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See Intimate Eighties Portraits of Lou Reed, Madonna, Beastie Boys and More

Sample NYC photographer Laura Levine’s comprehensive “ALTHIPHOPINDYPUNK Picture Show” exhibit

Bestie Boys Laughing Photoshoot

Beastie Boys NYC 1987 © Laura Levine

Photograph by Laura Levine

Between 1980 and 1994, Laura Levine photographed more than 500 bands and musicians for outlets ranging from Rolling Stone to influential punk magazine New York Rocker, where she worked as photo editor. Though she shot many live shows, Levine is best known for her expressive portraits, taken in her Chinatown apartment or Soho loft, or on the streets of New York City.

Levine's work can currently be seen in the exhibition "Laura Levine: ALTHIPHOPINDYPUNK Picture Show: Intimate Portraits of Musicians, 1980-1994" at San Francisco's DZINE Gallery. Click through our gallery to see a selection of images from the show and read Levine's recollections of photographing legends such as Madonna to Grandmaster Flash.

Grandmaster Flash Tina Weymouth Carrying Boomboxes

© Laura Levine

Tina Weymouth and Grandmaster Flash (New York City, 1981)

I took this portrait for the cover of the New York Rocker in 1981. It was right about the time that the uptown and downtown music scenes were starting to discover each other and there was a magical musical cross-pollination in the air. Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz’s new band, Tom Tom Club, had just released their first album, which included rap and hip-hop beats. Tina and Flash had never met before, and they immediately hit it off, trading records, dancing and doing the bump as their boom boxes blared in front of a playground handball wall done by graffiti artist Lee Quinones (just a few blocks from where I grew up). Years later, Tina told me that after this session, she invited Flash back to the studio where Talking Heads were mixing their new album, Speaking in Tongues. Within months, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five had done a cover of Tom Tom Club’s "Genius of Love” with their own hit version called "It’s Nasty (Genius of Love)." It’s a thrill to know that a musical connection came out of this shoot. 

Iggy Pop Hugging Chrissie Hynde

© Laura Levine

Chrissie Hynde and Iggy Pop (New York City, 1987)

This is one of my favorite outtakes from a cover story I did for Details magazine in 1987. I'd heard that Iggy and Chrissie had a great mutual admiration society going on, so it was a cinch to get one to commit to the shoot once they knew the other would be there. Despite a raging flu and a big show at Radio City that same night, Chrissie was a real trouper, and Iggy was an absolute sweetheart. Truth be told, they were so thrilled to be working together, I doubt they even knew I was in the room. This photo looks much dirtier than it ought to be; in fact they were like happy puppies playing in my living room.

Madonna Coming out of Curtain

© Laura Levine

Madonna (New York City, 1982)

In 1982 I was assigned by Andy Warhol's Interview magazine to photograph a new singer named Madonna, whose very first single ("Everybody") was about to be released. She arrived alone, climbing the long four flights to my small Chinatown tenement apartment. She was very easy to work with and took direction like a pro. Even when I asked her to do seemingly ridiculous things like wrap herself in my backdrop and pretend to scream, she just went for it. (All in the name of a good photo, of course!).

Joan Jett Petting Cat

© Laura Levine

Joan Jett  (New York City, 1981)

She arrived with a bottle of champagne, a mini entourage and a big smile. I relocated her posse into my tiny bedroom and closed the door so we could do our photo session without any distractions. By the end of the shoot the champagne was gone, Joan's hands were scratched, my cat Tchatchke was exhausted (but happy) and I had some wonderful portraits of a very cool girl.

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