RUBY RAY: Punk Passage

June 30, 2010

Darby backstage, cut up, 1978, Photograph © Ruby Ray

A couple of years ago, Carlo McCormick introduced me to Ruby Ray, understanding that she and I were destined to connect as her photographs of punk as it first exploded on the West Coast are unlike anything else out there. A regular contributor to Search & Destroy, Ruby Ray’s work defined a look and a vibe that has long since gone by. What remains are her photographs, which continue to evoke and inspire a do-it-yourself ethos that is more relevant than ever. I thank Ruby Ray for chatting about her work.

Please talk about the punk scene when it was coming up on the West coast in the 70s.

There was just an explosion of energy and so many great bands and shows up and down the whole coast. And a good number of NYC and UK bands came out here. We were playing a postindustrial game and had already decided that we were the winners! It was an awakening to all the lies – we weren’t caught in the matrix! SF was so cool because it was a small city with plenty of spaces and cheap rent. Anyone with guts could put on a show or start a band.

S & D Headquarters, 1977, Photograph © Ruby Ray

Please talk about your work for Search & Destroy magazine. What was it like to be a part of underground publishing?

We published S&D on newsprint and laid out all the pages by hand using miniscule typewritten pages and rubber cement.  The text was usually Xeroxed several times in case the glue rubbed the type off!  We had these giant flats that we had to carefully place and glue all the text and photos on, like a giant collage. Cartoonists came in and volunteered hand draw logos or headlines.  What should it look like, what would punk visuals consist of?  These were things influencing us subconsciously; we made it up as we went along. We had books all over for ideas –situationists, punk from other places, Russian constructivists, surrealists. The hippie paper the Oracle was an inspiration, too. Layout sessions happened on tables and the floor of our apartment with everyone helping out.  It was a lot of work, but invigorating!  We all felt very alive and part of something important. I learned so much and met so many great people! We tried to push the limits…

Let the Last Bastion of the Bourgeoisie Quake! 1978. John Cooper Clarke in Hyde Park, London, Photograph © Ruby Ray

Do you see any connection between the DIY ethos of that era and today’s move trends digital self-publishing and promotions?

Totally, and it’s funny you ask me that because I have only just become involved with a cartoonist/games creator in developing a worldwide, online artist gallery and self-publishing website that hasn’t launched yet. I’m planning to publish my book Punk Passage there this fall in a print-on-demand edition and other formats. This method gives me so much freedom to publish the book just as I want it. It’s the future of new media and power to the people publishing. With billions of people in the digital landscape, there is always an audience for talent. Zeitgeist of the times impels us to find new forms. We have got to find different ways for artists to survive and thrive by their works.

How did it feel to be documenting a brand new scene and subculture? What was it like seeing your work in print as things were happening?

It was fabulous and exciting! I am a person who learns by doing and punk was my art school! It challenged me to become a better photographer and allowed me free use of my creativity to come up with whatever I wanted. It was a wonderful time of experimentation. And it gave me a forum which is what any artist wants. It’s fun to collaborate.  We didn’t have to be worried about sales or whether the advertisers liked what we produced, we just put it out there.

Strange Finds, 1978 - Sally and Sue of the Mutant, Photograph © Ruby Ray

How did your photographs influence and connect to a broader audience?

Well, for a while, I thought I was doomed to obscurity! But my big punk exhibit at the SF library in 2009 showed me differently. Almost 10,000 people came to the exhibit and granted, punk is a big draw. But I found a growing number of people had who claimed inspiration from my work, and that was very gratifying. My recent punk exhibit in LA took my work to yet another level. Sometimes, you have just got to hang in there… It may be awhile before those fans accept my new images.

Who were your favorite subjects to photograph?

Penelope of the Avengers was so photogenic and very easy to work with. Everyone was in love with her back then. The Mutants were so much fun, everything they did and said was instant art! I adored meeting and photographing John Cooper Clarke in London.  It was always a different experience – at the clubs you had to be surreptitious because “punks” were not into posing per se. I always tried to think of everyone as my peer so I wouldn’t become intimidated.  I had to make it interesting for them too.

Americas Children, Born to Survive, 1978 - Penelope of The Avengers, Photograph © Ruby Ray

What is the story behind the William Burroughs photograph?

When Search & Destroy stopped publishing, we started RE/Search and were putting out a magabook on Burroughs and his work.  He was glad to oblige the photographer because he knew we would do a great book on him.  I was a nervous wreck and only had about 10 minutes to shoot him and I had to make do with the location where he was attending a party.  We brought the guns that were the props and I choose the garden to contrast the guns with.  I kept praying the whole time that the film was exposed properly, and prayed again when I had to develop it.  It wasn’t like with digital cameras where every photo comes out perfectly exposed; you really have to think when using film and natural light.  Bill was at ease with me and I love the way the pictures came out.  I am still shooting film, by the way!

Christophe Salet, Photograph © César D. Wixan

The rise of digital media has sent traditional forms of communication into a spin. The result, when combined with the economic downturn, has gotten me thinking about the 1970s again—a time when the only way to get the word out was to do it yourself. Back then, the independent press was a sight to behold, as publications such as Search & Destroy on the West Coast and Night on the East Coast transmitted the undercurrent of the culture like so many flashes of lightening.

These days it is the blog that is revolutionizing our world, making the First Amendment a global phenomenon. And while the form itself has been derided by those who look to its weakest practitioners, there are many out there making their mark in highly vital ways. Having begun this blog last summer first as a showcase for my clients and past work, it has slowly transformed into something else: my very own publication, a place where I can investigate and explore anything I am inspired by. And one of those things is bloggers.

I first met Christophe Salet when he came to work for me back in 2007. Both his level of experience and his disposition of manner made me see him as a colleague and a contemporary, rather than a subordinate. We recently reconnected, and he introduced me to his blog, Arte Fac(to)tum. I was suitably blown away. I thank Christophe for taking the time to chat with me about his thoughts about publishing today.

• Confederacy.jpg: Front cover of the French Pocket edition of A Confederacy of Dunces, Editions 10/18.

While I have known that amazing work you are capable of producing, I really do not know that much about you! Please tell me how you first got into book publishing and why.

Well, like many people who work there, I turned to publishing when I realized I was not talented enough to be a Pulitzer prize writer. More seriously, I grew up in a small town in the southwest of France, kind of conservative, and did not travel much until I could do it on my own. So everything I learnt as a kid, I learnt it through books. I mean, things that really interested me, which had not much to do with what they teach you at school. There was no Internet at that time, nor cable TV. So books always appeared to me as a way to escape my provincial life and well, get a little smarter.

Besides, after I graduated, I was sent to Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) for one year and a half to work at the French Trade Commission, as an alternative form of military service. And this also strengthened my fetish for books : first, because there was not much to do (basically, everything you like to do when you are in your 20s is punishable by public whipping), so I spent a lot of time reading. Second because this made me realize how much education and free access to culture (i.e. books… to begin with) are important to a free democratic society. So when I came back to France and started looking for a job, I did not think much. I sent my resume to all publishers and it started there.

I believe one of the reasons that publishing is troubled is that it does not understand 21st century marketing—both on a digital level, as well as in creating viable brand strategies to build a core consumer base. Having worked in marketing for the past decade, what are your thoughts on the problems the industry is facing today?

I did not work enough time in the US to really get to know the situation there. But I can talk about the situation in France. Problems may not be so different… In the past decades, publishing turned from some kind of craftsmanship to a real industry. Distribution became very concentrated and more and more global, which put a lot of financial pressure on independent publishers. To survive, they had in turn to concentrate and hand over management positions to business people who applied the same performance ratio as in any other industry. This led to a profound change of values : creativity and long-term vision ceased to be the driving forces. Instead, short-term profitability became the rule, giving place to a risk-adverse culture.

Then came the ebooks. And the situation we are facing right now is that most publishers are really panicked and don’t know what to do. So, they try as much as they can to protect their assets by delaying the switch from paper to digital : protecting ebooks from piracy with the same devices as the music industry before (devices which are not really efficient at dissuading actual hackers, but which are a real headache for regular consumers), selling e-books at the same price of paper books, releasing ebooks months after the paper books, etc. And simultaneously, thinking (or trying to convince themselves) that the iPad will save their business… Absolute schizophrenia !

So the major problem I see is this lack of creativity that prevents them from adapting to this new situation (although there still are some independent publishers that do an incredible job). On top of that -or consequently- I have the feeling that people are beginning to question the role of publishers. They more and more appear as “forces from the past” who desperately try to keep control of a world that is gone already. I heard people ask “who needs a publisher when you can self-publish your book in a second on the Internet ?”. Well… sure! Take The Confederacy of Dunces for instance, by American writer John Kennedy Toole. Had he lived in 2010, he would probably have published his novel on, or any other self-publishing site… and (maybe) he would not have committed suicide. So you think: publishers are useless, and probably evil. They can’t even spot a genius when they have it at hand. But then, you ask yourself : had the book been so great without the work of a publisher (for it found one eventually) ? The answer may be yes in this particular case, but I doubt it would be the same for any bestseller of the last century. And also: how the book would have met its readers amidst the 700,000+ books that have been self-published in the US alone in 2009 ? Would it have been translated in 18 languages ? I really doubt it.

So no, publishers are not useless. But they’d better find a way to quickly adapt to the world their readers are living in. And the good news is : the ones that will are the ones who have imagination and creativity. At least at the beginning…

Why did you decide to start your blog, Arte Fac(to)tum—and what ideas are you exploring?

I’ve been writing as a freelance journalist for various magazines dedicated to design for a few years now. Which I rapidly found kind of frustrating : because you can’t always pick up the projects you’re going to talk about, because you always have to work on tight deadlines (which means very little research work, if any) and because the type of writing is quite limited. On the one end of the spectrum, you have very serious magazines with academic-like articles, and on the other hand, articles that are barely enhanced versions of press releases, where every young designer is “a rising star”, every object a “must-have” and every exhibition a “must-see”. In the middle : not much… But I believe there are other ways to talk about objects, neither as an historian or a sociologist, nor as a shameless consumerist.

So I decided to create this blog, where I could write about topics that truly interest me, like projects crossing the boundaries between all the creative fields that produce artifacts : design, craftsmanship, fine arts (part of it), architecture… Of course, this blog does not pretend to be an alternative to current magazines. To me, it’s more like an open lab where I can experiment new ways of writing, talk about projects that are not necessarily in the news (but that seem relevant to me), and most of all take time to do extensive research. I only publish 2 or 3 articles a month, so it’s some kind of “slow writing”.

Armchair sculpted in an anthill, from project "Les territoires d'Afrique" by French designer François Azambourg. Photograph © César D. Wixan

What have you enjoyed most about creating your own blog?

What I like about blogging is the anonymity. Not because it gives you the power to say anything without taking the responsibility for it, but because you’re not being judged on who you are, what’s your academic background or what’s the legitimacy of the magazine that publishes your articles. Instead, readers judge you on what you write, which in turn encourages critical thinking. So I get very interesting and inspiring comments, which would not necessarily be the case if readers knew I was, say a university teacher in History of design or, at the opposite, a clown or a policeman with a fetish for objects.

Another aspect of blogging that I really find interesting is that it forces you to be more creative. There is no point in writing another article about the latest design exhibition or high-profile designer’s project because you know that everybody will write about it, based more or less on the same material. So you have to think out of the box and always be on the lookout in order to identify topics that have not been covered elsewhere, or adopt a different viewpoint. For instance, when I heard that French designer François Azambourg was working on a throne-armchair sculpted in an anthill, I decided to investigate previous experimentations in the field of animal-human co-creations (i.e : objects designed by humans using materials made –or damaged- by animals), like the ones conducted by the Swedish collective Front Design with their “Design by Animals” series, or by Slovak designer Tomás Gabzdil Libertiny with the “Honeycomb vase”.

My blog is still very young though, and it still looks like it’s been written by someone who suffers multiple personality disorder. But I don’t really care: again, I see it more like an experimental field, where I can try new stuff. We’ll see how it goes. I truly admire magazines like SightUnseen (online) or Apartamento (print) though, that really reinvented the way to look at and talk about objects / interior design, and managed to develop a truly consistent approach.

What are your thoughts about blogging as the future of publishing? How do you think this changes the playing field, for both content creators, artists and designers, and marketing strategists?

Blogging is another form of self-publishing, just like the websites I mentioned before, except that it’s free. The great thing about it is that it allows artists and all kind of content creators to gain public exposure without the help of anybody, and without going through the (obscure and subjective) selection process that is inherent to publishing, art curating, etc. Yet, I believe that being a successful blogger implies a few more skills than just creating a blog and posting content regularly. There are so many blogs around that, in order to exist, you also have to know how to communicate and make your blog visible to others. Meaning that the ones who succeed at the are the ones who are good at what they do AND who are good at promoting themselves. Both competencies need to come together. But creative talent does not necessarily come with self-promotion skills, right? So I must say that I’m not overly enthusiastic about the idea of blogging being the future of publishing. Unless you can find people who act as talent scouts and have the guts to support and invest in an unknown artist/writer while he or she turns from a raw diamond into a first-class jewel. That used to be the job of a publisher I believe.

Memoirs are among my favorite genre of literature. There is something about the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and how we became this way that never fail to surprise and enlighten me. Our personal histories are as much—if not more—powerful than the larger narratives of our culture and society. It is these stories by which we live, defined by the desire to organize our experience into a tale that follows some sort of order—be it of the moral or immoral, rational or irrational kind.

These stories, logically charting our chronologies, are set to paper with the intent to both validate our experience, as well as share it with others. It is this experience that comes to define the memoir. What do we, as readers, discover about ourselves through the journeys of others? In reading Spent: Memoirs of a Shopping Addict by Avis Cardella, I found myself looking in a mirror of sorts, connecting to her experiences not only as someone who shared her vice, but also as a New Yorker, a writer, and a woman. So often we focus on what the story is, rather than how it was created. And to this end, I am thankful to Avis for taking the time to share her thoughts with me about the process of writing this book.

You mention you did not have any intention of writing your memoirs when you first started out. Please tell me how you began this project, and at what point you realized you had a bigger story on hand?

Avis Cardella: It was a conversation with my agent that prompted my writing a proposal for what turned out to be Spent: Memoirs of a Shopping Addict. He suggested my shopping addiction might be something that readers could relate to.

As I was writing the proposal, I realized there was more to it than just my personal story. As I began to write about my past, I realized that the social and cultural backdrop of the story—basically covering the past 30 years—was an important element of this book as well.

I have peppered the book with observations and facts about these cultural and social elements that have influenced me.

Writing long form is a major transition for anyone, particularly someone such as yourself who writes for magazines on a deadline. How did you deal with this transition?

Well, I’ve already written the requisite first novel, which is sitting in a drawer somewhere… as I believe all first novels are expected to do. So, I had already jumped that long form hurdle.

Still, it’s staggering how much devotion is needed to actually finish writing a book, in particular a non-fiction book. The entire process takes years and it requires an enormous amount of passion. There were, inevitably, moments where I wanted to throw in the towel, so to speak, but the passion kept bringing me back.

How did you conceptualize and organize the process of writing your memoirs?

I’m not really sure. It’s strange, but a part of me goes into what I call “the zone” when I write and I end up not really remembering these details. I know that there were several drafts of the book, and I have these early drafts sitting right here next to me to remind me.  I have not thrown them away yet.

Writing a book is a solo endeavor (at least, until you have an editor on board to provide you with feedback and help you shape the narrative). What was it like to be alone/on your own/independent in this process?

Many years ago, someone told me that writing was a lonely endeavor and I didn’t believe her. She was right; writing can be an extremely lonely experience.

I had my husband around for most of the writing process and he cooked for me.  I can’t thank him enough for that. But as I mentioned in my last answer, there is a part of me that disconnected from the reality of loneliness or the fact that friends were going on vacation… at some point I suppose I just hunkered down and got the job done and didn’t think too much about it.

I am very impressed with the way you have weaved together several themes: shopping, money, men, fashion, fashion photography, family, and identity. It’s a tapestry of sorts. How did you come to these themes? What was the process for exploring each one individually, then weaving them together?

In an early answer to one of your questions, I use the word “pepper” but I like your word tapestry much better. It is more like weaving in many ways. I knew that my shopping was tied in to so many of these other themes and I felt it important to present them: How did I relate to money, to men and money, to the fashion world of the 90’s and to the fashion photography that proved to be such an integral part of my sense of self?

I don’t think I separated each theme out as I was writing. It was more that these themes were always present, as an undercurrent. They are fairly universal themes. For me they were important to explore, otherwise I would have written a book that presents shopping addiction in a superficial way like so many “shopaholic” books that are out there. I knew I didn’t want to do that.

I am blown away by your honesty and vulnerability throughout the book. You reveal so many things you might have not otherwise mentioned. Where did you find the courage to face your truths?

I was lucky enough to realize that the repercussions of not facing my truths would be far worse.

What has been the most surprising aspect of the writing process? What has been the most rewarding aspect?

The most surprising I guess is how much tenacity it takes. You really have to be prepared to stay the course.

The most rewarding: Coming back to NY and seeing my book in Rizzoli on 57th Street. It was a decades long dream come true.

Sex and the Single Ape

June 24, 2010

Photograph © Single Ape

Tami Mnoian introduced me to the Single Ape a couple of months ago, and while I loved the way this simian of sorts dealt with the messy questions that people threw at him, I wasn’t in a place in my life where I could use any of the expert advice. Flash forward to the other day, when my fingers began typing s-i-n-g-l-e-a-p-e without my awareness. I ended up back where I started, checking out stories for the lovelorn, thinking, I need more straight men in my life. Cause clearly they know something I don’t.

It occurred to me to ask a question, but then I realized the questions I had were not about me. I wanted to know about the Man behind the Ape, about the furry paw that gently peruses the pages of Cosmo.

So I dropped a note to Steven (aka the Ape) who graciously agreed to an interview, so I could get a glimpse into the guy who understands, “As awesome as romantic comedies are, life isn’t one. It’s way uglier than that. So much so, that when someone really does capture the realistic nature of relationships on film, it’s actually pretty disturbing and gross.”

Ohh yea, and he’s got these amazing photos too ..

Photograph © Single Ape

Tell me about your muse, Miss Helen Gurley Brown.

Well, I went through a phase where I was really into true crime books, especially old ones. I spent a lot of time digging through bookstores for them. But true crime is a finite category, and eventually it all tends to be different tellings of the same stories so I got into also checking out the self help sections. I really like weird books, and in the self help section you would find them. Like christian teen guides about the evils of masturbation and homosexuality for example. One day I found a copy of Sex and the Single Girl and just plowed through it. I loved how she wasn’t afraid to tell woman to fake it. “Get travel posters, it makes you look worldly..”. Stuff like that. It was equally funny and informative. Plus she calls lame girls Mouseburgers. But mostly I like how she just served it straight without seeming like there was some underlying agenda that you so often find in self-help books. Everyone wants to give their idea in the beginning and spend the rest of the book defending it. HGB is more of a regurgitation of facts and information with no linear connection except that some of it might help you out. I guess it seemed a bit more personal and realistic.

Photograph © Single Ape

Things have changed since the 1960 publication of Sex and the Single Girl, in many ways due to the sexual liberation Miss Gurley Brown set in motion with her magazine, Cosmopolitan, which is still at the top of the Hearst empire (recession be damned). How does Single Ape cater to this new breed of “liberated” men and women?

Hmm.. I like to think she kicked off the era of just telling it like it is. The truth is a bit ugly – like pretending you’re worldly by buying travel posters for instance – but it’s also good to know if you want to jump in the game. Unfortunately Cosmo has slowly drifted into a shell of its former self. Like some generic parody of her Ideas. It all went downhill when they fired Helen. I think the problem may be that the superficiality of our society   fluctuates in cycles. There are times when people want the straight talk and times when they want everything glossed over. The opposite of Helen would be the woman’s magazine dudes who answer questions that end with BS like “but most of all, remember you’re beautiful on the inside… “. Not to say people shouldn’t remember their inner-radness, or whatever…but if they are asking a question, they might want some useful answers and not just generic buzz phrases to jot down on post-it notes.  I’d like to think I’m trying to carry on a little of her vibe.. advice for people who really want to listen to some ugly truth mixed with pretty affirmations and realistic suggestions.

Photograph © Single Ape

The problem, so far as I see it, is that women ask women for advice about men—and none of us understand men. Reading Single Ape, I thought to myself how simple it all looks through a man’s eyes. Do you find women unnecessarily complicated? Confusing? Or have you got a handle on us?

That made me laugh. I’m not sure it’s always as simple as I make it seem, but I definitely try to simplify. I do think everyone makes everything way more complicated for themselves than it has to be. I also think people have a tendency to lose control of their craziness and as a result stomp their own game. We’ve all done that. As for the question, I do think woman are unnecessarily complicated when it comes to boys. They seem to always want to see a man’s point of view with a girl brain. Except guys don’t have girl brains, they have guy brains. The same brain that makes a shitty bed or enjoys a full day XBOX marathon. If you really want to get into what he’s thinking, you have to try to hop behind the wheel of some dude mind. Because wondering if he likes you and applying your girl thought process to his actions is like trying to translate Japanese with a German dictionary.

Photograph © Single Ape

It must be strange—albeit appealing—to have strangers tell you strange things that are seemingly none of your business, yet the put it out there for the world to see. What is it get such an intimate—albeit anonymous—glimpse into the human psyche?

Well, truthfully, I’ve always gotten that. It used to annoy me because it took a lot of time out of my days, answering questions. It wasn’t until friends started sending their friends to ask me stuff that I decided I should try to make something out of the situation, because as it was it was totally killing my productivity to work on anything else. You might be thinking “just tell them to scram…” True, but I can’t resist a good story.. or even the bad ones. But the glimpse, I believe, is the same glimpse we all get from are crazy and not so crazy friends, I just get a little more of it. Eventually, there is little  to nothing that you haven’t heard before, just variation on themes.

Photograph © Single Ape

Have you discovered any recurring themes among men and women?

Oh look, and that’s the next question. A ton of themes.. too many to list. I always joke about just making an ape wiki, maybe with some kind of flowchart that directs readers to their answer. Choose your own advice. Mostly the themes go back to the thought process, and how everyone tries to dissect each other without removing themselves from their own shoes. That, and the fact that guys just love porn, no matter how much sex they are getting or can have. That doesn’t sit well with girlfriends. I also think there are a lot of themes that constantly dispel the stereotypes of guys and girls. Lots of girls love sex, and lots of guys love to cuddle.

Photograph © Single Ape

And, lastly, to cop a page from the Single Ape playbook: What kind of bus do you take to work? Does your boss wear loafers or sneakers? Are you still making out with that one girl?

Ha.. I guess I should explain how I told you I dig for information by asking light questions with dirt revealers tucked in between. When I was a kid I read this book all about secrets revealed. In it was a chapter on polygraph tests and I learned that’s how they do it. By measuring your stress differential between “what did you eat today” and “did you chop his head off…”. I’m pretty sure I could get anyone to tell me anything if I approached it carefully enough. Though more often I find myself trying to hear less than more. For every question that gets written in, there are 10 or so that are asked privately. I don’t have all my own answers, but I definitely have all of yours.

Run-DMC and Doctor Dre, outside of WBAU/90.3 FM, in the Adelphi University Center, Garden City NY, July 1983, Photograph © Harry Allen

Harry Allen is the Media Assassin. Be it print, radio or digital; written or spoken word; or in the medium of photography Allen ihas had a hand in hip-hop culture dating back to 1982, when he first met Carlton “Chuck D” Ridenhour in 1982, when the two took an animation class at Adelphi University. Ridenhour, then a member of the Hip Hop group Sepctrum City introduced Allen Flavor Flav and Terminator X (who, along with Chuck D, would form the core of Public Enemy), Spectrum City founders Hank and Keith Shocklee  (who, along with Chuck D and Eric “Vietnam” Sadler , would form PE’s legendary production team, The Bomb Squad ), future Def Jam President Bill Stephney, and Andre “Doctor Dre” Brown, best known for later co-hosting Yo! MTV Raps.

It was during this time that Allen began his work in photography, capturing the local scene and visiting New York City stars, before he began writing professionally in 1987. Allen’s first published article was one of the first pieces to illuminate the political ideology behind Public Enemy. After a 1989 Washington Times interview with Professor Griff brought accusations of anti-Semitism against PE, Allen began identifying himself as a “hip hop activist and media assassin”, becoming the group’s publicist as “director of Enemy relations.”

An early proponent of the Internet, creating an online presence for PE in 1991, Allen was recently named “social media curator” by Fast Company recently named Allen a “social media curator” and one of “11 People Who Could Make Your Twitter Experience More Interesting.” Currently hosting NONFICTION, a Friday afternoon radio show on WBAI-NY/99.5 FM (the flagship of the non-commercial Pacifica radio network), Allen has always had a great affinity for photography. It’s no small feat to host a radio show with photographers as your guests, and successfully convey the nature of their work through ideas, rather than images. But time and again Allen does this, and it is a testament to his innate ability to understand the various forms in which reportage takes place. I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak with Harry Allen about his career in the media, and spotlight his work as a photographer.

Grandmaster Flash On-Stage at the Ritz, NYC, Photograph © Harry Allen

Your title “Media Assassin” is incredibly powerful. I have lots of questions about this… How did you come to this idea early in your career? How has it developed over the course of time? Has that changed as you have become a part of the media? And, ultimately, what is your responsibility to your listeners and readers?

Harry Allen: I created the title, Media Assassin, as a way of denoting a certain kind of aggression and intensity in my work. I see it as emblematic of the language employed by great thinkers I admire: Malcolm X, Frederick Douglass, David Walker, and others. Over time, the title has become better known, but I can’t say that my objectives for my work have changed in this regard. Ultimately, I consider my responsibility to not “pull punches,” and to communicate in a way that conforms with my operative motto: Educate and excite, inform and infuriate.

You’ve always taken a very intellectual and political approach to Hip Hop, something that existed back in the days, but seems to have vanished as money become an object of desire. What is the impetus to maintain your integrity as the culture evolves in another direction?

I can answer this question two related ways:

1) I think my approach to hip-hop is a reflection of who I am, and what I value. I am very much in touch with my own thoughts, and I am confident about them. As such, “maintaining” the approach you describe is merely a matter of doing what comes naturally to me. See this April 2010 interview Dr. Craig Werner and I did with Wisconsin Public Radio

2) I was brought up in, and continue to practice, Seventh-day Adventism as a spiritual system. SDAism has many values, but I think a core one is the idea that God-led people must commit to correct behavior, and not waver. Biblical characters who did this made a strong impression on me, early on, and continue to do so.

But even more, a kind of relentlessness about one’s position, if one believes it to be right and honorable, has become an aspect of my character. Growing up, I did not learn that “money” had an unlimited value. I learned that correct behavior was of higher value than money, and that this notion had a Godly basis. So, practicing correct ideas, and holding to correct standards, as I understand them—a relative kind of inflexibility about this—may be part of what you detect.

T La Rock, Benjamin Franklin H.S., South Bronx, Photograph © Harry Allen

I love that you were taking photographs all along! It’s like discovering your house has another room you didn’t even know about. Where did your desire to photograph come from? Who are your inspirations and influences ? How does your visual work play into your mission? How did your subjects relate to you wielding a camera? And what has surprised you most about the public’s reception to your work when Bill Adler exhibited your collection, Part of the Permanent Record: Photos From the Previous Century?

I’ve always enjoyed taking pictures, from the days of dropping B&W 126 cartridges into the back of a cheap camera we had in the house. It got turned up in high school, though, when I was loaned a Canon Canonet GIII-17 rangefinder for a project, and learned I dug the process of making slide shows.

Around the time I left high school for college, I bought a Polaroid SX-70 Special Edition, and a Polaroid 600 SE. Later, I bought a used, match-needle Canon TX w/ a 50mm 1.8 lens and a Canon 577G “potato masher” automatic flash. It was with this basic rig that I shot the pictures you’ve noted.

My inspirations are anyone who has shot and printed a B&W image beautifully. I love the work of Arnold Newman, Henri-Cartier Bresson, Helmut Newton, Ansel Adams, and lots of others.

I think the connection between my photography and other work is that all are centered around the individual. That is, my favorite photography is portraiture. My favorite journalism is the profile, or the Q&A. The act of revealing a person, and their nuances, compels me, in all media.

The people of whom I tended to take pictures possessed big personalities, to begin. so, making images of them tended to be a straightforward task.

Part of the Permanent Record: Photos From the Previous Century was an immensely gratifying event. About 99% of the images we chose had never been printed before. I’d never seen them except on a contact sheet.

Though it was, sadly, Eyejammie Fine Art’s final photo show, getting the exhibit gave me a greater sense of my work and its value. I’d always thought that I had some photographic talent, and that there were people who’d like my work, but seeing people actually show up to look at my pictures was a big moment. Having people buy prints took it to another level.

Now, I’ve been taking some of those images around to colleges and universities, as part of a presentation titled Shooting the Enemy: My Life in Pictures with the People Who Became Public Enemy. See:

This has become an especially gratifying experience, as it gives me an opportunity not only to show the images, and to talk about them, but to discuss my ideas about hip-hop with interested audiences.

You’ve been in radio for nearly 30 years! I love Nonfiction on WBAI. Who have been some of your most memorable interviews? And who are your dream interview subjects?

I’ve been writing professionally since June 1987, and broadcasting since June 2003 on my Friday, 2 pm show, NONFICTION.

I’ve interviewed everyone from Harvard African and African American Studies head Dr. Henry Louis Gates to Black Panther Party activist Kathleen Cleaver; director David Cronenberg to dance music diva Ultra Naté.

I don’t have a favorite interview, or dream interviewee, but I most value those interviews where I learn something new and valuable that I didn’t know; where the subject reveals something of themselves that they’ve not said before; or where I ask them a question they say is so original that it stops them in their tracks.

My business is cultivating conversations. It’s my passion, and it’s something, thank God, I do well. The next part of my life is bringing together my God-given abilities in a way that drives a bigger, deeper, more profound conversation about human culture. That is what I’m onto now and next.

Pebblee-Poo at Home, Photograph © Harry Allen
Nonfiction on

Photograph © Janette Beckman

When I told Janette Beckman it took real cojones to cover the Girls Fight Club out in Brownsville, she observed, “You are right about the ‘cojones.’ I think this may have been one of the most frightening situations I have been in. When they bolted the door of that windowless garage and I knew that if anyone decided they wanted to go crazy with a gun over some beef—especially as it was such a violent scene—well scared as I might have been, I was there and picked up my camera and started to talk to the people and take photos. It was an amazing experience.”

Need I say more? Better let Janette keep going ..

Photograph © Janette Beckman

Please talk about the historical significance of the Brownsville section of Brooklyn as it pertains to boxing.

Janette Beckman: The gritty streets of Brownsville have given birth to more top fighters than any other neighborhood in America. Most famously Mike Tyson “The Brownsville Bomber”,  Riddick Bowe,  Shannon “the Cannon” Briggs, and more recently Zab Judah.

Photograph © Janette Beckman

How did you find out about the Girls’ Fight Club? What was your inspiration to photograph this scene?

My friends Courtney Carreras and Curvel Baptiste had been working on a documentary film about The Girls Fight Club and life in Brownsville for 5 years. They asked me if I would like to take some stills for them. They told me that there was going to be a fight coming up so I agreed to go along with them and their crew. They had told me about the film and I was fascinated but as we drove into the hood in their van one cold winter’s evening I started to get a little nervous.

Photograph © Janette Beckman

How are the fights organized?

The fights are publicized by word of mouth. The location, which changes each time, is kept secret up to the day of the fight. In the afternoon, word will start to spread through the housing projects that there is going to be a fight and people will begin to congregate outside the local barbershop; a car will pull up, and someone inside will announce where the fight is. Not everyone can attend. You have to know the organizers or someone connected to the fighters. The girls fight for money, the audience place bets, the winner gets $1,000, the loser gets $400 but only if they fight three hard rounds of ninety seconds each.

Photograph © Janette Beckman

What was it like to be in this “arena” ?

The fight took place on a deserted street in an industrial building behind a wall ringed with barbed wire that seemed to be some kind of garage during the day. There were a couple of pit bulls tied up in the back and only one small entrance. A couple of locals were acting as security patting people down and checking for guns.  In the center was a boxing ring stained with dried blood from a previous fights Soon about 200 young men and women from the adjacent housing projects filed in. Once the fight started the noise level was deafening with people shouting advice to the fighters like “Kill the bitch!” Everyone is having fun they are loud, high, drunk and it is total chaos.

Photograph © Janette Beckman

You mention you got to know the subjects outside the ring. Where did you go and what did you do?

I was invited to go with the directors to a birthday party for the eight-year-old son of one of the fighters—a real family affair lots of young mums, music, and kids running all over the place. I went to another fighter’s apartment in the projects and listened to another young mom with three boys under 10 years old telling the heartbreaking story of her life. It was very emotional.

What has been the biggest surprise about working on this project?

The lives that these girls live—like Danielle, a single mother of three who fought for one reason only: to win the $1,000 prize money so she can feed her kids.

Photograph © Janette Beckman

Photograph © Christopher LaMarca

At the end of the 19th century, then President Theodore Roosevelt placed some 230 million acres of American grassland into scores of national forests, parks, wildlife refuges and other preserves. He dreamt that this part of The United States’ natural resources would be shielded from wholesale liquidation by an unchecked private sector. At a time when forests were seen as unlimited and renewable commodities, Roosevelt’s directive was both revolutionary and visionary.

Since then, the U.S. Forest Service evolved into an agency manipulated by political appointees, controlled by powerful economic interests, and torn by a conflicting mission. By the turn of the 21st century, the United States has lost more than 94% of its ancient forest while up to 85% of its remaining forest is under immediate threat. All over the country, organizations like Greenpeace —whose members have been labeled “radicals” and “eco-terrorists” by the timber industry—have stood up to stop the irresponsible exploitation of the last truly wild places left in America.

I am a tree hugger. I was never able to say that with pride until I met Christopher LaMarca, whose book, Forest Defenders, showcases both sides of the issues of deforestation. I am grateful to Chris for chatting with me about this story.

Photograph © Christopher LaMarca

How did you get involved in the Forest Defenders project?

Christopher LaMarca: I went to college at the University of Oregon, I studied Environmental Science and Biology. Through my courses I became aware of Old Growth Logging and the controversy surrounding it.

What are your thoughts on what, in many ways, is the extermination of our national forests?

I think the extermination of our National Forests is a another microcosm of an government that sustains itself on extraction, exploitation, and war. Why would the most powerful country in the world destroy some of the last truly wild places left on the planet (here in America and elsewhere)? Nobody can answer this question. Americans use less than 2% of the wood products that come from Public land. All of our paper and wood products come form private land owned by companies such as Weyerhouser, where trees are grown like corn, Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a resource issue, it isn’t.

Photograph © Christopher LaMarca

In documenting this story, you covered both sides, for and against logging. How did you gain access to each group, and did they know you were covering the other side?

I believe taking sides is a very narrow view of seeing political or environmental issues. When there is truth, there is truth. A person point of view doesn’t need to be defended. My point of view in this project was simple. An area of National forest was set aside for Wildlife, not timber production. An area of Forest that has 36 different species of conifers, more than any other temperate forest in the world. To me this is a place that should not be disturbed, it was protected by law and recognized as one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. I had no choice in telling this story, it needed to be told.

Access was very difficult, the activists thought I was an FBI agent, my first month in the forest nobody talked to me, it was a difficult to stay open and focused on the work. Eventually, people could feel past their own fear and see me for who I was. The loggers were weary as well, the most important part of doing this kind of work is that you are always yourself. Your always honest with the people who let you in, the loggers knew how I felt from day one. I never pretended I thought the logging was justified. I wanted to honestly tell their story, give them a voice about their work, they are often villanized just as much as the activists..Both groups would quiz me about the other. It was amazing to me how much judgment one group had of the other, humans being humans.

Photograph © Christopher LaMarca

What struck you as the most radical aspects of each side?

The activists were very very focused and organized. The work load is humbling, non-stop physical labor protecting some of the last truly wild places left in America and people are calling you a terrorist. Think about that for a second, think about the disconnect there. The word radical has been really been taken out of context in this country. People have forgetten this country was founded on civil disobedience ( Boston tea part, Civil rights movement etc..) Being Radical somehow became bad, a person on the fringe. I think the most radical thing a person can do is look at themselves in the mirror and ask themselves if their actions day to day match whats in truly in their heart..You don’t have to be a Forest activist to be radical, the radicalization process of a person starts with how we treat our loved ones and community. How we communicate and operate in the world on a daily basis, too many people have taken the bait of happiness based on fear in our society. What people felt in their hearts became their hobby, while their ‘job’ destroys their soul.

The loggers love their job, they no other way of living. They have been doing this their whole life and see the forest as a resource. Why should they feel any different? They are forced into living within a boom and bust economy, when you taste that kind of fear and have a family to feed you would cut first and ask questions later too. They too are living in a system that is unjust, they get no health insurance or any job security.

Photograph © Christopher LaMarca

Do you think a compromise or detent will ever be reached?

We are living within a system that doesn’t compromise. Its designed to keep us fighting for food on our plate, designed to keep us in a place of fear, designed so we cant truly open our hearts and share all of the beautiful things around us. My last straw in believing change was possible through politics ended with Obama. That’s another story.

What is your objective with the publication of the book? Do you think art and books can change lives?

My objection with this book was to share what happens when a group of people organize and act from their hearts. The strength and inspiration that one collects through this process nobody can ever take away, this type of invigoration isn’t built from taking a side or following rules. This energy comes from deep within, this is the energy that makes change. Action built from within the soul, your looking at a book of people who’s collective actions ended up protecting the most pristine forests left in this country, for now…. Their sacrifice of comfort, jail, ridicule from the outside world who judged and didn’t ask, is all water under the bridge now for them. They never did it for anyone, not for an organization, nor to uphold a law that was broken by the people who put in place. They did it because they had no choice. Would a sane society allow these wild places to be destroyed forever?

Photograph © Christopher LaMarca

Buy the Book

Props to INDIE 184

Artwork © Part Time Punks

A couple of years back, Patti Astor and I were standing in a mansion in the Hollywood Hills. She looked over at Andrew Pogany and commented on his beauty. “Wait til you meet him,” I told her.

Andrew is one of my favorite people. It’s a bit indescribable really, except to say that he’s always disarming, even when he is totally hung over. A big picture thinker, a community builder, and an editorial wunderkind, Andrew is a creative whirlwind. In the decade that I have known him, he has never failed to impress, not just with his superior work, but with his inimitable charm and wit. Andrew recently launched launched Echo Park Books, and chats about his first release, Art Time Punks, which bridges the past, present, and future of publishing.

Artwork © Part Time Punks

Please talk about Echo Park Books. What was the inspiration to get into book publishing, particularly at a time when print is struggling?

Andrew Pogany: My friend and partner Lee Corbin and I had been talking about making books together for a while now. I suppose we both have an affinity for reading and for the book as a physical medium. But really, there’s just a lot of amazingly talented artists, writers, musicians, activists etc in L.A., and these people and their work inspire us not just to publish but to represent. Also, the cultural moment is right. There’s an excitement in the world of book publishing. A whole new inventory of book making and book marketing tools is available to independent publishing houses and individual publishers; a new frontier has opened and both individuals and corporations are looking to stake their flag.

As for print struggling, that’s just an issue of Format. The other side of that coin—Content—is thriving, assuming all different shapes and sizes according to the impulses and desires of its community of author-readers, whether that be long-form video or cell phone fiction.

The plan is for Echo Park Books to eventually be just one of several book imprints available to a thriving online-offline arts & literature community. For now, we’ll mainly be publishing limited edition music, art, and photography fanbooks, chapbooks, and monographs.

Artwork © Part Time Punks

Art Time Punks, the first title under your imprint, takes us back to a time when visual culture and promotions were strictly a D.I.Y. affair. Do you see a connection between that old school ethos and the new school approach to self-publishing and marketing?

There’s definitely a DIY sensibility to book marketing, book publishing, and to social media in its totality. The tools that were once only available to the media conglomerates and publishing aristocracy are now available to everyone, and the rebels are storming the gates, with spectacular results. But I think DIY ultimately is about raw physical materials and elbow grease. There’s a certain transparency of process and a feeling of spontaneity to the best DIY works. Each of the posters that Art Time Punks reprints (250+) was made by cutting, pasting, and Xeroxing—analog art, so to speak. As Michael says, he has “No knowledge of Photoshop and no desire to.” I think this faint luddist streak is common amongst DIY hardliners.

Though Art Time Punks is not itself handmade, the design, paper and ink quality are far superior to your standard paperback. And because we’re running sales strictly through the Part Time Punks and Echo Park Books websites, and marketing through our preexisting social networks, we’re able to avoid the heavy costs associated to distribution, retail, and promotions. We’re cutting out as many middlemen as possible and passing the benefits on to our community. That’s pretty DIY, right?

How did you connect to Part Time Punks? What made you want to make a book on their flyers?

Michael and I have known each other for a few years now. We’ve collaborated on several events and for a year or so he also wrote a column on record collecting for Flaunt magazine, which I edited for many years. We decided to make a book together because I’m a big fan of Michael’s musical tastes and a longtime follower of Part Time Punks. Each flyer of Michael’s is unique, handmade, and serves a specific purpose. They’re like awesome little experiments with form and function. Part Time Punks has a considerable amount of dedicated fans and we thought they might like something like this.

Artwork © Part Time Punks

You’re doing a limited edition of 250, which is brilliant since it will be gone right quick. How do you think that small runs increase an object’s value?

Well, no object has value unless it’s desired, and if there’s more desire for a product than there is actual product, its value obviously increases. The old model of publishing says, “supply it and they will buy.” The new model says, “determine what the people want and supply it.” The latter is made all the more possible by the sophisticated analytics that websites allow for.

We printed only 250 books because we’re interested in creating collectables, in giving the book a sentimental and social value that moves beyond its content and form and yet remains esoteric, i.e. linked to a specific niche community.

I am of the belief that as digital culture takes over, the value of the printed object will increase as there will be less product on paper. What are your thoughts on the future of print, and our relationship to paper-based content production and consumption?

I personally don’t think books will ever go away. But paper-based publishing will have to work hard to keep intimate ties to its community; by necessity it’ll have to serve at the alter of Demand, and be able to move quickly to supply it and market smartly to sell it. (See: Richard Nash ).

Also, the big publishing houses won’t be able to forever depend on blockbuster books to finance their roster. Publishers will have to figure out a way to persist by selling not so many units of a lot more authors. (See: The Long Tail by Chris Anderson )

The democratization of publishing will ensure vast flows of content, good and bad, and which is which will be decided by committee (online communities and forums) and curators/publishers, alike. Similarly, the array of publishing options gives authors leverage in bargaining for better book deals, and the authors themselves will become intellectual properties for the publishing houses to leverage in different ways.

All in all, I’d say it’s an exciting time for publishing. The popularity of reading and writing, as well as interest in book publishing itself, seems to have soared, and though the print world will inevitably shrink in stature, perhaps, as you state, the decrease in quantity will lead to an increase in quality. But it’s seems more likely that the establishment will continue banking on book deals with the New York Housewives for a little longer. All the better for independent publishing!

Artwork © Part Time Punks

Photograph © Stephen Mallon

I first met Stephen Mallon when he was organizing a portfolio review last year. It was quite a spectacular, as I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Stephen, as well as Sarah Small and Landon Nordeman in my sessions. And I don’t know if you’ve ever sat through reviews before, but meeting one—let alone—three dynamic and fantastic photographers (as well as people) is a rare treat.

The world, being the insanely small place that it is, reconnected me to Stephen, not once but twice in the past month. First I noticed he was organizing the Heart for Haiti photography auction benefiting Doctors Without Borders. Then I discovered a portfolio of his “American Reclamation” series on aCurator. They say three is the magic number, so I contacted Stephen directly this time, asking to chat about his work as an industrial photographer. Suffice to say, the work blows me away.

Photograph © Stephen Mallon

Please talk about your formative years in North Carolina, when you used to visit airports, rail yards, and construction sites. What was the allure of these places?

The expansion of one of the local roads in Chapel Hill was a huge construction project and I would go and sit on the hill to photograph the machines rolling by. I need to find that film! These were the images I would make at the end of the day after Junior High School. I was drawn to the machine moving the earth after years of pretending to do this with Tonka, seeing a machine in operation doing this was (and still is!) a treat for me. It’s hard to describe but my heart starts racing when I think about bulldozers!

At what point did you decide you wanted to become an industrial photographer, and how did you get into the game?

It was always in my heart to be photographing the sandbox, I just got off track chasing ideas, fashion, and lifestyle shoots for fifteen years or so.  It came back to me when we were in the south of France and I was staring at the radio antennas to the disapproval of my companion at the time…

Please talk about your project, “The Salvage of Flight 1549.” What was it like to have exclusive access to this process?

INSANE. Every once in a while I would talk to one of the guys standing next to me on the pier: “There’s a plane in the water right there.” When NTSB granted me access to go inside the airplane I almost asked, “Are you sure its ok?” but decided not to double check! I am still grateful for all of the support that NTSB, Weeks Marine, ASMP, and the entire photo community had for me during the process of having the images up and down, up and down, and up again!

How did working on this shoot affect you as both a photographer and New Yorker?

I am really proud that I have these two bodies of work that is connected to the history of New York. I get introduced to people a lot as “that’s the guy that shot the plane in the water.” It’s a treat to have a body of work that was so widely seen.

Photograph © Stephen Mallon

Photograph © Stephen Mallon

Photograph © Stephen Mallon

I love your “American Reclamation” project. It is so beautiful, and so disturbing to see the way we dispose of our industrial waste. How did you get involved with this project?

A conversation with Jayne Rockmill during a portfolio review that ASMPNY hosts. She was interested in publishing a book of my work and I felt I needed a project that is more interesting then  the random collection of images I had. I started brainstorming with my wife to have a theme that was current and had not been tackled yet.  The idea came up to focus on the recycling industry in America, which has ranged from the artificial reef program to the cement factory in California to the Fresh Kills landfill, slated to become a park!

What are your thoughts on dumping waste into the ocean?

The only project that I am in support of are the artificial reef programs, some of which started hundreds of years ago. The next solo show, opening Sept 10th at Front Room Gallery in Williamsburg,  is titled “Next Stop, Atlantic.”  This body of work are images of the MTA retiring over one thousand subway cars in the Atlantic Ocean to build reefs along the east coast.

Photograph © Stephen Mallon

I particularly love your portrait work, as there is an ease and a comfort between you and your subjects that does not always exist in documentary work. What are your on-site relationships like?

Thank you!  I get comfortable with the workers by hanging around a LOT! We talk, I introduce myself, tell them what i am working on, ask if itis ok to take some photos, I usually ask what their favorite food or drink is and then we start talking about that. People love to think about their favorite dish or drink so its a good common ground to  cover.

Photograph © Matt Gunther

I recently caught up with INDIE 184 at the Wild Style Reunion in Baltimore, where she was killin the wall with a piece styled on the famed movie’s logo. From one hundred yards away, her piece popped like Bubblicious. Delicious! And though she took over the wall, she stayed casual and humble, taking care of business and taking the time to chat and catch up…

Miss Indie you have three kids—and COPE ! How do you stay so cute with so much to do every day ?

Thanks Sara!

As calm as I may look, things can be very insane at  times. I have three children, one with Mr. Cope and he has two grown children and one granddaughter—not all under the same roof though. So we are chock full o’ kids! I love it, balancing out family life and work just gives me a surge of energy to keep moving forward and reach for the stars. Keeping up with kids is like having super caffeine blast! I do more having kids than when I didn’t have kids (go figure) because I’ve learned to cut the bullshit out. My time is limited can’t be a people pleasure or fight someone else’s battle all the time, I have to do what’s best for our family and business.

I love that you are from Washington Heights ! What was it like growing up uptown back in the day, and does it totally bug you out to see a Starbucks at the old crack spot on Ft Washington?

I LOVE the Heights! It has a special place in my heart. The Heights has a sense of community with some pizzazz! In the early 80s we would troop from Far Rockaway all the way to the Heights in the A train (my favorite line of them all), but didn’t officially move there until the early 90s. I don’t remember the crack spot, I’ve always recalled Fort Washington to be the pseudo border between the Dominicans and the Jewish community. Starbucks sucks, I’d prefer to sip some real café con leche, but hey rather corporate than crack spot any day.

Photograph © INDIE 184

Tell me about the Kweenz Destroy fashion line. How did you get involved in designing clothing?

I’ve always, always, always dreamt of having my own fashion brand. I would deconstruct shirts, embellished them and painted numbers on them with acrylic paint and played around with a few fashion names. So it’s always been a sort of hobby of mine until fall of 2006. As I started to get more serious about branding, things always ripen in due time, I said to myself: Hey it’s either now or never! and at long last…officially launched a full t-shirt collection last summer.

Your FAFI collab is super cute. How did you hook up with her ?

Cope and Fafi go way back, when he’d go out to Toulouse and paint in jams out there in early 2000. Fafi is a super sweet heart! I got lucky to do collaborate with her. Starting the first collection with Fafi is a true blessing. When she asked me what ideas to do for Kweenz Destroy, I just let Fafi do her thing. So she created Fafinette “India” you might see some similarities between us, perhaps she based it after me!

Photograph © INDIE 184

Photograph © INDIE 184

I get so many compliments on the SPICE painting I picked up at your show last summer—I am so glad I snatched that up! Any plans to do any shows in 2010 !?

That’s awesome! Spice is an awesome graffiti writer from Australia, she’s been holding it down for about 20 plus years in the graf and hip-hop movement down under. Actually, next month fellow graffiti writer/designer Queen Andrea and I will be curating an all female exhibit in Los Angeles. This art show will be much smaller then last years Queenz Arrive show I curated in Brooklyn. So stay tuned for Sweet Things, July 8th at Crewest Gallery, it will be a mixture of illustration, photography and graffiti art.

Photograph © INDIE 184

Photograph © INDIE 184

Last—but not least! You killed it at the Wild Style Reunion in Baltimore this weekend. Charlie Ahearn was absolutely loving it ! How do you feel about having INDIE done in the Wild Style logo format? And what is it like being the only woman painting among so many men?

“Wild Style” has always been a huge influence and one of the reasons why I wanted to be a graffiti artist! I love Charlie he’s so down and I’m so stoked that he loved my piece there! What an honor to have him, a few of the musical artists from the film, you and Martha Cooper around us that nite! And especially be photographed in front of the piece was also wonderful!

On the train ride to Baltimore I had no idea what outline I was going to do for the event. So Cope suggested that I do the Wild Style logo letters. Great idea since the letters are so bold and simple and stood out just a tad bit amongst the awesome burners the fellas did. I’m not intimidated at all painting around dudes and it’s never really been about sex but more about breaking the ice when you are an amateur painter.

Artwork © INDIE 184

Flyer courtesy of DJ Disco Wiz

DJ Disco Wiz has been collecting original Hip Hop party flyers dating back to the earliest days in the game. Back in the days, these flyers were made by hand, and their painstaking precision is just one part of their charm. Both an art form unto themselves as well as a part of our culture’s history, these party flyers take us back to a time and a place that is unlike any other.

Many of these flyers are now in the collection of the Experience Music Project in Seattle. But don’t worry, if you can’t get across the country that quickly, you can still check them out in the incomparable oral history of Hip Hop’s early years, Yes Yes Y’all by  Jim Fricke and Charlie Ahearn.

In conjunction with his June 24 book signing event at Fat Beats, Wiz agreed to chat about his mind blowing collection.

Flyer courtesy of DJ Disco Wiz

Please talk about the inspiration to donate your collection of original Hip-Hop flyers to the Experience Music Project.

DJ Disco Wiz: I had just started recovering from my first of two bouts with thyroid cancer in 1999, when Grandmaster Caz strongly suggested that I attend an interview session taking place in Harlem moderated by Jim Fricke the senior curator of The Experience Music Project in Seattle.

That was the beginning of a series of events that followed, our oral interviews were used as part of the museums opening Hip-Hop Oral History series and later transcribed onto text in Jim Fricke and Charlie Ahearn’s book Yes Yes Y’all. The Experience Music Project Oral History of Hip-Hop’s First Decade.

70% of my flyer collection was also used in the book. I made a donation of flyers to the museum on behalf of myself and Caz. The caption reads: “Donated solely for the preservation of Hip-Hop Culture, may no man take away what we created. —DJ Disco Wiz/Luis Cedeño and Grandmaster Caz/Curtis Brown.”

Flyer courtesy of DJ Disco Wiz

How do you feel about having your collection part of a major museum?

Honestly it goes beyond words for me, the preservation aspect happened for me because of personal health reasons and the sheer notion of not knowing how many tomorrows were left..

The feeling of wanting to leave something behind for future generations is overwhelming and transcending. I am thankful and fortunate to have my archives in a respected institution.

Flyer courtesy of DJ Disco Wiz

Back in the days—before InDesign and Photoshop and Kinkos—flyers were a handmade artform. Please talk about what it took to make these pieces, and what it was like to receive them?

This was the beginning of an unforeseen unstoppable movement/culture and it was not televised. It was “each one teach one, each one reach one” it was definitely a process for sure…

In the early days most flyers were simply hand written with a marker then it evolved with the use of stencils and elaborate tags/throw ups by legendary graffiti artist, along with common phases of the times. One of my favorites were Afrika Bambaataa’s flyers which used the phase “Come in Peace.”

Flyer courtesy of DJ Disco Wiz

How did you and Grandmaster Caz come together to design the flyers for your events?

Creation of our event flyers was Caz’s thing 100%. I pretty much just co-signed them as we went along…

Flyer courtesy of DJ Disco Wiz

Why did you decide to collect the flyers for the parties that were happening back in the days?

That’s the $99,000.00 question! I really don’t know why? and honestly don’t care to know I’m just so glad and thank God everyday that I did…

I do remember coming home in February of 1982 after being away for more than four years. Hip-Hop was then hitting the radio airwaves and making its maiden voyage around the globe. I opened a box containing 100s of my flyers from the 70′s… It was absolutely magical  to say the least…

Flyer courtesy of DJ Disco Wiz

Are there any flyers you collect today?

Yes! of course, am not a hoarder.. but I do love to collect—flyers, banners, event ticket stubs, etc, because as history has clearly taught us… you’ll never know.

Don’t Miss This!
Thursday, June 24 at 7pm
DJ Disco Wiz at Fat Beats, New York
Signing Copies of His Autobiography

Photograph © Peter Sutherland

Peter Sutherland and I first connected to publish Autograf: New York City’s Graffiti Writers, a collection of portraits photographed by Sutherland that were then signed by the writers themselves. After the success of this project, we worked together on his book & DVD combo, Pedal, documenting NYC bike messengers, and on his third book, Buckshots, in which Sutherland gives new meaning to our ideas of hunting and shooting deer.

I recently reconnected with Peter via email, as he traverses Southeast Asia, and he graciously found time for a quick catch up chat.

Photograph © Peter Sutherland

What IS going on !? What are you doing traveling through Asia ?

Peter Sutherland: I’m here doing a few things, i did small exhibitions in Tokyo and Beijing and then will go to Nepal.  There is a small org called that invites photographers to Katmandu to teach photo to a group of street kids there.  It should be cool. I’ve been trying to find more ways to use art and photo as a positive/outreach sort of thing.

Photograph © Peter Sutherland

I am very impressed with your evolution as a photographer and filmmaker! When we first hooked up you were doing more documentary based work, but now it feels you’ve moved in a very new direction. What ideas are you exploring in your photography and film work ?

Thanks Miss Rosen!  I think its possible to work with several different mediums and approaches and have them all make sense.  I think i follow trends a bit, this is not to say i copy other work so much, but i like the idea of photo and film as a dialogue between all that are involved.  So maybe the evolution is in part a reaction to other work I see.

My process is also about entertaining myself, so i have to alway attempt new things and try to keep it fresh. There is so much good stuff out there now that i can only get excited about creating a body of work vs. just creating single series or pieces, so its all about staying on the grind and staying positive/productive.

Photograph © Peter Sutherland

I love your website, using storytelling from your childhood as a context for exploration of your photographic work. What was the inspiration to create such a personal presentation ?

I started doing a few pieces that include writing, most are based on memories from 10+ years ago.  I like it if people can associate these texts with the images I put out there.  So I hope its a cool way to site my influences and early experiences + give a bit of context to the photos.  It was also a design choice i made last minute because my friend was getting tired of working on my site, and i said OK, here it is.

Photograph © Peter Sutherland

I don’t know if it’s the summer, the Puerto Rican Day Parade, or thoughts of the Jersey Shore, but I’ve been all about Freestyle Classics this week.

The Cover Girls


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