at the prestigious Fotobook Festival in Kas-sel, Germany. “New York has allowed me to live nine lives. When I first came to the city I was my mother’s child, then I was homeless, then a Marine, a college undergrad, and now I’m an award-winning filmmak-er-artist,” he says. “Only in NYC could a person live a life like mine. Besides my husband, New York City is the love of my life.”

Eva Tolkin

Eva Tolkin makes infectious, sensual dance anthems that sound like pop music’s next chapter. Her angelic voice and wildly original wardrobe (she likes to wear vintage Jean Paul Gaultier and Prada) has made her an in-demand musical collaborator to some of to-day’s most forward-thinking artists. She has sang with Solange and Lykke Li, and, most recently, went on tour with Dev Hynes of Blood Orange. Like the sugar-filled rush of adrenaline that defines her sound (her current single, Honeycomb, dropped in April), Tolkin, 30, has natural instincts to pounce on whatever opportunity the music industry throws her way. Last March, Robyn invited her to sing with her on stage in front of tens of thousands of peo-ple at her sold-out show at Madison Square Garden – just 24 hours before the concert took place. “I try to embrace every opportunity that comes my way no matter how stressful or intimidating,” Tolkin says. “I’m terrible at all planning and really enjoy living chaotical-ly, so the craziness of my job really suits me.”
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Photography: Kathy Lo
Words & Casting: Alex Hawgood
Styling: Krystle DeMauro