Laura Rubin is a street photographer who has captured many scenes of the lost city. Perhaps best known for her work documenting Andy Warhol's performers--see an interview with her in Warhol Stars--her photos can be found at her website and in a slideshow on youtube. She was gracious enough to answer a few of my questions here.
Kue Jong Barber, Bayard St., 1988
Q: You were born in Brooklyn and lived in Manhattan for many years. As a long-term resident and a native, how do you think of the current state of the city? Has it lost its soul or is that just being melodramatic?
A: i don't think you are being melodramatic. the city has always changed, but the speed of change over the last few years is scary.
bloomberg is so picky about food & smoke. that’s great, but what about some laws for visuals? where do we put chain stores? why can’t the box drugstores/banks/tech places conform a bit to the specific areas? can these stores be more subtle in some neighborhoods? what’s up with all those primary colors? you can thank bloomberg for making new york into a tourist destination. it’s shameful--sex & the city tours? on perry st? how downwardly mobile.
Mario Montez Making Up, 1969
Q: Your work brings to mind the recent book of photos Justin Bond/Jackie Curtis by Hilton Als. Do you find yourself at all drawn to photographing contemporary drag queens and other gender artists?
A: i did those photos 2 generations ago, when i was in college. drag pictures make up like 3% of my work. but they got the most attention, more than i wanted. (be careful what you wish for.) they were pulled from every major magazine & book publisher. what is so menacing about a little puerto rican man putting on make up? it was so conservative then.
& warhol had all that bad p.r. the NYT wrote an article about how dangerous & perverse the factory was. this was before he was shot. basically, he paved the way for oprah.
recently, columbia university had a "mario montez day" (the ethnicity, race, & gender studies dept/latino division. enough said). they used my photo as the PR poster. no, i don’t have an attraction to photographing drag. though a good performance is always fun.
Tommy the Polisher, Chinatown, 1993
Q: What inspires you, as a photographer, about the city today?
A: when shooting photos in 1993, i noticed new york had changed, but also stayed the same. it was the feeling of history that attracted me, the streets & the landmarks that still exist. i passed the same buildings as i did in the mid 60s, & felt the same energy, especially on the lower east side. it was if time had stopped for that moment.
new york is the world’s most gigantic movie set. all new yorkers star in the movie of life, 24/7. huntington hartford is a new yorker. so are the eldridge street boyz, the chinese waiter, penny in her silk dress, the ducks, the dogs. that is what my website/video is about. 800 languages are spoken in new york. there are still traces of ancient history. how’s that for a film? you never have to leave, it’s all there. you can cross all worlds in a day. that’s what inspires me about new york.
i continued to photograph through 2008. each time i returned, more would "vanish." upon each visit, i had to search for private spaces, to just "be."