In the early ’90s, our personal work, the work we considered most important, garnered significant and welcome recognition. The photographs I’d been making of our family were included in several high-profile museum exhibitions and catalogs, a moment for me and the photo world when that type of work ceased being something to keep private. Not long after, a book of the work I had done in Alphabet City was published and widely praised. The commercial work I was doing interested me less and less, so I decided to stop taking assignments and focus instead on my own projects. I was a relative newcomer to museums and galleries, and I didn’t have a considered plan; I had the vague notion that I could get a teaching job with a big enough salary to support us, while I developed enough of an identity as an artist to start selling prints. I took a series of adjunct teaching jobs in the hope that each might lead to a more permanent gig and a steady paycheck, and I found that the students were great fun. The problem was, adjunct jobs paid shockingly little.

—Rock In A Landslide


Three of my photos were included in the Pleasures and Terrors of Domestic Comfort exhibition at MoMA, and in the catalog as well. The image above was selected by the press department for one of the advertisements for the show. That’s Eve on the right, playing Crazy Eights with one of our artist friends, and she’s peeking at cards.


Eve and Mary Ann (left), and Eve giving birth to Barbie (right).

In 1950, there were a million manufacturing jobs in New York City, by 1980 there were half that number, and today there are only 70,000. I was curious: What was made in New York City? What did that look like? What would persuade companies to let me come in and take pictures? I still had relationships with the people I’d worked for, and I approached a photo editor I’d worked for at a special business magazine at The New York Times. In exchange for first right to publish the photographs, he agreed to say that I was working on a long term project for the paper.

I did the research, made the contacts, scheduled days to go to factories, some several times, and took these pictures between 1991 and 1993. The jobs and the pictures of them were at odds with most people’s ideas about the city, at least the people I knew and had contact with. I showed them once to a collector who was particularly interested in images of New York City, but he dismissed them, saying, “That’s not my New York.”

I was curious: What was made in New York City? What did that look like?

A picture editor from Forbes called and said she'd like me to photograph a businessman; she said I needed to do it on the roof of the Forbes Building, at the corner of Twelfth Street and Fifth Avenue. It was an odd request because usually I went to the subject's place of work. I still can only surmise why that venue was required—either the business they were covering had gone defunct or there were things about it that weren't open to public scrutiny. The subject turned out to be Jordan Belfort, later dubbed the Wolf of Wall Street. My assigning editor told me to make him look crooked, and when I told him to turn his head to the side and glance back at the camera, Belfort joked that I was making him look “shifty.” He was brazen enough that he didn’t care and was happy to go along with my direction.

When Martin Scorcese was working on his 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street that starred Leonardo DeCaprio in the title role, Scorcese's research department called to see if I'd photographed Belfort in his own operation. Sadly, since I so admire Scorcese's movies, I had to say no—but I loved the movie and got a lot of calls for those photos after it was released.

The subject turned out to be Jordan Belfort, later dubbed the Wolf of Wall Street.
Kelly Nowels