Tuesday, April 7, 2015


Lydia Lunch, Toronto, Jan. 26, 1988

BY THE TIME I PHOTOGRAPHED LYDIA LUNCH I had been carrying around my studio in a bag for several months. Lydia was a Nerve assignment, meant to accompany an interview done by my friend Tim, shot in a disused room in the Silver Dollar club that was the closest thing to a studio space I'd have at the time. Starting with the Lydia shoot, I'd end up producing a trilogy of portraits there that documented an ad hoc scene of sorts that stretched from Los Angeles to New York to Australia, loosely held together by creative and personal relationships radiating out from Lydia.

I don't know if I'd seen "Fingered" when I set up my backdrop and light in what was, I think, once a small bar next to the Silver Dollar's main room. I don't think I had, since I'd probably have some lingering, awkward memory of meeting someone who I'd previously seen getting fisted in a grimy little film made in a dubious squatter's camp in what was once the seedily glamourous valley between art house films and porn.

Lydia Lunch, Toronto, Jan. 26, 1988

Lydia's reputation, as ever, preceded her. She was supposed to be rude and confrontational and ready to make things unpleasant if she thought she was dealing with someone who thought they could underestimate or patronize her. Without "Fingered" resonating in my memory, I only knew her as the caterwauling singer on records by Teenage Jesus & The Jerks and 8-Eyed Spy, and from the weirdly ardent squirming she inspired in men in my circle.

It would be a few years before I'd hear Honeymoon in Red or Queen of Siam; perhaps if I had I'd have been able to actually talk to her during the shoot, instead of circling her warily with my camera, I might have drawn more from her than a series of sneers and glares only faintly veneered with a sultriness that wasn't seductive as much as it was tactical. A lot of people have ripped off Lydia's persona over the years, but only rarely is it ever noted that Madonna was one of them.

Lydia Lunch, Toronto, Jan. 26, 1988

By early 1988 I'd gotten pretty good with my single Metz flash bounced into a big umbrella. Placed at the right distance from the subject, it would blow out my white painter's drop cloth just enough to suggest high key studio lighting; with some careful dodging and high contrast filters in the darkroom, the effect was halfway to perfect. Scanned and run through Photoshop, I can make the illusion nearly work today.

I remember being pretty proud of the results of this shoot. The shot above would be in my portfolio for years, though I'm certain that most of the art directors and photo editors who saw it assumed that I'd presented them with a portrait of some random goth chick and not an originator of that whole look. It's a testament to the strength of Lydia's personality that she projected far more of herself into my shots than I was probably able to elicit from her.

Lydia Lunch still records and performs today, though recently she's been giving "post-catastrophe" workshops and retreats on empowering female creativity, and a couple of years ago she brought out something that looks suspiciously like a cookbook.

(UPDATE: Thanks to Hans at fromthearchives.org, I have learned that I shot Lydia on Jan. 26, 1988.)


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