I’m going to New York City for the first time next month, and my obsession with it has been in full effect since I bought my tickets. I recently found Scene, a book of Jeanette Montgomery Barron’s 80’s New York portraits.
The Starn twins posed together for her, one in an undershirt with his hair pulled back and the other leaning forward looking somewhat more engaging than his identical brother with a mass of hair over his shoulders. Kathryn Bigelow, who became the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director in 2010, holds a cigarette between two fingers and the cigarette box with her other three.
Her portrait of Rainer Fetting was an assignment for WolkenKratzer, a German art magazine. Fetting and a model hired for the shoot, Desmond, met that day and were together for years, Desmond appearing in many of Fetting’s paintings. She wrote in the caption of her portrait of Keith Harring that every wall of his lower Broadway apartment was covered with his drawings. He is even wearing his work in the portrait (included below). She photographed Robert Mapplethorpe, another photographer known for his black and white portraits, shortly before he died of complications with AIDS.
Barron cast her representation of New York through some of its most formative people. Her portraits include musicians, filmmakers, painters, writers, fashion designers, publishers, actors, models, and photographers who worked together, played together, and made their own rules. They will resonate for those who are familiar with the New York art scene of the 80s, and the strength of her portraiture may get those who aren’t to look into the stories behind the faces. Many of them changed culture as we know it.
Here are some highlights from Scene (with Barron’s own captions):
“I first met Willem in 1980 when he was starring in a film that my brother, Monty Montgomery, and Katherine Bigelow were co-directing called The Loveless. It was shot in south Georgia and was Willem’s first leading role. I have known Willem since then and photographed him many times over the years. Despite looking like a tough guy, Willem is very sweet.”
“Jenny lived on the Lower East Side on Eldridge Street. It was nighttime in the fall or winter so there was no natural light in the apartment – that’s why I asked her to sit at her desk near that great lamp. I was never happy with the portrait until this year – now it’s one of my favourites. Funny how that happens. I can’t tell you how often I think of that truism from one of her conceptual art pieces, ‘Protect me from what I want.'”
Doug and Mike Starn
Rainer Fetting and Desmond
“I was assigned to photograph Bianca for German Cosmopolitan. She was three hours late, typical for her in those days. She had been at Calvin Klein’s showroom picking out clothes for the shoot. Once she walked in the room, we all forgot how angry we were. She started to cry when Neil Young’s ‘Old Man’ started playing on the radio. Whenever I hear that song, I feel like crying, too. I got to know Bianca pretty well after that. We used to exercise together, meet for lunch, or go to the movies with her daughter Jade. She would call me up and say, in her low, sexy voice, ‘Come to lunch at the Factory right now.’ I would sit [there at] the long table with Boy George, Quentin Crisp, or Keith Haring, whoever was current at the moment. One time Bianca took me to lunch at Le Cirque where we ended up having a chat with Richard Nixon. You always got the best restaurant service when you were with Bianca. Sometimes we didn’t even have to pay.”
“I wanted to take a simple portrait of Cindy. Just outside the frame lay all of the pig noses and assorted props we have seen in her photographs. I love Cindy’s work, especially her early black-and-while film stills.”
Scene was released by powerHouse Books and the ClampArt Gallery in New York is hosting an exhibition of the prints this month. Barron is currently working on a photo series of Rome, Italy. Maybe I’ll go there next?