From the Un­der­ground Ar­chive: Lisa Jane Per­sky’s Pho­to­graphs of Deb­bie Harry

The Iowa Review - - CONTENTS - Kem­brew Mcleod

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.

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