It’s a common misconception that country music is a Southern thing. Kind of. But it was more of a rural thing when I was growing up (a suburban thing now). Back then could hear it on the radio from Mexico to Canada. Even Boston and Chicago had 50,000 watt stations that featured a healthy diet of country music. And much of the country dialed in the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday night. From Nashville. WSM.
I didn’t know all of this when I started photographing the obscure long-forgotten beer joints and music parks, and the never-remembered people who patronized them. I just thought I was fulfilling my final history assignment from my ex-teacher, the legendary E.P. Thompson. I didn’t want the music, and the people who made it, to disappear. And while that seems a tad pretentious, what can I say? I didn’t know there’s be a plethora of scholars, formal and informal, to do what I set out to do—much better and more thoroughly, it turns out. I just wanted to do my bit.
I’m not humble bragging when I say others did it better. My approach, if you can call it that, was random. I shot what I could and when I could. For myself, mostly. And sometimes for low-paying magazines and clients. In a way, it mirrored the approach of many of the musicians. Few of them had investors and marketing teams to direct their careers. They just went out, sang their songs, and hoped it would keep them from mining, farming, or factory work. Sometimes the music was great; sometimes not so great. But it usually came from the heart.
Last Call, Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, Nashville, TN, 1974
Norman Blake, The Pickin' Parlor, Nashville, TN, 1974
Cornell Hurd, Broken Spoke, Austin, TX
Kitty Wells, Lone Star Ranch, Reeds Ferry, NH, 1981
Anne Murray, Performance Center, Cambridge, MA, 1974
Sons of the Pioneers with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Branson, MO, 1997
Banjo Pickin' Dog, Gettysburg, PA, 1974
Vassar Clements, Holiday Inn, Cambridge, MA, 1973
Stories become histories in time. My dad Fred was a storyteller. He told stories about work, friends, cars, and sports. Most of them were funny. Some were even true.
Fred worked in a shoe store as a salesman much of his life. His favorite story was the one about selling a lady two left shoes. There was a mistake in the shipment and he didn't want to send the one shoe back. Later in life, as his fortunes improved, his stories became grander. Once he sued Gulf Oil and actually won. Part of the settlement was that he could never sue them again. "But that doesn't mean Doris can't," I can still hear him saying. Doris was my mom.
What I didn't learn about storytelling from my dad I learned at the racetrack, where good stories are easier to come by than good horses. The people I met and the tales they told could fill a book. In fact, they did—my first book of photos called Racing Days (1987). The stories were written down by my co-author Brendan Boyd, but I've chosen to make them my own. Hardly anyone read the book anyway.
That's the other thing that I love about stories. They aren't really owned by anyone. That's where folk-tales, myths, and even the bible come in. If you read or see anything you like here, feel free to borrow it.
One thing I learned at the track was people like you far better when your stories turn out badly than when you succeed. For instance, there's the one about my horse and my date's horse fighting it out in deep stretch, my horse in a close but comfortable lead. Whoa! Here's comes my date's horse in a rush, just catching my nag at the wire. That gets a good laugh whenever I tell it. But the punch line is even better. She cashed in her $2 bet and walked away clean with $5.40. My 30-1 shot and $200 win ticket would have netted me $6000 had her horse not stuck his nose in front. The crowd goes wild for that one.
Lesson learned. People love a loser more than a winner. This is something my father didn't get.
Jan, Fred, and Roz Hancock, NH 1971
Bill Monroe, Take It Easy Ranch, Callaway, MD, 1973
Doc Watson, Backstage at Paradise Club, Cambridge, MA 1974
Drunk Dancing, Merchant’s Café, Nashville, 1974
The Holy Modal Rounders, Aengus Studios, Fayville, MA, 1972
Friend of Barbara's, Kitchen, New Bedford, MA, 1971
Jockey's Excuse, Keeneland, Lexington, KY, 1986
Loretta Lynn, Backstage, Annapolis, Md., 1975
Mom in Kitchen, Newton, MA, 19TK
Del, Thompson Speedway, Thompson, CT, 1972
Steve Cauthen, Saratoga Race Course, Saratoga Springs, NY, 1977
Urine Collector, Fair Grounds, New Orleans, LA, 1977
Urine Collector, Fair Grounds, New Orleans, LA, 1977
Fashion Show, Charity Benefit, Jordan Marsh, Boston, MA, 1972
Playing for Tips, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Nashville, 1975
Waiting Backstage, Grand Ole Opry at Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN, 1972
Frances, Dorchester, MA, 1971
Walter Muir Whitehill, Director and Librarian of the Boston Athanaeum, Boston, MA 1972
Worker, Florence Dye Works, Woonsocket, RI 1979
Country Music Fan, Lone Star Ranch, Reeds Ferry, NH 1974
Drivers, Thompson Speedway, Thompson, CT, 1972
Susan, Boston, MA, 1974
Jerry Lee Lewis, Ramada Inn, Boston, MA, 1976
Chevy and Dog, Seekonk, MA 1971
Steam Room, Fair Grounds, New Orleans, LA, 1977
Abandoned Drive-In Movie Theater, Seekonk, MA, 1970
Guests, My Parents' 35th Anniversary Party, Dartmouth, MA, 1972
Waitress, Diner, Western MA, 1974
Hosts, Charity Party, Newton, MA, 1972
Carrie, Mattapan, MA, 1975
Joseph Spence, First Church Congregational, Cambridge, MA, 1972
Dancers, Merchant’s Cafe, Nashville, 1974
Lovers Dancing, Bearcat Lounge, Basile, LA, 1977
Sunning, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, 1977
Curly Ray Cline at Home, Pikeville, KY, 1974
Boxing at the Harvard Club, Boston, MA, 1976
Don Stover at Home, Billerica, MA, 1972
Waylon Jennings, Performance Center, Cambridge, MA, 1976
Stock Car Family, Thompson Speedway, Thompson, CT, 1972
Playground, Lone Star Ranch, Reeds Ferry, NH, 1975
Wanda behind the Bar, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Nashville, 1974
Racing Form Vendor, Great Barrington Fair, Great Barrington, MA, 1978
The photographs in Show were made recently, from 2001 to 2009. But they really date to 1968, when Arthur Siegel, my Photo One teacher, introduced me to the documentary photographs of Robert Frank, Brassai, August Sander, Weegee, and Ed van der Elsken. It was this work, and other work like it, that sold me on becoming a photographer. Until then, I had been studying history, with the goal of a PhD and an academic career. But I learned that going into the world with a camera in hand was a lot more fun than retreating to the library with books in hand. The air was healthier—and I got a lot more dates that way. Lucky for me, using a camera I could still be a historian, of sorts. At least that’s what my new friends Frank, Brassai, Sander, Weegee, and van der Elsken were teaching me. Over the years I’ve photographed many different types of subjects, even animals and the human form. But I’ve always returned to my roots as a documentary photographer. More than anything, I like a good story. And I try to tell one in a direct way, with humor and a punch line if possible. With this in mind, I have photographed country musicians in Nashville, my family and friends in Massachusetts, horse racing at Saratoga, nightlife in Buenos Aires, old highways everywhere, everyone in Cajun Louisiana, South American baseball, camel breeding in Dubai, tri-racial families in Maryland, and much, much more.
For subjects, I prefer older cultures and places, especially disappearing ones. That’s what my history teachers, Jesse Lemisch (at University of Chicago) and E. P. Thompson (at University of Warwick), taught me to do. These cultures and places might vanish, but it is a historian’s righteous duty to make sure that they leave a trace. I also was very influenced by another teacher in Chicago, John G. Cawelti, who taught me (and doubting historians predating him) that popular culture should be taken seriously. As I learned more and more about photography, I began to appreciate the work and philosophy of Alexey Brodovitch, influential art director of Harper’s Bazaar magazine (1934–58). Brodovitch believed less in genres of photography than in good pictures. ”Amaze me,” he is reported to have said time after time, and the photographers who succeeded fell into no one niche. Brodovitch’s stable ranged from fashion legends Richard Avedon and Irving Penn to photojournalists W. Eugene Smith and David Douglas Duncan to photographers pursuing a personal point of view, such as Robert Frank and Lisette Model. Lofty company, to say the least.
One other great influence for me was my teacher at Rhode Island School of Design, Harry Callahan. Harry encouraged me to “shoot what you love,” and to pay no attention to what others are doing. “Even if you make bad pictures,” he said, “you’ll have a good time.” Thank you for that, Harry.
It was very much with these ideas in mind that Show was born. The world it covers is old-time, and a random mix of burlesque, drag, sideshow, and fetish in style. Its modern performers are young, nowhere near extinction. But no doubt the movement will play out its run at some point, and I hope Show will help in some small way to preserve and celebrate its existence.
In 2001, I wandered into the Shim-Sham Club in New Orleans, and caught the first annual Tease-O-Rama event. Little did I know then that this was a watershed moment for the neo-burlesque movement—in a sense, where it all began. I shot a few roles of film, including pictures of the legendary Dita Von Teese and Catherine D’Lish, and started going to shows and shooting casually. One thing led to another, as so often happens in photography, and Show was born.
To me, modern burlesque performers embody so many traits of true artists. They are creative and driven and determined to serve up their vision of the world in song, dance, humor, and narrative. They like being different from everyone else. In fact, they wear that difference with pride. Their style and method of delivery make burlesque popular art—not so much for the elite Art in America crowd. But that doesn’t make it any less artful. Living on the margins, the best of today’s burlesque artists have a signature vision, strong in message and execution. To paraphrase folksinger Mayne Smith, “You might not like their style, boys, but you will know who they are.”
For the photographers and technical geeks out there, I shot all the earliest pictures in Show with a 35mm camera, during stage performances or off to the side when performers were taking a break. I fitted my trusty Canon EOS-1V with the fastest lenses I could, including a 50mm f/1 and an 85mm f/1.2, and usually used Fujipan 1600, to capture light in the dimmest possible spots. In processing, I extended the film development time 20 percent or more, to make sure my negative had enough density to print well. After a while, I began to get frustrated by the limits of shooting in performance. I couldn’t move easily from one spot to another, lighting was catch-as-catch-can, and microphones often obscured my line of vision. So, I arranged to meet with performers in studio to get more control—and to get closer. I began shooting with a Canon 5D, the first affordable digital camera that produced image files good enough to compete with film, at least in my opinion.
But I still missed film, and decided to mix things up with medium format, mostly flash on camera, like I used to shoot when I started out. For this, I used a Mamiya 6 and Kodak Tri-X film, processed normally. What a mess. Now I had grainy rectangular black-and- white film, crisp digital files, and square black and whites. Furthermore, digital capture gave me the option of making some of my pictures in color. I posed the matter to my students a while back, and one said she preferred the black and white because color was so “predictable” for this subject. I liked her answer, and ditched the idea of a mix.
I think black and white is a more timeless medium. It also seems well suited to my subject. Besides, I just like my pictures better that way. Today, almost all photographers shoot in color, which to me is reason enough to stick to black and white.
Years ago, I photographed Dolly Parton, backstage at Symphony Hall in Boston. I asked her why she dressed like she did—so outrageously. “Honey,” she said (more or less), “you have to be different. People don’t come out to see me looking just like them.” Good advice for the performers in Show—and also for the photographer trying to chronicle them.
Danyella de Meux, Los Angeles, CA, 2005
Prince Poppycock, Los Angeles, CA, 2006
Angie Pontani, This Is Burlesque, Corio, New York, NY, 2009
Fishnets, New York Burlesque Festival, Southpaw, Brooklyn, NY, 2005
Jackie Beat, California Institute of Abnormalarts, Los Angeles, CA, 2007
Melody Sweets, This Is Burlesque, Corio, New York, NY, 2008
Remy Vicious, New York Burlesque Festival, Southpaw, Brooklyn, NY, 2005
Peekaboo Pointe, New York, NY, 2006
Miss Darcy Leonard, Traniwreck, The Milky Way, Jamaica Plain, MA, 2008
Anita Cocktail, Traniwreck, Jacques Cabaret, Boston, MA, 2005
Flambeaux, New York, NY, 2006
Catherine D'Lish and Dita Von Tease, Tease-O-Rama 1, Shim Sham Club, New Orleans, LA, 2001
Legs on Linoleum, El Cid, Los Angeles, CA, 2007
Bunny Love, The Slipper Room, New York, NY, 2008
Candice, New York, NY, 2006
Scotty the Blue Bunny, New York, NY, 2006
Ming Dynatease, California Institute of Abnormalarts, CA, 2007
The Evil Monkey, This Is Burlesque, Corio, New York, NY, 2008
Fire Eater, New York Burlesque Festival, Southpaw, Brooklyn, NY, 2005
George Bush, New York Burlesque Festival, Southpaw, Brooklyn, NY, 2005
Dita Von Tease, Tease-O-Rama 1, Shim Sham Club, New Orleans, LA, 2001
Julie Atlas Muz, Burlesque on the Beach, Coney Island, NY, 2005
Sparkles McTisty and Jinx the Minx, Thru the Keyhole Burlesque, Jacques Cabaret, Boston, MA, 2008
Kiss, New York Burlesque Festival, Southpaw, Brooklyn, NY, 2005
Bitches with Barrettes, TraniWreck, The Milky way, Jamaica Plain, MA, 2008
Joe Boobs and Julie Atlas Muz, The Slipper Room, New York, NY, 2008
Miss Nicholle Pride, Jacques Cabaret, Boston, MA, 2006
Butt and Legs, TraniWreck, Jacques Cabaret, Boston, MA, 2005
Amy Purpura, El Cid, Los Angeles, CA, 2006
Tip in Fishnets, Jacques Cabaret, Boston, MA, 2005
Carlye, Piercings by Xray Aims, South Boston, MA, 2006
The Slipper Room, New York, NY, 2008
Under the Curtain, Galapagos Art Space, Brooklyn, NY, 2008
Voilet Valentino, Jacques Cabaret, Boston, MA, 2006
Peekabo Pointe, This Is Burlesque, Corio, New York, NY, 2009
Peekaboo Poine, Speakeasy Burlesque New York, NY, 2006
Phoebe Kline, TraniShack, Jacques Cabaret, Boston, MA, 2004
Helen Pontani and Peekaboo Pointe, This Is Burlesque, Corio, New York, NY, 2008
Jess as Tallulah Starlight, Boston, MA, 2008
Rainbow Frite, Botson, MA, 2003
Ravi the Scorpion Mystic, New York, NY, 2006
Rock, TraniShack, Jacques Cabaret, Boston, MA, 2005
Saddle Shoes, New York Burlesque Festival, Southpaw, Brooklyn, NY, 2005
Miss Saturn, New York, NY, 2006
Shoes, California Institute of Abnormalarts, Los Angeles, CA, 2007
Butt, RiFiFi, New York, NY, 2005
Drag King, New York Burlesque Festival, Club Avalon, New York, NY, 2004
Harvest Moon, Peekaboo Pointe and Melody Sweets, Speakeasy Burlesque, New York, NY, 2006
Stockings, New York, NY, 2006
Swords, Los Angeles, CA, 2005
Insectavora, New York, NY, 2006
Between Acts, New York Burlesque Festival, Southpaw, Brooklyn, NY, 2005
Swinger, New York Burlesque Festival, Southpaw, Brooklyn, NY, 2005
Ming Dynastease, California Institue of Abnormalarts, Los Angeles, CA, 2007
Lovers, Jamaica Plain, MA, 2009
Dottie Lux, RiFiFi, New York, NY, 2005
Julie Atlas Muz Bound, New York Burlesque Festival, Southpaw, Brooklyn, NY, 2005
Tattooed Legs, National Sword Swallowing Competition, Wilkes Barre, PA, 2007
Striptease, New York Burlesque Festival, Southpaw, Brooklyn, 2005
Jess, South Boston, MA, 2008
As subjects, animals are close to perfect, especially if they live in zoos and aquariums. If it rains, or if the light is against you, you can come back the next day. Your subjects can’t go far. Not close enough? Wait until they ran out of grass in the far pasture and come to you. Miss the shot? They will swim back your way if you’re just patient. Animals give no attitude, and they also require no model releases. Actually, strictly speaking, animals (even domestic pets) do need to be released if you using their image commercially, because the law considers them property.
So, I took the path of least resistance and shot only in zoos and aquariums. For a while I billed myself as The Jewish Wildlife Photographer. I never shot in a jungle or underwater. Only where there was a food court, bathrooms, and WiFi.
When I started this series, I was more than a bit insecure about it. So many great (and not so great) artists had tackled similar subjects since the beginning of time. How could I presume to add to this daunting history? One thing I did not want to do was simply document my animals, so I chose not to shoot in color and not to show their environment. Rather, I choose to look closely and abstractly—to see my subjects for their inherent beauty, oddness, mystery. For this, I shot often with macro lenses, so I could get close, and worked with grainy, over processed film, printed in sepia to give them an old school, timeless feel.
Actually, I tried to shoot as though I was in a studio. Like an Irving Penn or Richard Avedon—simple backgrounds that make you really look at the subject, not its surroundings. And Willy wasn’t my only animal subject worth looking at. Get close and you see the hair on an elephant’s legs, an octopus’s single eye, a cow nose ray’s gull necklace. I admire photographers who can style or stage a subject to make their picture. But for me, what exists in nature trumps anything I can imagine. You can’t make up this shit.
I first went to Branson, MO seeking country music in 1995. What I got instead was Vegas without the fun. Actually, I liked Branson a lot more than my bathroom-line friend did. But then I hate Las Vegas, despite the awesome gambling, booze, and broads.
What I liked most about Branson was the shooting opportunities and the stories I could collect. I also liked the crazy color. As a long-time black-and-white shooter, I was determined to see Branson through that lens. But I soon changed my tune, and began shooting with two cameras—one with black-and-white and one with color. This was before digital cameras, which allowed you to make your choice after the fact.
I did have adventures in Branson. Wayne Newton kicked me out of his theater; I hung out with a tiger in her cage; Anita Bryant’s theater manager tried to pick up my assistant. For readers under 60, Anita was a very high-profile anti-gay activist. Her manager was female. So was my assistant.
Mainly, I made pictures and met amazing people. Probably top of the list was the Lennon family, headed by The Lennon Sisters, who starred at the Lawrence Welk Champaign Theater. If you don’t know it, the Lawrence Welk Show was an early hit television show and the Lennons were billed as “America’s Sweethearts,” a beloved teenage singing foursome, who could sing a bird off a tree. And their music was relentlessly positive and more than a little corny. You watched them and thought, what very nice girls they must be.
Were they ever!
“Are you having a good time in Branson?”
“Are you getting to photograph everyone you want to?”
“Andy Williams won’t return your calls? Very naughty of him.”
“Cathy, why don’t you call Andy and ask him to meet Henry? Andy will do ANYTHING Cathy asks.”
Cathy called and I got a session with Andy Williams the next day. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who thought the Lennons were nice. Tip: It helps to know someone who knows someone. It also helps to be nice.
Curtain, Shoji Tabuchi Theatre 1996
Jennifer, The Jennifer In The Morning Show, 1995
Rug, The Blue Velvet Theatre, 1996
Lobby, Shoji Tabuchi Theatre, 1996
On Stage, The Sons of the Pioneers Theatre, 1997
Ceiling, The Blue Velvet Theatre, 1995
Charlie Pride On Stage, 1996
Tim With John, Elvis, Marilyn, Charlie, Parking Lot, 1995
Dr. David Stauffer, The Grand Old Gospel Hour, 1997
Mickey's Piano, The Gilley Theatre, 1995
Cheryl Kartsonakis, The Grand Palace Theatre, 1996
Reindeer, A Branson Christmas, 1997
Bobby Vinton and His Mother, 1996
Sunny and Her Horse, 1997
I was a history student when I first took up photography. In my early pictures. I documented old-time musicians in Nashville, Tennessee, and people who worked at thoroughbred racetracks in Lexington, Kentucky. I shot at state fairs in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Lincoln, Nebraska, and high school football games close to my hometown of Boston, in Natick, Massachusetts. Also, near home I made portraits of race car drivers at obscure rural tracks and club boxers going nowhere. And at night I went to taverns in so many places, from Bakersfield, California, to Hollywood, Florida, photographing as I went. Sometime I worked on assignment and sometimes on vacation. But almost always I photographed for myself.
By recording these disparate pieces of our culture, I thought I was somehow saving them for posterity. In my mind I was a historian with a camera, or perhaps a folklorist. There is a great tradition of this in photography which started even before Matthew Brady and others made their haunting pictures of the American Civil War. When I was beginning as a photographer, I looked carefully at the work of Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Brassai, August Sander, Weegee, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, and so many other amazing documentary photographers. Looking back at their work we see an invaluable record of our past and I wanted to be part of this tradition.
As far as I can tell, the pictures in Humans have nothing to do with all of that. Ten years ago, for no discernible reason, I began photographing land and sea animals and produced books called Creatures, Canine, and Aquatics. As the work progressed, I moved closer and closer so I could see my subjects more intimately. This way of working felt very different than photographing people, places, and events as a documentary photographer; it was far more peaceful, relaxing, and introspective. And it required a lot more patience. Photographing the human body was simply a natural extension of this direction.
In all these photographs my goal is very basic. I want to make fundamentally good pictures-well-crafted photographs that make you stop and look and maybe reflect. Beyond that, I have no grand design, no hidden or overt agenda. You can choose to see these pictures in any way you want, as graphic images, as metaphors, or even as documents. It really doesn't matter to me.
I suppose this is really a very old-fashioned idea. Today's artists are meant to be conceptually more astute, heavily armed with complex ideas and carefully worked out justifications and philosophies. But I don't believe good artists have to be intellectuals or great thinkers. They don't even have to be especially smart-except, of course, about making their pictures or their artwork.
As a longtime teacher, I always hope that what I say and do has some positive influence on my students, even if that influence isn't always obvious. I was blessed as a student to have many legendary photographers as my teachers: Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind, and Minor White. To me, they were all artists whose work was far more interesting than anything they had to say about it. However, as a young documentary photographer, my teachers' photographs didn't interest me much. They were too reflective, too formal, too personal-and not enough of this world. But what my teachers did teach me was the most important lesson of all: to respect what I did and to take it seriously. Looking back I now realize that they also taught me a little about picture-making.
In Humans I look at a timeless subject, the human body, and try to make photographs that are familiar and intimate but still a little different. For this I have borrowed what I could not only from my teachers, but also from Many Ray, Paul Outerbridge, Karl Blossfeldt (spelling?), Irving Penn , and so many other great photographers who saw nothing wrong with form having a function. I used simple, traditional techniques, photographing indoors with available light-either natural or existing room light. I used a 35mm SLR camera and very high-speed film, usually ISO 3200. I hired models and photographed every part of them bit by bit from head to toe. Then I asked them to turn over and I did it again. Sometimes I was two or three feet away from my subjects but mostly I was much closer-some inches away or even less. To get that close, I used macro lenses and often added supplementary close-up filters to compose even more tightly.
In the darkroom, I pushed processed (overdeveloped) the film which gave the negatives a high degree of graininess and extended contrast. Prints were made traditionally, mostly on matte-surface, fiber-based, silver-gelatin paper, which was then sepia toned for color. Occasionally I made platinum prints. This laborious process, dating from the 19th century, involves handcoating the photographic emulsion so that platinum salts rather than silver forms the image.
I chose traditional techniques in part to give a timeless subject a timeless look and also because they act to abstract the subject a bit. Seeing in monochrome possibly allows us to look at parts of the human body in a different light. Finally, I chose traditional materials because they have been proven over time to be long lasting and stable-something any historian or documentary photographer might appreciate.
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These are my people. People I grew up with as a kid and friends I met along the way while making that awkward transition from adolescence to adulthood. Many of my subjects were close family, such as my parents Doris and Fred (Hot Dot and Fearless Fred) my sisters Ruth and Barbara, and any number of miniature poodles called Chammie (for Pink Champagne). My mother had a bad memory so she decided to name all her dogs Chammie, figuring it would help her remember. Other subjects include extended family, friends of my parents, and people whose names I never really knew at all.
I’ve also included many of my earliest friends as an adult. These were my chosen family—roommates, girlfriends, drinking buddies. They all shared and shaped my life in some uncertain but important way. Unfortunately, I have left a lot of people out for lack of a good picture. So forgive me Max, Eli, Abram, Hank, Dora, Frieda, Rhoda, Raymond, Morris, Allen, Lynn, Emily, Mark, Sharon, Jessica, Sue, Ingrid, Lewis, Joann, Margaret, Mary Lynn, Susan, Cat, Bill, Lawson, Paul, Joe, Bob, Henry, Lisa, Jennifer, Mica, Peter, Jordan, and so many others. TK
Feel free to view these pictures as a random collection of kooky shots from the early 1970s. It is all of that. But I hope you will also see it as it was meant, a portrait of a unique place and time. A history.
Storytelling defined: "a way of writing that is distinctly unmodern." Granta 21
Mom, Chammie, and Dad, Backyard, Newton, MA, 1970
Chammie, Bedroom, Newton, MA, 1974
Francis, Jamaica Plain, MA, 1971
Chammie and Uncle George, Newton, MA, 1973
Foyer, Newton, MA, 1971
Dad, Chammie, and Mom, Front Lawn, Newton, MA, 1972
Dad Washing Car, Newton, MA, 1973
Mom, Backyard, Newton, MA, 1973
Sister Ruth and Brother-In-Law David, Newton, MA, 1971
Lewis, Living Room, Cambridge, MA, 1973
Bubbe, Newton, MA, 1971
Guests, My Parents' 35th Anniversary Party, Dartmouth, MA, 1972
Aunt Sarah and Aunt Marcia, Dartmouth, MA, 1972
Sister Barbara, Newton, MA, 1972
Nephew Adam, Newton, MA, 1972
Adam, His Room, New Bedford, MA, 1971
Barbara's Friends, Living Room, New Bedford, MA, 1972
Bert, Everett, MA, 1971
Newton High School 25th Reunion, Chestnut Hill, MA, 1973
Cousin Louie, My Parents' 35th Anniversary Party, Dartmouth, MA, 1972
The Schemeltzers, My Parents' 35th Anniversary Party, Dartmouth, MA, 1972
Dennis and Mary, Our Apartment, Cambridge, MA, 1971
Lewis, Sommerville, MA, 1973
Francis, Jamaica Plain, MA, 1971
Brendan, Charlestown, MA, 1973
Living Room, Sister Ruth's House, Dartmouth, MA, 1971
Ronnie, Boston, 1972
Christine, Boston, MA, 1972
Ronnie, Christine, and Sherri, Boston, MA, 1972
Guests, My Parents' 35th Anniversary Party, Dartmouth, MA, 1972
Guests, My Parents' 35th Anniversary Party, Dartmouth, MA, 1972
Guests, Charity Party, Newton, MA, 1972
April, Brookline, MA, 1971
Bob, Our Apartment, Cambridge, MA, 1972
Aunt Marcia, Newton, MA, 1971
Pearl and Louie, My Parents' 35th Anniversary Party, Dartmouth, MA, 1972
Leah and Eddie, My Parents' 25th Anniversary Party, Dartmouth, MA, 1972
David, New Bedford, MA, 1971
Susan, Boston, MA, 1973
Barbara, Newton, MA, 1971
Living Room, Newton, MA, 1971
Roz, Hancock, NH, 1971
Self-Portrait, Horseneck Beach, Dartmouth, MA, 1971
Chammie and Mom, Backyard, Newton, MA, 1972
Chammie, Backyard, Newton, MA, 1971
Chammie and Barbara, Living Room, Newton, MA, 1971
Dad, His Office, Boston, MA, 1971
Elaine and Brian, Cambridge, MA, 1971
Regina, New Bedford, MA, 1972
Cousin Rhonda, My Parents' 35th Anniversary Party. Dartmouth, MA, 1972
Dad, Chammie, and Mom, Backyard, Newton, MA, 1970
Guest, Charity Party, Newton, MA, 1972
Margret and Fred, Hancock, NH, 1971
Pam and John, Cambridge, MA, 1971
Charity Party, Waltham, MA, 1972
Friend of Barbara's, Kitchen, New Bedford, MA, 1971
Chammie, Backyard, Newton, MA, 1972
Dog Bowl, Kitchen, Newton, MA, 1971
Mom, Chammie, and Studley, Kitchen, Newton, MA, 1971
Guests, Charity Party, Newton, MA, 1972
Jan , Cambridge, MA, 1971
Dad and Mom, Golf Course, Brookline, MA, 1972
Self-Potrait with Mary, Kitchen, Cambridge, MA, 1972
Self Portrait with Family, Dartmouth, MA, 1972
I started going to the track in 1973. Mostly, I went to the local track, Suffolk Downs, home of hard-nosed horse players and low-priced claimers; but occasionally I ventured as far as Rockingham Park in Salem, New Hampshire, or Narragansett Park in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, which has since closed. The next year I made it to Saratoga, a world apart with its strawberries-and-cream breakfasts and million-dollar thoroughbreds. I’ve gone back there every year since.
From my first trip to the track, I knew I wanted to photograph there, but it wasn’t until my second Saratoga trip that I began to do so. At first it was just casual shooting between races. Soon photographing replaced horseplay as my primary activity. I shot for magazines, for newspapers, and, mostly, for myself – and I began to dream of doing this book.
Whenever I could find time, I traveled to different racetracks. Over the next several years, I visited about a dozen tracks across the Unites States. The trips varied for three days to two weeks, but my routine was always the same. Each morning I could get up, early to photograph the workouts and the backstretch activity, and each afternoon I would shoot the action of the track. Only occasionally would I take the afternoon off and work on the Racing Form instead.
I pursued this book for several years, then shelved the project. I was busy with other books and teaching and hadn’t yet found a publisher. While I continued to go to the track, I went strictly for pleasure.
In 1985, with Brendan Boyd’s help, I decided to revive the racetrack project. The idea of doing a truly collaborative book appealed to me, particularly since Brendan took me to the track for the first time (although for reasons unclear to me, he denies this). Anyway, we have been going to the track together for many years now and share both and interest in, and a common perspective on, racing.
For the next 18 months, we pored over old photographs and discussed what was needed to be shot and written. I made seven additional trips to finish the photography, while Brendan stayed home and wrote to the pictures. We met regularly – often with our art director, Lisa DeFrancis – to decide what should be included in the book.
Technically, these photographs were done in a very straightforward manner. The were shot with Nikon single-lens-reflex cameras, usually fitted with a motor drive, and a wide array of lenses from 24mm to 1000mm. (A few early photographs may have been shot with a Leitz M-4 camera.) In almost all cases, I used Kodak Tri-X film. Indoors, or under dim lighting conditions, the film was rated at ISO 800 or ISO 1600 and pushed. All the photographs were made with natural light. Most were taken woth a hand-held camera, though sometimes I used a tripod. Prints were made on Kodak Polyfiber or Ilford Multigrade paper by my assistant, Porter Gillespie. About half the photographs were cropped slightly.
People sometimes ask me how difficult it is to photograph at the racetrack. Usually it’s easy. In the morning, people on the backstretch are relaxed and friendly and shooting is no problem at all. That’s often the case in the afternoon as well. But horseracing is a volatile business, and there is inevitably a certain amount of tension. The horsemen are busy readying their horses for the race, and the bettors are anxious about how their choices will fare. There is no substitute for good judgment in deciding whom to shoot and when to shoot them.
About the time Brendan and I began working on this book, some friends and I purchased a New York-bred colt named Omar Khayyam for (by today’s racing standards) the paltry sum of $5000. As the work on the book came to an end, Omar was in the midst of a outstanding three-year-old season in which he won several of his starts, competing in the lofty world of New York stakes racing. With Omar’s winnings, we bought his half-brother, Del Viking. Omar and Del have helped me make a neat, if unintentional, transition from shooting other people’s horses to watching my own run. From now on, I want someone else to take the photographs at the track – mainly of me, Omar, and Del in the winner’s circle.
Waiting in Line, Grand Ole Opry at Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN, 1974
Abandoned Car, Highway 1, Marksville, LA, 2008
Lonie at Church Picnic, St. Thomas Manor, founded 1641, Port Tobacco, Maryland, 1998
Shade Tree Mechanic, Marksville, Louisiana, 2008
Photographer, Carol’s Pub, Chicago, 2013
Folkies all, 1968. Clockwise from top left: Joan Baez at Boston Public Garden • John Cohen and Don Reno at the University of Chicago Folk Festival • Joni Mitchell at the Philadelphia Folk Festival • Buddy Guy at the Philadelphia Folk Festival
Ruth Brown, Michael’s Pub, New York City, 1985
Boozoo Chavis, Rock ‘n’ Bowl, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1994
Harry Callahan with photographers and teachers. Surrounding Harry are (left to right): Emmet Gowin (Princeton University), Jim Dow (School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Tufts University), and John McWilliams (Georgia State University), 1996.
Chammie, My Parent’s Bedroom, Newton, Massachusetts, 1972. One of my few color photos from this time.
Roz, Hancock, New Hampshire, 1971
Solo Fan, Thompson Speedway, Thompson, Connecticut, 1972
Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner, Symphony Hall, Boston, Massachusetts, 1972
Gerald Walsh on His Farm, Marksville, Louisiana, 2009
Clockwise from top left: Working for Polaroid gave me a good salary and expense account. I shot kids at Fenway Park • A peanut vendor there, too • Ellie in Mexico somewhere • Mary Lynn in Saratoga Springs
Clockwise from top left: And there was a fan gear vendor outside Fenway Park • Brooke Shields at Hialeah Park Race Track in Florida • Some random guy near the Santa Monica Pier • Skating champion Caryn Kadavy in Colorado
Emmylou Harris at Home, Los Angeles, 1980
At the Dartmouth Drive-In, Route 6, Dartmouth, Massachusetts, 1985
Counter, Al Mac’s Diner, Route 6, Fall River, Massachusetts, 1985
Boxing at the Harvard Club, Boston, 1976
Venezuelan Kids Play Ball, Caracas, 1996
Huvaldo at Practice, Caracas, 1996
Natick Redhawks Take a Break, Natick, Massachusetts, 1987
Cheerleaders on the Bus, Natick, Massachusetts, 1987
Brown Sea Nettles, Chrysaora fuscescens, 2000
Cownose Ray, Rhinoptera bonasus, 1997
Domestic Great Dane, Canis lupus familiaris, 1998
Cheryl Kartsonakis, The Grand Palace Theatre, Branson, Missouri, 1996
Tim Garrett with John, Elvis, Marilyn, Charlie, Parking Lot, Branson, Missouri, 1995
Camel Coitus, Dubai, UAE, 1996
Camel Jockey, Dubai, UAE, 1996
Aunt Lonie at Home, Bel Alton, Maryland, 2008
Mr. Leonard A. Scott, Hillcrest Heights, Maryland, 1998
Aunt Lonie’s Living Room, Bel Alton, Maryland, 1997
Wrestler Down, Guatemala City, 2010
Slow Dancing, El Mani Club, Caracas, 2011
Engine Trouble, Havana, 2000
Man with Cigarette, Malecón, Havana, 2000
Thigh and Belly, Boston, 2005
Teeth, Boston, 2006
Eyelashes, Boston, 2005
Jess in Bear Mask, Boston, 2008
Flambeaux, New York City, 2006
Go Go Dancer, The Slipper Room, New York City, 2008
Aliza after Her Stroke, Boston, 2012
Preacher Jack, Tavern at the End of the World, Somerville, Massachusetts, 2009
Brian Szela as Phoebe Klein, Jacques Cabaret, Boston, 2007
On the Street, Trastevere, Rome, 2014
Giovanni, Largo Argentina, Rome, 2014
Couple in Love, Rome, 2014
Franco, Rome, 2014
Still from Partners, with Julie Atlas Muz and Matt Frazier
Car #29, Thompson Speedway, Thompson CT, 1972
Del Berdick, Thompson Speedway, Thompson, CT, 1972
Art Hall, Thompson Speedway, Thompson, CT, 197
Joe and MaryLynn, Thompson Speedway, Thompson, CT, 1972
Car #10, Thompson Speedway, Thompson, CT, 1972
Two Young Men, Thompson Speedway, Thompson, CT, 1972
Boys and Amalie Oil, Thompson Speedway, Thompson, CT, 1972
Jacob, Thompson Speedway, Thompson, CT, 1972
Anne and Jenny, Thompson Speedway, Thompson, CT, 1972
Art Michon, Thompson Speedway, Thompson, CT, 1972
Boy With Flags, Thompson Speedway, Thompson, CT, 1972
The Reynolds Family, Thompson Speedway, Thompson, CT, 1972
Mike Stachurn, Thompson Speedway, Thompson, CT, 1972
Malecón, Havana, Cuba, 2000
In 2000 I went to Cuba with friends headed for the Havana Film Festival. They offered a package deal. Hotel for ten days plus airfare for $1,000. We took it. The best part of the package was we were going to stay at the National Hotel, legendary home to pre-Castro mobsters. In its salad days, Meyer Lansky, the legendary Jewish mobster and father of Las Vegas, owned it. Actor Lee Strasburg was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of Hymn Roth, based on Lansky, in The Godfather.
Ten days is a lot of time to kill so I walked up and down the Malecón, a five-mile long coastal seawall and boulevard, and it’s got rocks, water (of course), some sand, and a harbor. But mostly it had people and lots of them, all day and all night. It’s a great place to bring your family. Or, meet a friend for sex. Anyway, every day I shot on the Malecón. At all times. When it was bright and family-filled mid day and early in the morning when it was almost empty except for random sketchy characters. People were friendly and I felt very safe. If a native Cuban approached me, within seconds there were policeman shooing the intruder away. I like to think that a socialist country was all about keeping the peace, but more likely they were protecting the Yankee Dollar, which they needed badly.