I was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1950. I first exhibited my art, a drawing of a blond Asian lady, at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum when I was five years old.
After studying art at Cooper Union, where I became captivated by photography, I went to grad school at Cal Arts, where I studied post-studio conceptual art with John Baldessari. Michel Tournier wrote in The Ogre, “If beautiful landscapes could be eaten, they would be photographed much less.” My photos of landscapes were the antithesis of the then popular lavish landscapes of Ansel Adams. In 1975, I self-published three conceptual artist books, Landscape, See and Tahitian Eve with the help of two NEA grants and a CAPS grant. I always believed that books were the most democratic art form. I always believed that good art should be available to all people.
In 1975, my entire life flashed before me after my car was rear-ended and I crashed into a cement column. I created an autobiographical book of staged photographs complemented by short texts about female adolescence. Re-visions, first published by The Coach House Press in Toronto in 1978 and was republished in 2019 by Editions Patrick Frey, Zurich. It is a collection of revisualizations of memories and written texts, often revised to augment the irony and humor of the human condition.
After the introspection of Re-visions, I did an about-face from my cool conceptual work. I wanted to explore a world outside of myself and moved on to another topic which confounded me…the male species. I was intrigued by the face as a repository for personality and emotion. I enthusiastically pursued the art of photographic portraiture for the first time. By day I taught photography in various NYC colleges. By night I went out to hear music at punk clubs like CBGB’s, Max’s and the Mudd Club, which was also a venue for various artistic events, film showings, readings and theme parties. I convinced myself that my photographic forays into the night, were my art. Combining confrontation with collaboration, I explored fame, sexuality and individual style in my subsequent photo sessions. While photographing Johnny Thunders, Iggy Pop, John Lydon and other leading figures in the punk music scene, my focus broadened to include portraits from all the arts, including cultural icons Andy Warhol, William Burroughs, John Belushi and Abbie Hoffman.
My book "Punks, Poets and Provocateurs: New York City Bad Boys 1977-1982," finally published in 2015, was born out of a fascination with the dynamic of a woman photographing men.
My work has been represented by Deborah Bell Photographs in NYC for the past ten years. My photographs are exhibited internationally and are in major museum collections including the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Public Library and Jewish Museum in NYC, the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles amongst others.
Video by Paul Tschinkel
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