This month’s featured artist is photographer Allan Tannenbaum. We sent him a couple questions about his years as a photographer and shooting New York in the 70s. Read his answers below. Thanks Allan!
What is your favorite subject to photograph?
My favorite subjects to photograph are people, whether they are in street scenes or studio portraits. I always try to capture their life spirit and personality.
How did you hear about John Lennon’s passing?
It was only a few days after seeing John and Yoko at the Dakota and showing them my photos from recent sessions. I was in my darkroom making prints to bring to them that night of December 8th when I got the news from my editor that he had been shot. I grabbed my cameras and went to the hospital, where I heard that he had died.
How does photography play out in your everyday life? How often are you shooting?
I’m involved with photography every single day, whether it’s editing and digitizing originals from my archive, making prints for clients and galleries, or taking pictures. I’m photographing every week, covering news stories like the Papal visit or portraits like my feature on author Gay Talese at home.
What was your favorite band to listen to live?
In the 60s I loved listening to Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels live, and Jimi Hendrix, who I saw perform three times in San Francisco. His performance at Winterland in 1968 was the first time I photographed a rock concert. In the 1970s my favorites were the Rolling Stones, although I remember some Bob Marley and the Wailers shows that were just amazing.
Were there any celebrities or artists that you felt star struck while photographing? What was it about them that made you feel a sense of awe?
I was so star struck being backstage with Jimi Hendrix in 1968 that I couldn’t even speak, much less take photos. He was such a great musician, imposing instature, and the epitome of cool. I got over that feeling when I started working for the SoHo News. I should have been star struck with John Lennon, but he was so easy going, friendly, and funny that I could just be myself.
Which photographers influenced you, and how did they influence your thinking, photographing, and career path?
I started photographing in the 1960s and was an art student and later a filmmaking grad student. I admired the work of Henri-Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, W. Eugene Smith, Garry Winogrand, Elliot Erwitt, Richard Avedon, and Paul Fusco. I liked documentary and street photography, but was also attracted to the glamour side as well. I was very influenced by the 1966 Antonioni film “Blow-Up”, about a photographer who not only shot fashion but did gritty documentary work as well.
What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos?
I don’t know how I knew this, but when I got the staff photographer job at the SoHo News in 1973 for $40 a week, I told the publisher that I would own all the negatives. He agreed and I’m still making a living with them. I wish I knew how to promote myself better, but I can’t complain about how things have worked out. As the great art photographer Ralph Gibson once told me, “The work will show you the way.”
What were the best and worst things about experiencing New York in the 1970s?
The best things about New York in the 70s were the freedom and creative energy. The art world and music scene were in constant collision and it was a very exciting time. The sex, drugs, and rock n roll ethos of the 1960s was still in full force, and it didn’t take much money to live in the city. The worst things were the dirt and crime.
Who/What were your favorite subjects to photograph?
Although music was a big part of my photography, it’s only one of my interests. At the SoHo News I got to cover politics, lifestyle, art, show biz, nightlife, and fashion. In the 80s and 90s I covered many national and international stories. Nowadays I do portraits and architecture. When I started editing my new book, New York City Style in the 70s, which will be published in Fall 2016, I discovered that I had paid a lot more attention to what people were wearing and the fashion industry than I had remembered.