From the Underground Archive: Lisa Jane Persky’s Photographs of Debbie Harry
Lisa Jane Persky embodies the interconnected ethos of New York City’s downtown arts scenes in the 1960s and 1970s, when underground theater, film, dance, music, art, and literature crosspollinated with each other. In the years after her folkie parents moved to Greenwich Village in 1962, Persky met several colorful characters, from Debbie Harry and Divine to Lance Loud and Yoko Ono (the latter of whom was her building’s co-superintendent, along with her thenhusband Tony Cox, when Persky was a girl). She attended New York’s High School of Art and Design and dabbled in painting, photography, and writing—reading her poetry alongside Bowery bums and bohemians in an early incarnation of the punk club CBGB. After Persky’s upstairs neighbor, the colorful playwright H.M. Koutoukas, cast her in one of his outrageous shows, she dove into the subterranean world of off-off-broadway. “I wanted to play,” Persky said, “so I sought out fun things to do and said yes to anything I was offered that might fit my freewheeling agenda. My idea was as general and open to ridicule as it sounds.” This openness to new experiences led to her joining the early punk publication New York Rocker as a founding staff member, where one of Persky’s photos of Debbie Harry was used for Blondie’s first-ever cover story. “When I started working on New York Rocker in ’76, I became interested in casual composed portrait photography, lighting—especially low-light situations—with no flash,” she explained. “Everyone in the scenes I was circulating in—primarily theater and music—was young and beautiful and I took pictures of who I decided to, or who was around, whenever time and finances allowed.” Persky appeared with Divine in a stage production of Tom Eyen’s Women Behind Bars before moving to Los Angeles and appearing in films such as The Great Santini, The Cotton Club, The Big Easy, and When Harry Met Sally. Four decades after they were taken, The Iowa Review is honored to present Lisa Jane Persky’s previously unpublished photos.