The New York Times

Gary Hoenig was the one of the first people to give me work after I quit my stint as a photo researcher, in 1976. He was at The New York Times News of the Week In Review when I brought him my portfolio, no tear sheets, just a box of prints, shots I'd taken around the city. Gary liked the work and thought my engagement with the real world was a good fit for what he needed. The Times paid little, as I remember $75 a gig, but they offered interesting assignments and great entré, plus everybody and their brother saw whatever was published.

Gary was unusual in his keen interest in and support of what his photographers were doing on their own time, and he helped me realize that the cachet of The Times could be put to use for my own purposes. Gary was generous in getting me, a non-staffer, press credentials, for example when I wanted to photograph at Jimmy Carter's inauguration and when I wanted to travel around New York City with mayoral candidates. The Times had first dibs at the photographs, then they were mine to sell elsewhere. Once I started photographing in Alphabet City, in 1977, Gary gave me his copy of The Wanderers, an early Richard Price urban tale, right in the pocket of what I was exploring; and he gave me his copy of Foul, Connie Hawkins' autobiography about coming up as an urban basketball player and rubbing the wrong way against the professional basketball system. One day, Gary called and said he'd been thinking about my Alphabet City project and how to take it further. He told me he would give me credentials to photograph the city services provided to the neighborhood: policing, fire fighting, garbage collecting, and housing. I didn't want to do policing, since enough people were already suspicious that I was a cop, and for some reason I never did garbage collection. I did, however, take him up on two of the four. I spent a few unproductive days at a fire station near Henry Street, went out on alarms, but got no pictures I thought made sense in my larger project. I connected with a housing rights organization and documented sub-standard housing conditions in an apartment building—and that day I took four photographs that eventually made it into my book, Alphabet City, certainly the most productive single day of many years of working on that project.

Gary went on to be picture editor of The New York Times Sports Monday section, where he assigned me to photograph the finals of the NCAA wrestling tournament, the finalists for Best of Show in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, and various members of the large fraternity of New York City professional athletes. I managed also to find work from some of the special magazines The Times published. I tried for years to get an assignment from the Sunday Magazine, the jewel in the crown for photography assignments at The Times, and I finally did. They were doing an article on Dennis Rivera, the impressive President of 1199: The National Health Care Workers' Union. They wanted me to make him look like an archetypal Lenin, hand raised, exhorting revolutionaries. Rivera looked like a quiet and thoughtful academic, and I couldn't pull off what they wanted. That was late in my career doing commercial work, and I didn't get another chance there.