Studio 54 Still Looks Like the Best Club of All Time
When you combine an expert, artistically-motivated photographer and late 1970s New York City’s most insanely fucked up, glamorous, hedonistic, and beautiful people, you get some pretty phenomenal photos.
Images from Studio 54 are almost commonplace these days—what with all the articles, documentaries, and biographies of the super club—but something about the pictures Tod Papageorge took there seem to raise the subjects to a new level. They’re not just partygoers, but some sort of weird, artsy, celebrity, cocaine-and-champagne-fueled Dionysian cult clambering around in dinner suits and ball gowns.
Papageorge—who’s perhaps best known for American Sports, 1970: Or How We Spent the War in Vietnam, a piece of searing anti-war commentary—took the time to talk to me about the images in his new book, Studio 54, his motives for taking them, and seeing his work in the club as offering a cohesive view of the world we live in.
VICE: Most biographies of you, or descriptions of your early work, seem to focus on the “street photography” label. Is that a term you’re happy with?
Tod Papageorge: Interesting question. No, it’s not. It was just the work of a photographer, working in New York City. I’m a little less sensitive to the designation now, as I get older and more benign in my temperament. But back then it was a red flag—not just for me, but certainly for Garry Winogrand and the other photographers in our crew. It seemed to be condescending, or at least that was the way we responded to it: that it was a condescending way of describing what we were doing. We thought that what we were doing was making photographs.
It’s what all photographers were doing at that time—going out into the world and capturing some piece of it, whether photographing a mountain like Ansel Adams, or Harry Callahan taking photos of his wife. “Street photography,” it seemed to us, was not a very useful designation. There’s a famous issue of Aperture Magazine called “Snapshot,” which I had some part in putting together. It asked this same question to a lot of photographers and their replies were all negative. Like mine, right now.
Right. So, aside from the unfortunate label that was dropped on you…
Coincidentally, I was looking over some work I did in the 80s, when was making the Studio 54 pictures. I had bought a new medium format camera called a Makina Plaubel 67 that made a slightly squarer negative. Back then, when I was walking in New York I made a study of the debris thrown in the street, and over time accumulated a certain number of pictures. Recently I looked over and edited them, with the idea of doing a book, possibly. The name of the book would be Street Photographs—literally photos of debris on the street. That’s what I think of the designation; that’s how I think it should be properly used.
Oh No He Didn’t: Did a White Guy Steal a Popular Gossip Site from Three Black Teenagers?
Celebrities typically refrain from addressing the gossip sites that taunt them. But earlier this year, after bloggers accused Lady Gaga of tweeting a picture of a Metallica concert, claiming it was a photo of the audience at her ArtRave: The ArtPop Ball show, the pop megastar broke the fourth wall.
“Here’s a proper pic,” Lady Gaga tweeted at a gossip site, along with a picture of a packed arena. “Maybe the Madonna fans on your site can use a microscope to count the fans.”
The tweet sent shockwaves throughout gay-and celebrity-oriented corners of the internet. After all, Gaga wasn’t tweeting Us Weekly, People magazine, or even her archenemy, Perez Hilton. She had tweeted at Oh No They Didn’t—a ten-year-old celebrity-gossip community on the archaic social media platform LiveJournal.
Oh No They Didn’t has a cult-like following. Users submit all the content on the website (or copy and paste material from other publications, including this one) to the moderators, who then decide whether to publish it. Despite the lowercase headlines, typos, and dated purple-and-white layout, more than 22,000 people follow the website on Twitter, and according to a source at LiveJournal, the site remains the network’s most popular online “community” in the US.
If the site sounds like any other gossip rag online, that’s precisely what makes it unique: It was started, in 2004, by three black teenagers—Erin Lang, Bri Draffen, and Breniecia Reuben—who were looking for a place where “Black ‘indie’ kids who felt out of place [could] talk about music (and life) with other Black kids,” blogger Rafi Dangelo has written about the teens. Youth of color contributed the majority of the comment threads. The site’s mission, according to its founders, was to create a safe space where members could discuss pop culture with an authentically black voice without being exclusively black. Because users of the site both created and read the content, site members believed they were reading gossip “by the people, for the people.”
This spirit resonated with fans, and Oh No They Didn’t soon surpassed its niche audience. O, the Oprah Magazine, named Oh No They Didn’t one of Oprah’s Favorite Things in 2007, and when Anna Nicole Smith died, that same year, so many users visited Oh No They Didn’t that the community’s server crashed.
Michael White Is the Most Famous Person You’ve Never Heard Of
Michael White in the early 1970s. All photos courtesy of Michael White unless otherwise stated
How do you begin to tell the story of a man who’s spent his life telling the stories of others? I’m sitting on the floor of impresario Michael White’s home in London’s fashionable Westbourne Grove, sifting through an endless collection of photo albums and trying to work out the answer.
“I have 20,000 photographs of people. I only like to take pictures of people, not places,” says Michael, casually ignoring the fact that the “people” he’s talking about happen to be some of the most iconic figures from the past four decades of popular culture.
Bruce Anderson, Margaret Thatcher, Dennis Thatcher, Naomi Watts
Here’s a picture of a young Bob Geldof holding a pair of Easter eggs; there’s a photo of Jack Nicholson flexing his muscles by a pool; a few pages down, Naomi Watts, conservative columnist Bruce Anderson, and Margaret Thatcher are leafing through books next to a Christmas tree. On his mantelpiece there’s a tiny framed picture of Kate Moss with Michael’s son in her lap, taken on vacation sometime in the 1990s.
“Michael White is the most famous person you’ve never heard of,” says actress Greta Scacchi inThe Last Impresario, an upcoming documentary about his life. You might not have heard of him, but there’s no doubt you’ll be familiar with his work.
Michael White, Susan Sarandon, Boy George
Having basically discovered men like John Cleese—as well as introducing women like Yoko Ono and Pina Bausch to Britain—he’s had a hand in shaping the sensibilities of both your generation and your parents’. Meanwhile, his productions Oh! Calcutta, The Rocky Horror Showand Polyester liberated the concept of camp and elevated it to a mainstream aesthetic.
"I’m in the process of divesting. I took the pledge," Ruffalo told me, "between 3-5 years, to completely divest in any fossil fuels or anything climate change related and put it into renewable or clean tech." Ruffalo had just been a guest on Al Gore’s fourth annual 24 Hours of Climate Reality program, and he was enthused.
I really enjoyed speaking to Motherboard about 24 Hours of Climate Reality, divesting from fossil fuels and why I’m so passionate about fighting climate change. If you’re interested, you can read the whole interview HERE.
Los Angeles Is a Paradise
I have, at various times, loved LA and hated LA. Right now, I’m on an up-swing. I love the weirdos, the driving, the aggressively-enforced postive vibes, the endless space, and the ridiculous weather. And I can’t imagine myself living anywhere else.
Here are some photos of the higlights and lowlights of the city I call home:
The Fappening Has Revealed a New Type of Pervert
If ever the word “fap” stood a chance of entering the dictionary, this was it. The leak of over 100 nude pictures of actresses this week, known as “The Fappening,” has exposed the world’s most famous bodies and triggered a media firestorm.
The popular view among feminists has been to encourage others to avoid the pictures entirely. But this argument is self-defeating: by mentioning the pictures and watching their own articles get retweeted, journalists still draw their readers into a “scandal.” Which isn’t to say that writers should ignore the story, it’s just ludicrous to expect readers not to follow it up and find the images. Hadley Freeman, in an otherwise agreeable piece, says that she has “never understood the appeal in looking at naked photos of people who I don’t know and who certainly have no interest in me.” Dear Hadley Freeman, I love you, but the rest of us sometimes watch porn.
Such arguments imply that looking at an image will plant the seed of misogynist evil,Videodrome-style, inside a viewer’s head. Unless the leak was a combined effort by one hundred celebrities’ ex-boyfriends, it has nothing to do with “revenge porn.” Nor is it, ultimately, a grotesque act of theft, “thought crime,” or body-shaming to look at the pictures. We can’t feasibly expect everyone to ignore clickbait, though the news that McKayla Maroney’s images depict her while underage is a horribly grim twist to the affair, rendering the images child pornography, and definitely not OK to be shared.
Some Genius Is Kickstarting a ‘Breaking Bad’ Sequel Starring Val Kilmer and Slash
Did you recently waste money on an ironic Kickstarter campaign to make potato salad? Well, first, Paypal used the money you apparently can’t wait to get rid of. Secondly, fuck irony. There are people out there with actual, worthwhile goals that need help funding.
For instance, a Van Nuys–based producer’s bold project to make a Breaking Bad sequel series starring Val Kilmer and Slash as the cops who recovered Walter White’s body. No, he doesn’t have the rights to Breaking Bad, nor has he received a commitment from Kilmer or Slash. But when Lawrence Shepherd saw the series finale, in which two cops drag Walter White’s body away, he knew that he was the guy to tell those cops’ story. All the other pieces will fall into place.
It’s a pipe dream, sure. (Not least because only $143 of the $500,000 goal has been raised.) But, still! What’s the value of life without dreams? Who gives a shit about the second season of True Detective when there’s the (remote) possibility of Val Kilmer and Slash tracking down a not-dead Walter White?
We called up first-time producer Lawrence Shepherd to learn more about his Breaking Badspinoff, which he’s calling Anastasia.
VICE: The show has an intriguing premise, to say the least. Where’d the idea come from?
Lawrence Shepherd: For the last six years or so, I was getting very critical of the writing on shows. Then I saw one of the last episodes of Breaking Bad—remember when Jesse came into Walter White’s house with the gasoline can and he was going to burn it down?
There was a sequence when Jesse looks down the hallway, and the two doors were closed. I thought, Junior’s in there. Junior’s in there with the baby, he’s going to come out, wrestle with Jesse, and something’s going to happen. Junior’s the only one who hasn’t broke bad in the whole show. It didn’t happen, and I was a little disappointed.
I like the way Breaking Bad ended, but I think they could have done better. That’s when I just started writing.
Seems like you’d have to worry about copyright issues…
Of course. You have to watch the uniqueness. Remember the last episode, the machine gun rotating back and forth in the Cadillac? Very unique. I can’t use it. The dead guy in the recliner chair going up and down? Very unique, couldn’t use it.
But other than that, nothing there is copyright or trademark available. A guy dead on the floor? My God, that’s been done a bazillion times. Police responding to an issue? It’s been done a bazillion times.
We’re not going to be confrontative with Sony and Vince Gilligan if they say no. We are filming the pilot independent of Breaking Bad, so if they do say no, we’re ready to go with our own show.
Watch Michael Shannon Fuck a Corpse in James Franco’s Short Film ‘Herbert White’
Because my film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s book, Child of God, will be released this August, I thought I would share one of my previous attempts at transforming literature into film. When I was at NYU, I made a short based on Frank Bidart’s poem ”Herbert White,” which you can watch here.
More Photos of Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch
Although Michael Jackson’s body shut down from a suspicious drug overdose five years and a week ago, worldwide interest in the misunderstood—and by all accounts, creepy—pop superstar’s legacy is still alive and thriving, as exemplified by the interest in last week’s interview about urban exploring Neverland Ranch. We got a number of requests to release the rest of the photos taken by our crack team of photographers, and we were like Sure, why not? So here they are. Keep a look out for the blue robot. You can’t make it out, but the inscription on the robot reads, “HI KIDS! MY NAME IS ZORD. I WANT TO BE YOUR FRIEND. I HAVE A SPECIAL SURPRISE PICKED JUST FOR YOU. THANK YOU AND BE GOOD!”
I guess we’ll never know what Zord’s “special surprise” was.
See all the photos