Gary Green’s new photo book documents the prolific music scene of late-70s New York
When the photographer moved to New York in the late 1970s, soon enough he started to document his surroundings – which includes the decade’s most iconic music figures.
- Ayla Angelos
- 22 May 2020
When Gary Green moved to New York in 1976, that’s when he began to observe the city with his lens. A “very poor and rough” place at the time, there was cheap real estate, graffiti plastering the city and subway trains, cigarettes costing 50-75 cents per pack and a music scene that was in “full swing”.
During this time, Gary spent the most of it working as a photographer’s assistant, meaning he was able to use the studio and darkroom at nights and on the weekend for his own personal endeavours. Surrounded by record shops from music that came in from around the world, Gary looks back to one shop in particular, Bleeker Bob’s. “I remember this one the best as it was closest to my apartment; it was also the most notorious because Bob was a total grouch, who would sometimes throw you out of the store if you said or did something that annoyed him,” he tells It’s Nice That. “I used to sell some of my extra prints there. They were in a case at the front counter.”
This sets the scene for what would be his latest book, titled When Midnight Comes Around, published by Stanley Barker. A documentation of the downtown music scene in the late 70s and the decade’s most iconic music figures, back then, music was positively everywhere and echoed out from a multitude of different places. “Though a lot of the work you see in the book was from Max’s Kanas City and CBGB,” he adds, explaining how venues like The Ocean Club, Hurrah’s and Trax were key players. “The Village Gate, which had once been pretty much a jazz place, started hosting shows like Alex Chilton and The Heartbreakers.” Patti Smith, The Ramones, The New York Dolls, Blondie, Talking Heads, The Cramps and many more are those that would be at the clubs on multiple occasions. “It was a rich time,” he says, “and a small scene that was fairly easy to jump into – especially with a camera, because most people liked the attention.”
Far from celebrity portraits, “or something like that”, what’s most refreshing about Gary’s When Midnight Comes Around is his focus on the photography. Famed figures become secondary to the music, which gives an eloquence and sweeping buzz about the series. While compiling the imagery, Gary tells us how he’s always wanted to turn this body of work into a book. And, more recently, with photo books becoming “so prevalent and popular”, the prospect of doing so became even more possible in his eyes. Starting two years ago with Gregory Barker – who reached out to work on the project, with thanks to Mark Steinmetz’s recommendation – the team, including Rachel Barker, commenced their “historical” project, something they know all too well.
Meandering through Gary’s imagery is like being taken back to a momentous slice of the past. Witnessing musical history being made, the photographer would set foot into a situation and would simply frame his photographs and shot. On other occasions, he would strive to collaborate with his subjects more by “isolating them against a wall” or a specific place. Alex Chilton, lead singer of Box Tops and Big Star, David Johansen from New York Dolls and musician Robert Gordon are examples of that approach, during which he’d work on a more formal and engaged portrait. “Most were very nice and agreeable and people often wanted to be photographed,” he continues to explain. “John Belushi told me not to take his picture when he was at CBGB’s one time, where he sat in on drums with The Dead Boys. I took a couple anyway when he couldn’t see me, but they weren’t particularly good and I never published them.”
A picture of Alex Chilton is one that Gary values greatly – not just because it’s a great picture, but he’s also one of his favourite artists. “I saw him sitting at that table he’s at and I believe I asked if I could join him,” says Gary. “We drank some beer and at some point I’m sure I asked if I could take his picture and he agreed and I stood up, stepped back and made the one that is in the book.”
As for future plans, the photographer is continuously working on his next big ventures. This includes a new book in the pipeline of landscape photographs, releasing in late Summer or early fall from L’Artier Editions, titled The River is Moving/The Blackbird Must be Flying. In other news Gary has been taking lockdown walks and hopes to eventually make a publication from this experience. “I enjoy the limits of the project where the photographs are almost all made within blocks of my house,” he says, stating how he’s also hoping to head back to teaching again at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, in the autumn. “That’s pretty much the future: more teaching, more photographing and, I hope, more books to create.”
Gary Green's When Midnight Comes Around is now available at Stanley Barker.
GalleryGary Green: When Midnight Comes Around
Gary Green: When Midnight Comes Around. Debbie Harry
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.