1979

I think it was the very day I turned in my foxhunting story that I ran into Alice Rose George at GEO. She’d moved over from Time to take the job of head picture editor, and she said when she saw me, “Oh good, you’re here already.” She promptly gave me two more GEO, long-term assignments, one looking at the boxers I’d been working with in Alphabet City and the other photographing a production at the Metropolitan Opera over a two-year period. It was an impressive span of subject matter, it demonstrated great confidence in my abilities, and it made me feel like I’d arrived at success as a freelance photographer.

The boxing story was part of the larger project I was doing on Alphabet City—the same locations, the same people, and the same purpose of documenting these unfamiliar lives. The shooting coincided with the Golden Gloves tournament, so I went all over the city, but the home gym—no longer the Sirovitch Senior Center—was five blocks East of the loft where Mary Ann and I were living. The biggest difference between the work I’d already done in the neighborhood was that I had to carry much more equipment. I had a big bag filled with multiple cameras and lenses, a flash, batteries, and a lot of film.

Several times before in Alphabet City, I’d had encounters with people trying to rob me. Once I had a knife held to my neck. Another time an addict in Tompkins Square Park followed me and told me to fork over my camera. He said, I have a gun; I said, Let’s see it; he said, If I bring it out I’m going to use it. I’d heard those lines before and just walked away. Though the hold ups never ended with my losing my camera, they were unnerving. Late one night while working on the boxing story, lugging my big bag full of equipment, I was faced with walking home through the very active drug market at Fourth Street and Avenue B. I asked the boxer at whose apartment I’d been photographing to walk me past that intersection. He dressed in a three-piece suit, saying, “They’ll assume anyone dressed like this has a gun,” and then, singing Puerto Rican songs in the loudest possible voice, he walked me past the threatening spot and sent me home. It’s obvious in retrospect, but I was surprised that he would be as fearful of the bad guys as I was.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The Metropolitan Opera story was on one production, Giuseppe Verdi’s Un Ballo In Maschera, with Luciano Pavarotti as the British governor, Riccardo, and Katia Ricciarelli as Amelia, his best friend’s wife. I started with set design and photographed all the way through to the production itself. It was immensely enjoyable, seeing the full range of what goes into an opera, from the set designer to the prop and costume and wig shops, to rehearsals and the opening night after party, and then getting to wander—carefully—backstage during an actual performance. The writer had a less good time. He offended the director, Australian Elijah Moshinsky, in their first interview and was banned from all rehearsals. In the end, the writer refused to submit a story, and my photographs languished until they were published in a short-lived photography magazine and then were included in a show at the International Center of Photography. It was not an unusual outcome at GEO: they banked stories and kept assigning them, and a lot of work never saw publication.

 
 
 
 

The Metropolitan Opera in 1979.

 
 

The Metropolitan Opera in 1979.


Kelly Nowels