Take 5

Like many hipsters in the mid-1970s, Bobby Grossman had the foresight to take his art degree from the Rhode Island School of Design and move to New York. This was back when New York wasNew York;it was gritty and full of twitchy energy, anchored by an unrivaled nightlife.

Grossman assumed he would continue his passion for illustrations and seek employment at a magazine. Instead, he found himself hooked on the city’s burgeoning punk scene. He was already friends with Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth and David Byrne, three pals from RISD who had formed Talking Heads and were the talk of the New York underground. It wasn’t long before Grossman was taking his point-and-shoot Polaroid to CBGB’s, Max’s Kansas City and other influential hot spots, shooting his new friends before, after and during concerts; Blondie, David Bowie, Iggy Pop and the Ramones were among his subjects. He also ingratiated himself with Andy Warhol, becoming a top photographer of the artist’s Factory.

Images by the Boynton Beach-based artist have appeared in nationally released documentaries about William S. Burroughs and Jean-Michel Basquiat, in the pages ofVogueand on the airwaves of MTV. Interest in his photographs haven’t waned since he moved to Palm Beach County eight years ago. He has exhibited at the Sundy House in Delray Beach, and his retrospective “Low Fidelity” was a hit at Vertu Fine Art at Boca Center earlier this year.

“As time goes on, people seem to have more have more interest in collecting them,” says Grossman, 58. “I’m planning that it will see me through my retirement.”

1. Do you feel like you were at the right place at the right time?

I always say I came to the party a little late. The scene had started in the early ’70s with the New York Dolls. But I guess I was there at the right time … people from all over the world were coming to New York to see what was going on. Towards the end it had gotten so commercial that I had had enough.

2. Did these musicians and artists ever have a problem with you documenting them so closely?

I tried to not be obtrusive. I made a point of being background. At times, I missed out on things, being that way, but I figured being less aggressive was better than being in someone’s face.

3. Did you witness anything dramatic between band members?

There would be day-to-day stuff that would happen … you’d read in the paper the next day that one of the Ramones got beat up, or the Dead Boys’ roadie got stabbed, and it would be in the front page of theNew York Post. It was life in the New York in the ’70s.

4. Why do you think there is still such a clamoring for the short-lived punk/new wave scene that you documented?

Because everybody is more interested in a generation other than their own. It was like that for me with the ’60s bands. As time passes, this becomes more history. For instance, young art students now admire Jean-Michel Basquiat; as time goes on he seems to be more and more popular.

5. What do you think of punk music today?

It depends what it is. I sometimes will impulsively give something a listen, thinking that it’s something I’ll be interested in; most of the time, I’m disappointed and it doesn’t hold my interest. Each generation has its own music.

To read more, pick up a copy of our September/October issue.

Shepard Fairey and Bobby Grossman Collaboration

My friend, photographer Bobby Grossman, with whom I collaborated on a Debbie Harry portrait, is having a show of his awesome photography from 1975-1983. The show is called LOW FIDELITY and opens tonight in Boca Raton FL. There will also be a book of the works in the show available. Check it out.-Shepard

When I wanted to make a painting of Debbie Harry, I thought of Bobby Grossman because he made my favorite photograph of her. Debbie is a stylish, photogenic woman who became very comfortable in front of a camera. The beauty of Bobby’s Debbie Harry “Pepsi” photo is that it captures the natural, casual-­‐cool, Debbie exuded when she wasn’t posing. The image is wholly engaging, gorgeous, and absolutely real. It seems to me that Bobby saw importance in his subjects, and captured them organically, before they perfected their poses. Bobby was personally immersed in the culture he documented, and photographed his subjects in their element, when they were not self-­‐conscious.

Bobby’s photos make me feel validated to like the music I like because he caught authentic moments in the lives of so many of my favorite artists.

Shepard Fairey

Boynton Beach photographer witnessed the dawn of punk

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This was a typical night for Bobby Grossman in 1976: grab a leather bomber jacket, swipe a Konica point-and-shoot camera from the dresser and hop a taxi to CBGB to take pictures of his closest buddies. His buddies happened to be the Talking Heads, the Sex Pistols,the Ramones, Iggy Pop and dozens of other punk and new wave upstarts.

Grossman never considered himself much of a photographer, with his shoot-from-the-hip, grainy portraits of the New York underground scene in the ’70s and ’80s, when booze-filled bohemians packed dingy Bowery nightclubs such as CBGB, the Mudd Club and Hurrah to hear not-quite mainstream acts experiment with no wave and foster the punk-rock revolution.

“I never really had an agenda going out to CBGB and Mudd. I was living day-to-day, having fun with punk rockers and art elites,” says Grossman, now 57 and living in Boynton Beach. “It just turned out I was documenting history, filled with drugs and alcohol. But to me, it was a period of time with friends and acquaintances. With the no-wave movement, people picked up a musical instrument without formal training and just played. I picked up a camera and just shot.”

Grossman says he doesn’t quite know what possessed him to train his lens on the avant-garde, anti-”Disco Duck” punk scene, then very much in its infancy. But his massive collection of black-and-white candid portraits are now part of a photo exhibit opening this week at Vertu Fine Art, a gallery in Boca Raton.

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The exhibit, “Low Fidelity: The Photographs of Bobby Grossman 1975-1983,” represents nearly a decade of Grossman’s music-club jaunts, at night enraptured by the sweaty, bohemian allure of CBGB’s regular frequenters in Joey Ramone, David Byrne, Patti Smith and Blondie’s Debbie Harry.

“Me, Debbie [Harry] and her boyfriend, Chris Stein, would always go to CBGB pretty routinely, and people got smashed and stoned, and it was always just a heady-as-hell experience,” Grossman says. “There was always something happening, and often always happening at the same time.”

Each of his photographs – some blurry and granular and candid, and some spontaneously staged – has a story, immortalizing an era of musical renaissance, he says, though it was never deliberate. Shots whirl viewers inside CBGB to witness a scrawny Joey Ramone in torn jeans, face buried under a black mop of hair, shouting into the microphone; David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz and Jerry Harrison chumming it up at a recording studio in 1977; the Clash’s Mick Jones looking bewildered as Grossman’s close friend Glenn O’Brien thrusts a snakelike microphone into his face on the set of Manhattan public access show “TV Party”; and even self-portraits, such as the image in which Iggy Pop playfully strangles Grossman.

The Manhattan native says he was introduced to the city’s “underbelly,” of sorts, while at Rhode Island School of Design, where he met Byrne and his clashing noise rock band the Artistics. “David wasn’t so high on the art-school curriculum. He was just kind of a creative thug, slinging hash on campus and doing his party band,” Grossman recalls. “So whenever they went to CBGB to play ‘Psycho Killer’ and ‘1-2-3 Red Light,’ I would come and see them. I fell into the scene that way.”

Grossman originally majored in mixed-media illustrations, even pitching his portfolio to Rolling Stone and New York magazine, but found himself caring less about deadlines than embedding himself in the trenches of the emerging punk scene, which quite often overlapped with New York’s art and literary circles. Slumming with Byrne was a gateway to meeting, at breakneck pace, the likes of David Bowie, grooving to early album cuts of “Coney Island Baby” in Lou Reed’s flat and being buzzed into Andy Warhol’s Factory.

Grossman says his “Cornflakes Series,” which is also on display, depicts musicians such as Harry, Tomata du Plenty of the Screamers and Byrne eating a bowl of the namesake cereal, and was partly inspired by Warhol’s tomato soup cans and his own admiration for the pop aesthetic.

For nearly a decade, Grossman captured the nightlife of the underground, but it was an Iggy Pop concert at the Peppermint Lounge that turned him off photography almost completely. “When you’re out there every night for eight years, and friends are either dying or moving or both, I had to stop. New wave and no wave got too, uh, mainstream,” he says with a laugh. “When the color shot I took of Iggy and Bowie at the Peppermint Lounge shows up on MTV News, and Kurt Loder is talking about it, that’s when you know it’s time to get out. So I got out.”

Low Fidelity: The Photographs of Bobby Grossman 1975-1983

When: Through March 15

Where: Vertu Fine Art Gallery, 5250 Town Center Circle, Suite 128, Boca Raton

Cost: Free of charge

Contact: 561-368-4680 or VertuFineArt.com

Copyright © 2012, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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