Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Lilian Caruana Captures the Vulnerable Side of the Punk Esthetic

What is most stunning about Lilian Caruana’s photographs of punk rock kids in New York from 1984 to 1987, now on display through January 7, 2011 at the John D. Calandra Italian-American Institute, is how much space they have. As anyone who lived in New York, or who came here at the time can attest, it was a vastly more spacious place, offering freedom to pretty much anyone who sought it. Caruana, an Italian immigrant, draws on the populism of legendary Life Magazine photographer W. Eugene Smith in an engaging series of black-and-white portraits offering a compassionate view of life as an outsider.

Caruana’s intent was to capture her subjects’ individuality, and it was fortuitous that she took these pictures when she did, when individuality of expression among young New York immigrants was not only not forbidden but actually pretty much de rigeur. Even then, the punk scene was not necessarily a nonconformists’s club: there were Nazi and racist elements, especially among the hardcore kids. But many of the people who came here did so not necessarily because they wanted to, but because there was nowhere else to go, and because they had the option of being pretty much by themselves if they felt like it. And because they could afford it. How times have changed. These East Village shots could be from another universe. There’s not a single $500 bedhead haircut, posse of overdressed, tiara-wearing suburban girls or their Humvee stretch limo, or for that matter, anyone, anywhere, except the subjects of the photos themselves.

Several capture squatters in their lowlit afternoon hovels: a scruffy but seemingly cheerful couple reclining by the window on a mattress; a young guy with a Simply Red haircut enjoying a smoke while playing with a trio of kittens who seemingly could have run off into the adjacent hole in the apartment wall if they felt like it; a girl on her bed, leaning on a Bellevue Hospital pillow and watching a war movie on an old portable tv at 4:35 in the morning, her wall decor limited to the label off a Budweiser torpedo bottle (those were the days before the forty-ounce) and what might be a bloody handprint. The multi-racialism and inclusiveness of the era is evident in the diversity of Caruana’s subjects, especially in her portraits of mixed-race couples. One of them playfully does the bump in front of a gated storefront, the guy holding one of those big Bud bottles – young people drinking on the street in broad daylight were not typically subjected to police persecution in those days. Another pose on their rooftop, the street below them empty save for a battered Chevy Monte Carlo and a shiny new Mazda coupe passing by. As is the case with an Iron Cross-wearing, heavily tattooed guy – his face out of the frame – down the block from an independently owned diner long since vanished from the neighborhood. The shot most likely to be destined for iconic mall-store t-shirt status depicts a father and toddler son with identical mohawks – again, this was from an era fifteen years before the hairstyle became popular with members of the military and the police force. The tattoos are homemade; expressions of peace, freedom and nonviolence predominate among the t-shirts and graffiti; and perhaps most obviously, none of these people seem the least bit threatening.

The John D. Calandra Italian-American Institute is located at 25 W 43rd St. (5th/6th Ave.), on the 17th floor. Gallery hours aren’t listed at their site: you may wish to call before visiting, (212) 642-2094.

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October 28, 2010 Posted by | Art, Culture, Music, music, concert, photography, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mick Rock Puts His Diversity On Display at Morrison Hotel Gallery

Legendary photographer Mick Rock has a new book out, Mick Rock Exposed: The Faces of Rock n Roll and accompanying exhibit up at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in the old CB’s Gallery space just south of Bowery and Bleecker. It’s a must-see: the book is out just in time for the holidays and ought to do just as well if not better than his previous Bowie and glam-themed collections. As he explained before the show’s celebrity-packed opening Tuesday night, this is an eclectic book: he’s never been swayed by popular trends. Although Rock will forever be associated with iconic images like the covers of Lou Reed’s Transformer and the Stooges’ Raw Power, his portraiture over the last forty-plus years is extraordinarily diverse, ranging from Japanese kabuki theatre stars, to a somewhat notorious, self-referencing show featuring Kate Moss in all kinds of provocative poses, to bands as dissimilar as German proto-punks Can, current-day blues belter Shemekia Copeland and gypsy punk stars Gogol Bordello.

As much as Rock has an eye for drama, he often goes for understatement. The best of the most recent images here are an absolutely hilarious Snoop Dogg, looking old yet ganjifically defiant in a George Clinton kind of way (Rock and Snoop seem to have a great mutual appreciation), and a considerably clever spin on an otherwise cliched PR shot of Lady Gag “passed out” in a dirty, trashed bathtub. That shirtless guy standing over her, face out of view? That’s Jack White.

Fans of Rock’s legendary glam-era photography won’t come away disappointed. A Ziggy-era David Bowie is captured in black-and white, pensive and shirtless in an empty room; on the train to Aberdeen with guitarist Mick Ronson; onstage performing “guitar fellatio” as Ronson solos, and in an absolutely brilliant if worrisome 1972 shot where he joins Lou Reed (hiding behind his shades) to support a completely trashed Iggy Pop, who has a pack of Lucky Strikes stuffed in his mouth.

Iggy and the Stooges also figure prominently. A black-and-white shot from 1972 captures the band looking particularly young and vulnerable, a skinny Ron Asheton taking a stab at trying to appear menacing behind his innocuous wireframe glasses (this was before he discovered aviators). The most wrenching of all the photos here is a color headshot of Iggy onstage in 1977, dripping with angst and longing: it’s the visual equivalent of Gimme Danger. There are also a couple of vividly sad Syd Barrett black-and-whites, one where he strikes a karate-like pose in an empty room – he alone knows what it means, if anything – and another with him reclined haggardly on the hood of a battered old Buick convertible (look closely – it’s parked in front of a sparkling new MGB-GT coupe) somewhere in England. By contrast, Rock had the presence of mind to capture Madonna in black-and-white in 1980 (wearing a 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates World Champions tee, licking her shoulder lasciviously – she already knows she’s a star). Everything here that isn’t sold out already is on sale at depression-era prices (a limited edition Transformer print signed jointly by Rock and Reed is three grand). The Morrison Hotel Gallery is open Wednesday-Sunday, noon to 7 PM: shows here turn over fast, go now if you’re thinking about it.

October 28, 2010 Posted by | Art, Music, music, concert, photography, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment