When Santa Monica native Mark Hunter, then a 24-year-old assistant to Shepard Fairey, started snapping photos of revelers at Los Angeles clubs in the early aughts, he couldn’t have known he was seeding a trend that would transform popular culture. In L.A.’s post-9/11 malaise, there existed a primal desire among the young and beautiful to party like it was still 1999. When they gathered late at night—at Lex Deux and Teddy’s and Guy’s Bar and Hyde Lounge, their ranks swelled by putative stars like Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Mischa Barton, and Lauren Conrad—Hunter was there with his camera. When the photos—unsparing, luridly graphic (pinned pupils, sweated mascara, smeared blood)—posted on his website, the Cobrasnake, the world beat a path to his URL. What Hunter had documented were the first stirrings of hipster culture and, with it, the dubious rise of uncredentialed “influencers” as arbiters of taste and style. Facebook, TMZ, and Twitter, launched in 2004, 2005, and 2006, respectively, followed, but it was Hunter who first captured the aesthetic that would define the face of social media for years to come. “Long before there was an Instagram feed to scroll through, people would refresh my site over and over,” Hunter writes in The Cobrasnake: Y2Ks Archive, his just-published retrospective. “My pictures tell the story of a time when the world felt refreshed and remixed, when style and substance converged, and when youth culture dominated and demolished. People wanted me to take their picture because they wanted to be part of that story.” —MICHAEL WALKER
WHEN I GRADUATED HIGH SCHOOL, MOST OF MY FRIENDS WENT OFF TO COLLEGE. I WENT TO THE TROUBADOUR.
BEFORE YOUTUBE AND INSTAGRAM, THE ONLY WAY TO GET FAMOUS WAS TO HAVE A PICTURE OF YOURSELF POSTED ON MY WEBSITE.
This story is featured in the August 2022 issue of Los Angeles