IN THE ZONE
A Spotlite on Photographer PAUL ZONE
By Eden Herbstman
Paul Zone cuts a kaleidoscopic, culture-clashing figure. His origin story is one of a scrappy punk shit-starter in the legendary downtown Manhattan of the early 1970s. With brothers Miki and Mandy in glam-punk band The Fast, a family production by way of Brooklyn, to his later incarnation as a HI-NRG eurodisco artist decked in the iconography of early 80s gay art-porn in Man 2 Man, Zone is at once a symbol of tattered rock-n-roll survivalism and a sleekly-styled Tom of Finland drawing. With the publication of Playground: Growing Up in the New York Underground (Glitterati Incorporated) comes the unique opportunity to shove the whole disparate and overwhelming thing into a book that is at once personal biography and cultural time capsule, a pastiche of dynamic and sincere photographs populated by such figures as Debbie Harry (who contributes the forward) and Jayne County, with a bleeding heart at its center for a moment as gone as it is indelible. Indeed, few have been able to ride so many tides of the zeitgeist as Paul Zone, and fewer still have so thoroughly documented what were undoubtedly strange, fucked, and brilliant times. Zone’s book allows viewers to travel back in time to the playground of the 70s.
Eden Herbstman: Why publish this book now, and how does it feel exposing these intimate photos?
Paul Zone: I have been working towards this for the last 10 years now. The photographs were always there right with me all these years. They were in front of me, on my wall, in photo albums, on my computer. I have never been with out them, but it never really dawned on me that they should be shared with the world. I never even made copies for friends or put them on the Internet. They were always very personal. They were a time and a place for me that was very important. In a way I left them when I left my bands The Fast and Man 2 Man. I left them when I lost my brothers Miki & Mandy. I left them when my childhood friends made their first records and went on tour, and it was never the same again. In the 1990s I started to travel a lot, and stayed away from New York. I felt I needed to start fresh. I felt that a lot of what I lost or left behind was at times a secret and not talked about to or with everyone. When I decided to show my photos in the late 2000s I brought them to Europe, and didn’t want to show them yet in New York City. I wanted to get a feel of what I had and how would be the best way to present them to the public. After a few years of gallery shows I went underground with them again and wanted to focus on putting them in a book. Once I started writing captions for the photos I started to realize that I couldn’t just write a name, location and date. I started with a few sentences that turned into a few paragraphs for one single photograph. Right then I knew I had to right down a lot more then who, where and when. “Why?” and “How?” seemed to be the questions everyone at galleries were asking, especially with how personal and close up I was with the subjects and that I was 13 to 18 years old when I took them. A full on text was the best way to present the book.
EH: Did you have a sense at the time that there would be such a fascination with this time period of NYC?
PZ: No. Not at the time they were taken. By the late 70s we knew the music and bands from just a few years back were going to be very important to the future.
EH: In the book’s forward Debbie Harry calls you “the therapist” of the group. Were you conscious of this or feel that responsibility?
PZ: No. I think I might have had the enthusiasm of an uninhibited youth for a lot of my friends back then, even though I wasn’t even 10 years younger then everyone on the scene. I never asked my brothers why they asked me to be the lead singer in their band The Fast but figured it must have had something to do with that. All our friends at the time were deeply imbedded in their art and lived it day in and day out. The early 70s was a free time and very experimental for most, and even more for a young teenager without any inhibitions.
EH: Do you think “subculture” in the way you experienced it is gone today? Do you think it is possible to have an honest subculture anymore?
PZ: Yes. But now “subculture” starts at times through social media also as well as on the streets. Seeing someone walk down the street wearing a piece of clothing in a way, color or mixture influences a designer. The same thing happens every moment on the Internet with fashion, music, art and all pop culture. Hearing a band at a small club or in their bedroom on the web is no different. I think it all comes from one’s individual talent to communicate with others. Some may say a television talent show might be a sell out but if one has talent and it gets to the public eye why would you be against that?
EH: The Brooklyn of the 70s doesn’t have the same visibility of downtown Manhattan of the time. What was Brooklyn then and what was it like having both environments as your “playground”?
PZ: Brooklyn in the 70s was like most small towns today, not much has changed. Yes there are neighborhoods and areas in small cities that embrace cultural change and different lifestyle, but the suburban lifestyle pretty much is usually inhabited with a sort of conservatism that usually doesn’t change. I didn’t embrace my suburban Brooklyn “playground.” My brothers and I knew early on that we would have to venture to the metropolis of Manhattan to find a place to express our needs in art.
EH: Can you share anything about your next upcoming projects?
PZ: I am planning on bringing my book & gallery shows worldwide. I want younger people not to shy away from being or feeling different and wanting to express themselves. I also want an older generation that were influenced by these artists or were miles away and never knew any of this existed to accept others individuality.
Paul Zone is a photographer and musician born and raised in New York.
Written by Eden Herbstman
Design by Mina Darius
Photography Courtesy of Paul Zone and Glitterati Incorporated
Photography Courtesy of Paul Zone and Glitterati Incorporated