I moved to New York in 1977 primarily to study photography at Cooper Union, but I was also a serious songwriter–albeit a beginner–and I quickly found a group of like-minded writers who were meeting weekly to share their latest compositions. It was at one of those meetings at the Cornelia Street Café that I met folk songwriter Jack Hardy, and a couple of years later, Suzanne Vega. The three of us hung out together for several years egging each other on, flinging songs back and forth at each other like weapons, but ultimately believing passionately in one another.
During that time I took a lot of photographs, but rarely were any of them of my musician friends. For me, the camera instantly distances and objectifies what is in front of me, and I didn’t want to watch the scene dispassionately, I wanted to belong to it. I know that that is not necessarily the case for other photographers. Think of Nan Goldin, for instance, whose work is part and parcel of the scene she participates in. Suzanne and I talked a lot about looking at the world–I think she has always expressed a certain remove from things, but sharply observed, and with a warmth of spirit that enlivens what might otherwise be icy and disconnected. One of the songs she wrote back then was Tom’s Diner, which she has described as having been written through my eyes.
When Suzanne first began performing she needed a publicity photo for flyers and posters, and she asked me if I would take some pictures of her. So, I shot two rolls of black and white film. Cost was an issue. We walked around Greenwich Village looking for good locations and backgrounds–a white brick wall, somewhere, worked–and then the gray stones of Grace Church on Broadway and 11th Street. I don’t think they were particularly good PR shots, but Suzanne trusted me, and something comes through in these pictures that is usually missing in the fancier, more self-conscious, photoshoots that followed. Ten years later Suzanne asked me to take some pictures while she was making her Days of Open Hand album. In these photos, taken at the height of her career, it is evident that she knew what to do in front of the camera. But like before we just walked around looking for good spots, chasing the sunlight in her loft in Lower Manhattan.
I will be doing a small show of these photographs in Olomouc in the Czech Republic this October in conjunction with a film festival. Suzanne and documentary filmmaker Christopher Seufert, who is making a film about her, will be guests.