News & Politics

Four Cool Prints That Commemorate a Slice of 1980s DC

The images by DC photographers Steve Shook and Michael Horsley feature local landmarks in vibrant colors.

Comet Liquors, Washington, DC. Photograph courtesy of Steve Shook.

If you lived in DC in the 1980s, a new collection of art prints by DC photographers Steve Shook and Michael Horsley may bring back some memories. Available on Shook’s website, the prints feature four of Horsley’s vintage photos, now with vibrant colors that Shook edited.

The four photos in the collection feature the Ontario Theater, Whitlow’s Restaurant, Comet Liquors, and China Doll Restaurant. They come in multiple size options and run $25 to $70.

Shook first came across Horsley’s Flickr account a few years ago while doing research for his own artwork. He quickly realized the two were both involved in the ’80s-era punk scene, and Horsley’s photos captured the city exactly how Shook remembered it: the “second shifters,” a reference to the 2014 Salad Days documentary, who took over downtown after government employees went home at 5 p.m.

“The photos aren’t always pretty. It shows a lot of the homeless problem and a lot of pretty derelict buildings that have long since been bulldozed or gentrified,” Shook says. “He got pure, raw, pretty honest photos of what DC was like during a pretty down period, economically.”

China Doll Restaurant, Washington, DC. Photograph courtesy of Steve Shook.

Shook, whose work focuses on shuttered clubs, posted one of his photos on Facebook. Someone commented asking if it was a take on a Horsley photo, to which Shook responded it wasn’t, but he would love to collaborate. Then Horsley reached out offering just that. The two have never met—their correspondences exist in emails and Facebook messages—but Shook said he felt like he was speaking to someone he already knew.

“We seemed like we speak the same language and appreciate the same details about DC in that era,” Shook says. “It seemed like a very comfortable fit. I did my artwork over top of them, keeping the spirit and detail of all of his original photos.”

Shook says he chose these four images of Horsley’s to recolor because they fit his artistic style, had people in them to add perspective and depth, and most importantly, meant something to him.

“I hung around in Adams Morgan a lot as a kid,” Shook says. “I always admired that [Comet Liquors] sign. It’s so beautifully retro.”

Shook views this first collection as pilot program, and said he and Horsley are both interested in expanding it. Calling on more nostalgia, Shook has his eye on photos of the old Little Tavern hamburger chain buildings with their uniform green roofs and neon signs.

“The beauty of [Horsley’s] photos was I don’t think he actually knew he was taking pictures of anything that would have any ongoing significance,” Shook says. “He just shot from the hip if he saw something that particularly inspired him for any reason.”

Ontario Theater, Washington, DC. Photograph courtesy of Steve Shook.
Whitlow’s Restaurant, Washington, DC. Photograph courtesy of Steve Shook.