1xRun Thru Interview
Basquait & Warhol by Ricky Powell
1xRun: For the original photograph what camera did you use? Do you still have that camera?
Ricky Powell: It was just an old Minolta auto focus high matic AF2. Model numbers never meant anything to me but that’s it. I work with whatever I have. I still have that camera, I’ve been using it for people’s look books recently. I’ve also actually been using it for my Leave The Gun, Take The Cannoli column. Check it out, there’s over 60 installments, I was using different cameras for the first 20, but recently I brought it off this little automatic jammy off the shelf. People love how it looks.
1xRun: When and where was this photo taken?
Ricky Powell: The photo was shot in fall of 1985 around 6pm. It was shot on Mercer between Houston and Prince at the opening for Jean-Michel Basquait and Andy Warhol’s show at Tony Shafrazi Gallery.
1xRun: Tell us a little bit about this photo, anything immediate you want us to highlight?
Ricky Powell: This photo is relevant for sure in certain ways, because after this photo I made the proclamation that I was going to take pictures until the day I die. I figure that all I have to do is step out my door and the images are infinite. The possibilities are infinite, it can never run out. With music I think that all the beats are used up. I think all the rhythms are dried up. They probably aren’t. But to me pictures and images will always be infinite.
But, this photo was taken at a time when I was going through a rough time emotionally. I was going out with this chick from around 1983-85, but she ditched me for a dude with tye-dyed yoga pants. I was going through a broken heart. I found a bag of her shit at my place with all kinds of junk in it, and there was a little auto focus camera in it. I was just a little playground rat, I didn’t have any artistic background. But I took the camera and I said I’m going to make this bitch sorry she played me like a wet soggy cannoli with this tool sandwich. So I just started started taking the camera around with me, I always had it strapped on my shoulder. I remember the first day I took the camera out I went to Central Park to photograph some geese. Anyways, few weeks later I went down to the Basquait and Warhol show on Mercer street at Tony Shafrazi Gallery.
I was across the street taking some photos of Zephyr and Revolt, the dynamic duo that had just done the “Wild Style” logo, which was pretty sharp. So I was taking pictures of them as they were hanging out watching the crowd outside the gallery. So I was waiting for these two dynamic duos to come up. Taking photos of Zephyr and Revolt was a huge thrill for me, because they were like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. They were really cool together. They were just a couple of uptown kids. So I’m taking pictures of them and I see Basquait and Warhol coming diagonally across the street on Houston street towards the gallery. So I skedaddled across the street, a slow jog across the street and I shrugged my shoulders and said “You guys mind if i get a flick? please?” Then Basquait looked at Warhol and said “Yea he’s cool.” So they stopped and posed for me. I said thanks and they went back into this big crowd that was waiting for them. So this was the jump off for me. After this I decided that I was going to take pictures on the regular tip. I went back to Zephyr and Revolt and I said “Shit! That’s going to be a good one boy.” In essence, I think it was meant to be, for me to do what I did, and to continue to do what I do. I shot two dynamic duos in a minute there. I just had a natural knack for it. It’s something I love to do and doors opened up for me from there. This picture has turned out to be a very classic and iconic image to say the least.
1xRun: What is unique about this piece compared with some of your other work?
Ricky Powell: It’s that one quick moment. It’s me. The bummin’ sophisticate. The lazy hustler. I got that image. I captured that. I picked it. I went for it at the beginning of my photo taking career. It’s uncanny. I hit a grand slam right off the bat. This picture is special. Not to brown nose you, but I mean this, I can’t fake the funk. I’m a bad actor.1xRun: You mentioned that this was one of the first images you took, how did things progress from there?
Ricky Powell: I didn’t plan anything, but I just got a kick out of going out. When I went out to clubs or openings to shoot I loved having the camera. It felt good when you pressed the button. Especially with the flash. You’d take a shot and it just felt like a silver platinum splash. So I shot where I liked and opportunities came my way. Paper Magazine (which had just started in 1984) approached me to be their club and nighttime scene photography, and they made me The Rickster. I shot a lot of shit that way. That summer Futura2000 asked me to be his softball team. The East Village Escadrilles. He spray painted names on the tee shirts and gave everyone one. I think that helped give me an identity sort of. I wasn’t just another ridiculously handsome dude. I’m just kidding. Not about the last part. But you get it, I didn’t want to be a pretty boy. I wanted to be constructive. But I’m borrowing this thing I heard from Diane von Fürstenberg on an old talk show. They said in a nutshell “When did you decide to be a clothing designer?” and she said “I never really started out, I just did things that I loved and the doors opened up and I chose them.” It’s same kind of thing with me. That’s it. When opportunities come, it depends on your lifestyle. I can’t do the 9-5 schtick. You’re an animal in the jungle. Youv’e got to figure out how you can do it. I did it the regular way and I did the…how should I put it, fistbumps under the table way, making ends meet. What’s the question again? I sidetracked myself…
1xRun: You were talking about how this was the moment when you really decided that it was what you wanted to do for a living…
Ricky Powell: Ahhh, yea. Go. When I did a club shot, I think it might have been Keith Haring hanging in the lounge, but luckily I found I had a knack. Not only would I see people that I wanted to take pictures of, but they felt me. They were down to pose for me. They liked the interaction with me and vice versa. Taking pictures of anybody is like collecting baseball cards. I want him. I want him. I want her. I want them in my collection. So, when I saw my photo credit next to a little photo with Rickster, yo that right there, I said “yep, this feels right. This is it.” Then in early 1986 I was in this club called The World and these cute girls came up to me and saw me with my camera behind my back, and they asked me if I had ever shot for an agency. So then I went up to 36th street and I met a chick, she’s a very well-known celebrity rock photographer. They were shooting rock shows and movie premieres on the daily. So she took me under her wing and brought me into the art of the hustle for the photography world. She would send me out on shoots. She connected me with the Beastie Boys. She’d always call me “The Riiiiiiiiiiiickster!” I was like her little pet almost, but she was a tough cookie. It was a major part in my photo career. Then in 1991 or 1992 I started writing for the Beastie’s magazine Grand Royale, and I found that I had a natural knock for writing on the humorous tip. Then I got into video with I bought a video camera and started my own public access show. Photography has really parlayed into many different things for me. People that take pictures get famous from taking pictures of famous people. It’s weird. Anyways, so the Beastie’s took me on tour, and I became their tour photographer. Doors opened for me in that genre, I guess I have a good personality and I had all the right tools to make it work. I did it my way. Always. I love capturing dope moments with dope people. That’s what it’s about. That’s it. That’s what gives me that feeling of euphoria…among other things I can’t mention in public.
1xRun: So do you still shoot a lot of film or are you doing a mix with digital ?
Ricky Powell: Right now I’ve been shooting a lot with my tablet. Sprint gave me one for their “loyalty” to them. I lost my computer a few years ago. But yea, I can take a picture of something and throw it right on Instagram, and throw my little whimsities on it and I am thriving creatively on that. It’s my new art. It’s come to that as a motivation. I love seeing the feedback on what I put out there. Between you me and the lamp post, I think people dig that I shoot great shit and that I have this lineage. All my shit in the 80s, RUN DMC, Warhol celebrity type shots, I’m not just into that, I’m into the street life, regular folk, even dogs. I like being Joe Schmuck from the neighborhood that makes dope shit matter of factly. That’s it.