Thursday, June 1, 2017

Out and About in the East Village

In this ongoing feature, East Village-based photographer James Maher provides us with a quick snapshot of someone who lives and/or works in the East Village.

By James Maher
Name: Roberta Bayley (and Stella)
Occupation: Photographer
Location: St. Mark's Place and 2nd Avenue
Date: Tuesday, May 23 at 3:15 p.m.

I was born in Pasadena, Calif. I went from California to London, where I lived for three or four years, and then I came to New York in 1974. I came here because I had a one-way ticket from London to New York. I didn’t know anybody here, but I had to get out of England fast — nothing illegal, romantic. New York was where the ticket was. My friend ... said, ‘I have a one-way ticket to New York,’ and I said, ‘I’ll take it.’

I had a list of names in New York that people had given me in London. Everybody I met was really great. Some people let me stay with them, and then I found an old friend in Brooklyn from San Francisco, and I just stayed. I came to the neighborhood right off the bat, to East 12th Street.

The people I met when I came here were involved in the rock 'n' roll scene, so I got to know people like the New York Dolls and Richard Hell and the Voidoids. In the midst of all that, I was working at CBGBs — I would take the money at the door. I also had a very strong interest in photography, but I hadn’t been doing it, so I bought a camera, and then I started taking pictures of the bands. And that’s what I’m still doing.

I loved the Ramones, the Heartbreakers, the Voidoids. I liked some bands that never made it. The Miamis were one of my favorites. They were the first band I saw in New York. And a band called the Marbles — they were kinda cute but they didn’t make it.

The other lucky thing, besides working at CBGBs with all these new bands that didn’t have record labels or anything and needed pictures, was that I also went to work for a magazine called Punk, which sort of became the engine of the scene. That allowed me to not only photograph the bands, but also to photograph them in really weird situations. We used to do these things called fumettis, which is like a comic in photos, with little word balloons, but you take the pictures — it’s like a little movie.

It was great because to shoot photography that way, I’d always say this looks terrible, and they’d say, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll color the background in later,’ because that’s what it was. You could draw stuff in, so it made things pretty easy and fun. We had a lot of fun. We got to do wacky things like Mutant Monster Beach Party — we had a big shootout at Coney Island, and so some people were the surfers and some people were the bikers. Lester Bangs was a biker, Debbie [Harry] was a surfer, and they had a big battle on Coney Island. We all went out there and really acted it.

Debbie probably was my favorite person to photograph because she was so easy to photograph, and she was always such a nice person. We got to put people like Debbie Harry and Joey Ramone in situations they would have never really been in in real life, but those are some of my best-selling pictures — Joey with the surfboard is my top number one.

I like where I am. You can still eat for very cheap, and there are a lot of little quirky stores with interesting people running them. It’s a quirky neighborhood. It just has more grit to it, but St. Mark's has gotten pretty weird with all the empty storefronts. It’s like this weird ghost town. It has to be the greedy landlords are just asking for too much. The only thing that seems to make money on St. Mark's is cheap food, $1 pizza and Mamoun's.

I mean the place on the corner, they were going to serve vegan ice cream – you can’t make the rent with that. The Gap was there and they couldn’t pay the rent. It was funny when the Gap came in — it was all undercover. These big things were blocking it, and then one day they just came down and the Gap just kind of appeared intact. Now it would probably fit in a little better.

The big fire [on Second Avenue] was traumatizing ... the idea that your apartment would catch fire and you would lose everything. That was a really fast fire – I was across the street in a café when it happened.

One thing I really don’t like are the travelers, when they come. My last dog was killed by one of those travelers’ dogs. When they start showing up, it just gives me the creeps. I feel bad for them, but it’s sort of by choice.

I’ve been in the same place since 1975. My rent was $125 a month, so I wasn’t going anywhere. The neighborhood was cheap – that was the main thing back then. It was just very relaxed. Everybody talks about the city being so dangerous and horrible — I never really experienced that. I mean, I got mugged, but I didn’t think that was because of the city being bankrupt. I didn’t walk around feeling scared. I just thought it was great. That’s why I stayed — I connected with a scene that was happening here, which I hadn’t really been part of, just slightly in London and slightly in San Francisco. Here, though, it just felt like something new was happening, and it was exciting. Everybody was broke and everybody was trying to make it. It’s a fun time in your 20s. Wouldn’t go through it again, but I enjoyed it.

James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.


Anonymous said...

oh man! the legendary roberta bayley! killer photo and interview! also can't wait to check out the marbles and the miamis! thank you both!

John M said...

Wow. Especially great. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Stella is a cutie!

Simon.E. said...

Another great East Villager profile. Thank you!

Shawn G. Chittle said...

Jesus H. Christ I clicked on her bio and saw her work. How is it that I haven't heard of this lady until now? WOW WOW WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Larry Levy said...

Roberta is the best!!!

JosephTomasello said...

You never made me pay ;)

Anonymous said...

Roberta is awesome and this profile is perfect