45 years ago it was 1977, I look back at my photography career, thinking about all that I’d seen and photographed as I began my career as a photographer. Studio 54, the infamous disco was the calling card to my beginnings as an established celebrity photographer.
I don’t know how I did it, but I got in on opening night; it was like the gates of heaven opening before me (think of the 1941 movie “Here Comes Mr. Jordan”), or the 1978 remake “Heaven Can Wait”).
Disregarding the fact that the New York Post already had a staff photographer on assignment, I became SUCH a pest, calling the New York Post, night after night, saying I knew they had a staff shooter there, BUT, asking them if they wanted to see my photos, as I knew I had better shots.
They always said yes, so I cabbed it down to South Street, just ahead of the Fulton Fish Market, between Catherine and Market Streets, where at night, there was a beehive of activity from all the fishmongers and long haul trucks bringing out their goods. Smelly, noisy, and loud, but I was focused on one thing only. Getting my photos into the New York Post. Nothing else in life mattered. The powers that be caught on, and hired me right after the newspaper strike in 1978. The strike lasted 88 days which put a crimp in me, but that wasn’t going to stop me.
Upstairs to the 4th floor, racing past the newsroom, into the antiquated darkroom, the Kodak Versamat spitting out full roles of the film (god help the photographer that didn’t leave the film’s tongue out to make it easier for the darkroom people to load the exposed film into “Jaws”, our nickname for the processor that more often than not, decided to eat our film for dinner).
We used the Versamat in the Post darkroom to spit out the negatives. Once cut into strips of six, the negs went onto the Bessler 23C II enlarger or the Leica Focomat enlarger, and away we went. Print, burn, dodge, the darkroom people’s hands flying as they tried to make us shooters look good on paper, while we banged away on the old Royal typewriters writing out our captions. Photographers’ names, the who, what, where, and when we shot the photos.
To all those who don’t know from a wet darkroom, most of us lived by Kodak’s D-76 developer (8 minutes at 68 degrees), or for the finicky shooters, Acufine or Diafine, stop bath, photoflo to prevent paper curling (before the advent of resin-coated paper which didn’t curl), most of the time.
In the early days, we lived and died by Kodak Tri-X film (400 ASA) with our Vivitar 283 and 292 flashes set on the red dot. Then, we finally started getting some wisdom by carrying around a second camera set up to shoot color.
It didn’t do much for my social life, as I spent every evening in the club, hunting for celebrities; I could smell them a mile off. My sensors snapped on and I moved like lightning to get into position.
The disco wreaked of the pot, poppers (Amyl Nitrate), and anything that would get them high to get into the beat of the music.
I think of all this when I look over my early photos, remembering the greatest time I ever had shooting in New York City was in the 1970s.
It really was the best of times.
Take a look for yourself