Photographing the Backs of Sailors’ Heads
It’s 1982 and I’ve got a gig on a Navy aircraft carrier, the USS Ranger. I climb aboard at Coronado Island across the San Diego Bay and get off seven days later in Honolulu, Hawaii. Three or four layers below deck I set up a portable portrait studio: three strobes on stands with a battery pack—two with umbrellas and one to spot the painted backdrop. I have an adjustable posing stool and a Beattie Coleman Portronic camera with a 100-foot roll of 70-millimeter color negative film. The Portronic sits on a roller tripod and has a slot for cards to ID the negatives. Approximately 3,000 men, who for the most part are still just boys, are slated for their yearbook portraits. These lucky sailors will hopefully purchase prints for the proud parents and girls in waiting back home in Dudvillie. I’ve borrowed the equipment from the storeroom of a portrait studio where I worked for a while and somehow ended up with my own key. I’m hoping to make a bundle.
The USS Ranger is a bustling city of men, many of whom live like cave dwellers and go for weeks at a time without seeing natural light. I think they’re all a bunch of idiots, but I can be quick to judge and tend to bristle around people in uniform. Enclosed in gloppy gray gloom, everything is narrow and riveted together. Heavy metal clanks echo from the walls but voices remain stationary. I eat with the officers in the mess hall and I’ve gone exploring and been lost three times by the second day.
Meet Bob Gruen: Bugle Player for the Clash and Photographer of Rock Royalty
The most important thing about Bob Gruen is that he played bugle for the Clash. The second is that he shot a bunch of the most iconic rock and roll photos of the 20th century. John Lennon hired him as his personal photographer in the 70s, which resulted in that picture of Lennon in the New York City shirt that your dad probably has framed somewhere. He also took the picture of Sid Vicious bleeding from a cut up chest that you probably have unframed somewhere, and on one special night in 1975 he took a picture of Mick Jagger’s giant penis.
Bob Dylan, 1975
Gruen got into music photography in the mid-60s while living in Greenwich Village. He befriended bands that were part of the burgeoning folk scene at that time like the Lovin’ Spoonful and the Magicians, and in 1965 shot his first concert—Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival. Soon after Ike Turner personally selected Gruen to photograph Tina Turner, and from there his career exploded. Bob photographed rock and roll gods like the Stones, Bowie, and Zeppelin in their prime, but it was through his gig as John and Yoko’s photographer that he became involved with a group of mascara’d gentlemen who called themselves the New York Dolls.
Bob was the first photojournalist to document the Dolls in any real way. He took some of the earliest pictures of the band, and in 1973 went along with them on a West Coast tour. Now, Gruen is getting ready to release a documentary about that tour from the video he shot while on the road with them called New York Dolls, All Dolled Out. I called up Bob because I am jealous of his life and wanted to hear all about it.
New York Dolls on the Real Don Steele Show, 1973
VICE: How did you first meet the New York Dolls?
Bob: John Lennon was working with the Elephant’s Memory band, and they were managed by the same company as the New York Dolls. So I was bringing pictures to their office when one of the guys was like, “You have to see this other band we manage.”
I went down to the Mercer Arts Center and was totally blown away. Over the next few weeks I took pictures and made some videos of them. We worked together for the next couple of years—they’re like family.
The Real Walter White
When AMC’s Breaking Bad premiered in 2008, one of Alabama’s most successful meth cooks was already knee deep in building a massive meth empire. His name? Walter White. In this documentary, Walter tells us the secret behind his product, how he stacked up thousands of dollars per day, and why his partner is now serving two life sentences.
Watch the Documentary
We’re Giving Away Tickets to See Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds are hitting the road next summer to continue to support their stellar 2013 album Push the Sky Away with 18 dates stretching across North America, starting in Louisville, KY on June 16 and ending in Toronto on July 13. If you’re like us, you’re still kicking yourself for not catching the Bad Seeds on their previous sold-out jaunt through the US. We’re damned if we’re going to miss them this time around and we don’t want you to miss them either. To help you out, we’re giving away five pairs of tickets that can be used for any of these selected dates.
One of our favorite things about Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, besides their untamed and intense live shows, is their amazing album covers. From Nick’s icy mug gracing the cover of The Boatman’s Call to the neon marquee lights on Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, each album brings a perfect visual companion to the darkly beautiful music of the Bad Seeds. To win a pair of tickets, we want you to create your own version of any one of the band’s great album covers and submit that image to @VICE as a twitpic via Twitter. Make sure to include the hashtag #COVERNICKCAVE, or else we might miss it. The contest starts now and we’ll be accepting pictures until midnight on Sunday, January 12. On Monday, January 20, we’ll announce the winners right here on VICE.com and re-post many of the awesome, arty cover reinterpretations. Good luck!
Back in 2008, VICE released Peter Beste’s photo book, True Norwegian Black Metal. Thanks to Satan, the book was a runaway success. So much so that we asked Peter to help us make a film of the same name about Norway’s “most hated man,” Gorgoroth frontman, Gaahl. Having documented the insular black metal scene with more honesty and access than anyone before or since, Peter started up another long-term project—the documentation of Houston’s similarly tight-knit hip-hop community.
After nine years of work, his project is now a book called Houston Rap. We called Peter to talk about Houston, the media misrepresentation of hip-hop culture, Black Power, and just how much the black metal scene has in common with the guns, sizzurp, and DIY ethics of the Texas rap world.
Papa Screw, South Park, 2009
VICE: Hi, Peter. I remember seeing some of the photos from Houston Rap years ago. This must have been a really long-term project for you, right?
Peter Beste: It’s been really long. I started shooting in 2004 and have been planning it since about 2000. The book was originally going to come out a few years ago, but there were a variety of holdups with the publishing process. Having to wait allowed us more time to get deeper into the community, and in retrospect I’m really glad that we did have that extra time. The book would have been more surface level if we released it early, and I think this extra time allowed us to get much deeper into the topics and release a truly unique book.
Was it difficult to gain trust and get access? Did it contribute to how long the book took to make?
That was a small factor, but I was really fortunate because I was immediately introduced to the right folks back in 2004, like Dope E from the Terrorists, K-Rino, and members of Street Military. These guys have immense respect in the hood and were willing to bring me around, introduce me to people, and essentially vouch for me.
Andres Serrano’s Cuban Odyssey: The Creator of ‘Piss Christ’ Embarks on a Quest to Photograph Fidel Castro
Andres Serrano is perhaps best known for peeing on Jesus Christ, or rather submerging a plastic crucifix figurine in his own urine and photographing it. His 1987 work Piss Christtouched off one of the most famous controversies in contemporary art history. Christians were outraged at his blasphemy in the name of creativity—and the fact that the government had given him a National Endowment for the Arts grant for his work, including Piss Christ—which resulted in death threats and protests. Even today, the piece causes outrage whenever it is exhibited and is frequently the target of vandalism. Of course, Andres has made a lot of art since then, including images that have been used as album covers for Metallica, but it is his earlier work that is mostly taught in college art courses the world over.
We had no idea what Andres was up to until last summer when we got a call from Dahlia Heyman, a producer with whom we are working on a feature film. She asked if we’d be interested in accompanying Andres on a three-week trip to Cuba as he attempted to photograph the normally reclusive Fidel Castro. He was planning to leave in three days, Dahlia said, but we agreed before she could even finish her pitch.
The following day, we met Andres in his West Village home, which is decorated like a Gothic cathedral, complete with pews and a collection of taxidermied cats and bats. We were as giddy as schoolgirls when he used us as models for lighting setups that he was planning for portraits in Cuba. We were less enthused when, a few days later, we found ourselves carrying cameras through crowded Havana streets in 105-degree weather, wishing desperately for a sip of water. The trip had us piling into the backs of 1950s Chevrolets and rickshaws, venturing into morgues, underground gay bars, and reggaeton concerts. Alas, Andres did not end up shooting El Comandante himself, but he did manage to document what seemed like the entire country in a few weeks. We followed him into the homes of Cubans of all social classes—including some members of the Castro family.