Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Playing Pretend in a Dirty City

This photo was taken by my friend and photographer, the late Brigitte Roth. She was famous in the performance art scene in the 1970's. We met when she was attending Central St. Martin's in London. A few years later, when she came to visit me in New York City, the first thing she wanted to do was to photograph me on the roof of my building She asked me to wear a vintage dress, heels, lots of eye makeup. Oh, and that cigarette holder with the rhinestones was actually one of Brigitte's props. She told me to look tough. So, my expression here is not really me, but a pose. This was 1976 and I was twenty-two years old and the City was a dangerous place, so I was by no means tough, but to survive the City in those days, I did learn to act tough.

Back then, New York City was bankrupt, and the rents were cheap. My boyfriend and I could always get temp jobs, and then quit them as soon as we had enough money to buy food and cover the rent. We were scrappy and resourceful. We took scene study at HB Studio on Bank Street, creative writing at NYU Extension and tap dance with an old Vaudevillian uptown. We braved the wilds of Alphabet City, to find my stolen VW bug, but by the time we located it, the poor thing was stripped for parts by kids who were also scrappy and resourceful.

This was probably my most theatrical period. I discovered the vintage shops—Screaming Mimi’s, Reminiscence, Alice Underground--and the row boats outside of Canal Jeans filled with five dollar crepe de chine dresses from the 1940's. On Saturdays at midnight I would get dressed up in a crepe de chine number from the 40’s, high heels and fishnets. Finish the look with long cocktail gloves and a little black patent leather clutch from the 1950's. Then we’d go out to the all night newsstand on Thompson and Washington Square Park and buy a copy of the Sunday New York Times, after which we would head over to CafĂ© Figaro’s on Macdougal Street. When friends ran into us, they would ask where we had just come from--saying that we looked as if we'd just returned from the Met. We’d say, no, we’re just out to get the New York Times. And laugh, like children playing pretend.

Creative Friends, we live in a time of danger and uncertainty, but as long as you have your mind and your heart and your imagination, you have an opportunity to make something out of nothing. You are rich in spirit. Yes, you may  encounter constraints to your creative practice--the rents are not cheap, the babies need your attention, you're working three jobs and there are no longer five dollar dresses at your local thrift store. But, don't let this deter or discourage you. Instead, let these limitations liberate you. 



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