By 1975 I had been calling myself a photographer for five years but I became discouraged with freelancing and being a “street” photographer so I decided to quit photography and do something else but I didn’t know what. My most marketable skill was darkroom work, so I got a job in a commercial black-and-white lab where, while pondering alternate occupations, I learned how to print really well and very fast. At the same time, I was undergoing my first divorce and living alone in a commune in Brooklyn. It was a lonely time for me. One day I found an old tv on the street—one of those big wooden boxes with a little oval screen. I brought it home and discovered the reception horrible and the image nigh dissolved, but I could make out shadowy shapes of what was being shown and I started taking photos off of it. At first I shot everything and loved the randomness of what might pass by on the television screen, but eventually decided that I needed to hone down to a theme. I was reading a lot of biographies at the time, and the much ballyhooed bicentennial of America‘s founding was approaching, so I decided to focus on images of American cultural heroes, loosely defined as anyone—fictional or real—famous enough and identifiable enough to be on teevee. I called the series “The Great Americans.”
While making these photos, I naively thought they were so provocative and beautiful that they would catapult me to fame and fortune. In 1976, I exhibited them in what then was the only photo gallery in SoHo (Foto on Broome) and both The New York Times Sunday Magazine and one of the photo magazines ran nice spreads of them so I thought I was on my way, and I continued being a photographer. If I hadn’t found that teevee on the street I would probably now be a dentist, an occupational therapist or heaven knows what, but I wouldn’t, forty plus years later, be an “art photographer” working on his website right now.
This series of photographs defined the framework of much of my work that followed. Since then, I have preferred to work within a series of images of related subjects shot in similar manner. I shoot the images from each project from a stationary position or at least from the same perspective, giving each series a context that gives meaning to each of the individual photographs it would not have on its own. It’s become my M.O.