Wednesday, December 14

Interview with Nightlife Photographer Patrick McMullan

Patrick McMullan

The first night I met nightlife photographer, Patrick McMullan, I had no idea who he was. My friend, a young photographer, was working as his assistant during fashion week and invited me along for a night out of after-parties. Over the course of that first night, I found myself stage side as Courtney Love performed in a gas station, at the opening of the Boom Boom Room where I stood on the bathroom line next Demi Moore, and finally at McMullan's Chelsea office. He and his team would spend the remaining hours of night (morning) editing and uploading the night's photographs. Unlike anything I'd ever experienced before, or since for that matter, I was immediately thrown into a world I'd never known before. His world.

Just as my friend was, I had been McMullan's shadow for that night as he photographed celebrities and party attendees alike. As that first night wore on, I gradually started to realize that he wasn't like the other photographers at the party. He literally couldn't walk 5 feet without running into someone he knew. "Who IS he?" I asked my friend at one point in the night. "You don't understand" My friend explained. "He's a legend."

Andy Warhol once said, "If you don't know Patrick McMullan, you ought to get out more!"

However, as legendary as he proved to be, I never once felt intimidated my him. He was friendly, hilarious, and most of all charismatic. As soon as I got back to my dorm, I spent nearly an hour trolling the internet trying to find out exactly who McMullan was. I saw claims such as 'celebrity photographer', 'Andy Warhol's confidant', and 'figure of Studio 54'. It made me feel like an utter idiot for not knowing who he was.

The summer following that night, I started a job working in a small web development company when, serendipitously, Patrick McMullan was one of our prospective clients. He wanted to bring to fruition his dream of creating an online magazine, not only showcasing his New York nightlife photography, but also interesting people, events, and art. Over the course of a few months, I met with McMullan and his team, and eventually arranged for a casual interview with him in his Chelsea office.

Asking him about a multitude of topics, hoped to not only touch on New York City nightlife from his earliest days, but furthermore his evolution as a photographer, especially in light of the launch of PMc Magazine. I also couldn't help but inquire about his personal tastes beyond the world of photography, such as music and television. 

What was your first night at Studio 54 like?
Patrick McMullan's “So 80s Studio 54”

Well my first night there, I remember it was a juice bar and it must have been 1976. I was still living in Long Island and I used to read Liz Smith everyday in The Daily News. She started talking about Studio 54 and I decided I'm just going to go. I just showed up and I got right in. At the time I didn't know any better that I shouldn't go, or wouldn't get in. It never occurred to me.

It was maybe 10 o'clock on a Monday and when I walked in, it was like walking into The Wizard of Oz, in the sense of color. When you got to Oz, on the other side of the rainbow. It was colorful, there was lights, and everyone was beautiful. Everybody was just so attractive and interesting.

I remember watching Sterling St Jacks and he was spinning Bianca Jagger around off her shoulders, around in a circe. People were dancing and I met a bunch of different people. I was by myself but it was really fun. After that, I started going as a regular.

It was a juice bar which was great, because at the time I didn't drink and the juice was free, so I didn't have to pay for drinks. It was just really fun and I had a friend who used to go all the time, her name was Margie Beck , and she was a scene girl of the time and she would just.

It lasted a long time, it went into the 80's too and had a whole different feel then. It was very glam. 

Who are your favorite musicians?

I like so many different kinds of artists. I have so many varied tastes. Obviously, depending on the occasion. I love The Beatles, The Rolling Stones. There is no question that they are my generation and The Byrds. Even The Turtles. All those rock n' roll groups from the 60's and 70's. I love Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, James Taylor, 'Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young', Carol King and that group is sort of when I was in High School and I just loved them all. But really what I am, is a jazz guy. I love traditional jazz, Billie Holiday, Diana Washington, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee. They're all voice, I tend to really love voice and that leads me to my all-time favorite which is Frank Sinatra. I love cheap sentiment often, the idea of just sentimental songs. I love Bing Crosby. You know the voices that are like butter. Barbara Streisand I naturally liked all through her different phases. I think she's great. Cher, I love her voice. 

There's all different kinds of blues and jazz. I love traditional New Orleans jazz. There's this new movement I've been hearing a lot called "washboard jazz" which is 1930's kind of sound and a lot of the kids dance to it. I don't even know where to find half of it. I have to admit that I've never bought anything on iTunes because I don't really understand how to do it, as crazy as that sounds. I don't want to get addicted to it but I want to try to do that at some point. I also really enjoy old show biz and musicals like Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Rogers and Hammerstein, a lot of the really catchy Old Broadway tunes. I really have a vast interest. Now, another area is the disco of the 70's. Disco to me, is the Barry White, Andrea True, all those old 70's songs bring back so many fun memories of the Studio 54 era. I'm not a lover of rap but I do like Alicia Keys and Jay-Z's song. I like a little bit of everything, anything that's good I like. And of course, lastly Classical Music. I just love any dramatic music and all that. Anyways, I'm also a big fan of collecting photography

What musicians have you enjoyed photographing and in what kind of atmosphere? 

Well, I have photographed so many young musicians. I've always been interested in photographing musicians who are creative and interested in trying different things. I guess the majority of people I've photographed I didn't really sit with them. No specific great story that I can think of. I've met Cher, and Dolly Parton. Frank Sinatra Liza Minellie, Mick Jagger.
One time at a Vanity Fair party I got together Cher, Madonna, Joni Mitchell, and Katie Lang all in one picture and that was fun for me. I like putting people together. I met Stevie Nicks and i liked meeting Carly Simon a lot. It was very exciting to meet her. 

I tend to later on think "oh, wow", look who I met.... Musicians are so fascinating, you know?

Cover Image from McMullan's book
"So 80's"
As far as New York City goes, do you think you could do what you do anywhere besides New York?

Oh, absolutely. I am ultimately more of a "people" photographer, not necessarily a celebrity photographer. I mean, obviously celebrities are people but I'm interested in meeting new people. I love going out and just shooting new people. It's fun to me.

I love attractive people, i love parents with children. Anyone with style always excites me, even if it's bad style. I like people that say " look at me".

What is special about New York?

New York is very franetic. There's ups and downs. There's such movement. You can be in a crowd, you can be by yourself. The stimulation never ends. New York is the quinntessential flow of energy.

Is there anyone today that you would consider a modern Andy Warhol?

Well, I think there are many people that have aspects of Andy. Like many people that have qualities similar to him. Shepard Fairy does a lot of interesting work. The thing that I thought was interesting about Andy was that he set himself up to be a renaissance man. He was involved in publishing, art,  beauty, models,  music, like with The Velvet Underground. Being on the scene was a big part of it. I think Andy was one-of-a-kind. One thing about Andy is whenever you saw him, you knew you were at a really good party. You knew you were at the place to be. 

Andy Warhol and Patrick McMullan
The thing about Andy he had a whole group around him, like superstars, who were known and they had all these interesting personalities. 

We'd talk TV a lot which I loved because i enjoy television. We've never had such good television as we do nowadays. Andy would just love all the TV that's on. He'd love reality shows. I mean, he did the first reality shows if you think about it. 

What are your favorite TV shows?

I have too many favorite TV shows.....  I love The Office and 30 Rock, I love CSI: Special Victims Unit, Criminal Minds, House which my friend Lisa Edelstein is in. I watch Saturday Night Live all the time, sometimes it's good. Mad Men, I'm crazy for it. I've been watching Boardwalk Empire. I really love anything that's on HBO and Showtime. 

Oh, and i love Hoarders. Hoarders is my favorite show! They're always trying to throw away so much nice stuff. I hate when they throw away all that good stuff. Last night there was a woman who was raising rats and they all got lost in her house. I like Hoarders because it makes me feel I don't have the much stuff. 

And wait there's so much more, I could go on forever. I like Jersey Shore....... and I just want to watch every show that's on. Every time I look at something I want to watch it. I hate when I miss the first episode, so I guess the new thing is Hulu. I also love Netflix, you can watch it automatically or you can just get . One of the things that I'm just starting now is that show with the Vampires, True Blood. I really love that. The Good Wife is also great. 

I love South Park, Family Guy, Chelsea Lately.

I could just sit home and watch television and be perfectly happy. We've never had such good TV. I'd love to be a Television writer if I could be.

There's this new show called Jack the Exterminator which I've been enjoying. 

On to the topic of Fashion, I was lucky enough to see a screening of the New York Fashion Week Documentary which you were featured in. You talked about how much you enjoy the behind-the-scenes aspect of photography. What is special the "back of house" atmosphere, particularly during fashion week. 

Well, it's not even just the atmosphere. We have everyone who's focused on their particular job and what they're doing. And then the people are cute, the models are always fun. But there's something nice about seeing all the items and the clothing, shoes, jewelry all laid out.

In the old days, when I first started, I had an all access pass to do everything. I would just find myself gravitating towards backstage. Even helping before the show when things would go wrong. You would get to know all the designers, who were so interesting, creative, and talented. They're true artisans. I met some really good friends. To quote my friend Kourt Felsky, "I never met a model I didn't like". I mean some of them have moments where they're not so wonderful but it's fun to meet the models. They're glamour, flitting around. I just think there's a real excitement, a real drama. If your a drama junkie, which I used to more of. Now I've been to enough shows but i really still enjoy it. The shapes, the colors, and the movement, it's all just great for photography. I just love to run around and shoot everything. 

Having launched PMc Magazine.... What are you most excited for?

PMc Magazine February 2011 Issue
Well, my website is just pictures of what happened. I wanted to do something that added a sense of Who Am I? A lot of people would say to me, because I had a tape recording device on my camera, so no matter who I shoot, I get their name. I often forget people's names, even the ones I know. People would always say " You Know Me", so I have two sections: "Who Am I?" and "You Know Me". "You Know Me" would be people that everybody knows, like Cher for example. " Who Am I?" is somebody who is a little bit more seteric, someone that certain people know but others don't know.

I have another section called "Then and Now" because I think it's fun to see what somebody looked like or where they were at in comparison to where they are now. I mean, I'm not trying to make anyone look bad, more people that look good now. Though I'm sure people would like to see other people who look horrible now. I'm not one of them. There's enough negative stuff to see.

There's a lot of photo slide-show type things. I have a lot of pictures at this point. I must have at least a million (in an Austin Powers way) that are great. You know, we have a team here, a gang that is interested and knows a lot of the images. I just want to share them more, in a different context. 

Is it just going to be your photographs?

No, not just mine. The whole gang's. It's not just me. It may be lead by me and in the way I work but it's meant to be a collective. Everybody's got a lot of talent here. I don't want to have to much reading. We're a photo site, we want to see imagery. I'm not going to have comments as far as I can see. I'm not about comments. This is what it is. You like it, you don't like it. Everyone is welcome to be part of this. I'm hoping people will submit ideas or people that they're interested in. It's another way to be interactive with people and what's going on. I meet a lot of people that I think are very interesting and years later they become well known. I would like to be able to share who I think is interesting 

Was there a break through moment, or shoot that you were on where you thought "I've made it" or was it a slow progression of hard work? 

Well, I'd have to say yes and no. When I did my book "So 80's" and Linda Fargo did my window with all my pictures. I said "Wow", this was really like winning an Oscar for me. To be on 57th street and 5th Avenue, with all my photographs in the windows done so beautifully. It was so fabulous, I wanted to tell everyone "Look, those are my pictures". My name was there, and I thought "I've arrived". Though, there have been a lot of little moments where I thought "I love what I do". I mean, I love photography and not just my own. As you can see, I'm a collector. Few pictures in my whole studio are my own. I started loving photography before I did it myself. I would look at the images from LIFE Magazine, such as the sailor and the nurse and albert eisenstat. 

Do you think you've ever re-invented yourself?

Patrick McMullan and His Photographs
I don't think that I've ever reinvented myself. It's funny, people that have known me since I was, say 12, say "your exactly the same person, you haven't changed at all". I'm a little bit less nervous and more focused. I think that there are always more extensions. Every time you make a new friend, you extend yourself. The day that you don't want to learn anymore, life starts to become less interesting. 

I don't think I ever re-invented myself, so much as I blossomed, because I've always had interests in music, imagery, etc. I'll tell you a funny story, my mother tended to save magazines and I would cut little pictures out and tack them to a board, making huge collages. She had these TV Guides from the 60's, and someone said "Oh, those are worth something". She brought them down to somebody and goes "these would be worth something, but all the pictures are cut out of them". I felt so bad but she laughed. 

Anyways, I just think that I'm a little more fearless in trying things, like PMc Magazine for example. I definitely want to do more books. I mean, I have enough photographs to do 25 more books. Though, I also want to enjoy my life. See, my schedule is such that I always have things I've got to do. There's only one of me. Though, I have successfully cloned myself, which is nice. When I was young, there was nobody like me, in terms of hiring people just off the street or because I thought they had a nice personality. I hire people because I think they have a nice quality first. I want them to have the skills obviously but I hire them because I see a quality in them I like. I wouldn't want to be around a bunch of boring, lousy people. Even if I was making a lot of money. You know I went to business school and i love business but it's not about the money. I've mad a living but I still feel like I can look myself in the mirror and think "I've done it the way that I want to do it". 

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