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.

Advertisements

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

Curt Gunther’s Rare Beatles Photos Are a Hit

In 1964, German photographer Curt Gunther was Beatles press officer Derek Taylor’s lucky choice as official lensman for the band’s first American tour. On public view for the first time at the Morrison Hotel Gallery, the late Gunther’s black-and-white shots capture the Fab Four as just another hardworking band, albeit one with a rabid following. It’s a predictably revealing look at the group right as their popularity was exploding, but before they had iconic status thrust on them. George looks anxious and pissed most of the time; John bears a remarkable resemblance to a young David Crosby, twenty pounds heavier than he was by the time Rubber Soul came out; Paul is something of a goof, and Ringo tunes it all out. From a musician’s perspective, the most fascinating shot offers a side view of Ringo behind his kit, high on his riser, during what appears to be a rehearsal somewhere. He faces a wall covered with graffiti: squeezed into the barely eighteen-inch space below between the wall and riser are John and George. Are they even able to see their bandmate?

Another photo captures John, Paul and George walking down a tunnel, guitars in hand, possible in the bowels of a stadium. A sixtysomething security guard glances at them as they pass, warily, but obviously without a clue as to the historical significance of the moment. Several sweet outdoor shots show the band onstage, Paul sharing a mic either with George or John: take away the moptops, and the conservatively suited quartet could have been Buddy Holly and the Crickets at just another Texas football field. In the back of a limo, Paul goofs off while Ringo zones out, John hides behind his shades and George can’t wait for the end of the ride. The most playful of all of these shows Paul hiding his right eye behind the neck of his bass, George walking ahead of him with impatient unease.

There’s also a shot of the group on horseback (Central Park?); a group pose at a slot machine (nobody is playing); John in bed (still in his shades), smoking; several variously fatigued backstage scenes, a typically surreal 1960s pose with mirrors, and a few photos of fans. Only two of these really strike a nerve: one captures a cop trying to restrain a girl of about eleven who’s trying to sprint past his barricade, and there’s another of a middleaged female fan striking a “Home Alone” pose, hands upside her cheap drugstore eyeglasses and discount beehive hairdo, that wouldn’t be out of place in the Diane Arbus catalog. A must-see for all Beatles fans; prints are on sale at the gallery, and if there’s any justice in the world there will eventually be a coffee table book. The exhibit runs through July 15 at the Morrison Hotel Gallery’s SoHo space at 116 Prince St. between Wooster and Greene.; viewing hours are not listed on the gallery’s website, although they’re typically open during the day Monday through Saturday.

June 18, 2010 Posted by | Art, Music, music, concert, photography, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments