Fred W. McDarrah, a photographer for the Village Voice for 50 years, photographed everyone from Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy to Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol. In Pride: Photographs After Stonewall, McDarrah, who died in 2007, gives readers an immersive photographic tour of LGBTQ history—the birth of the gay civil rights movement at the Stonewall riots, decades of pride parades, countless queer icons, the AIDS quilt around the Washington Monument, bullet holes through the window of the Ramrod, and much more.
Pride, published by OR Books to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, is a new edition of Gay Pride: Photographs From Stonewall to Today, published 25 years ago. “We completely reset the original edition,” says John Oakes, the editor of the 2019 edition and co-publisher of OR Books. “We added 26 photos and took out a bunch that weren’t related to the New York City scene. We also came up with a new cover and a foreword by Hilton Als, who got his first job thanks to Fred. (We of course kept the original essays by Allen Ginsberg and Jill Johnston.)” I recently asked Oakes about the new edition and McDarrah’s work.
Where did Fred W. McDarrah’s photos first appear, and what was the public’s response?
Many of his photos appeared in the Village Voice, where he was senior staff photographer and the paper’s first photo editor. The Voice was a tabloid, and Fred’s pictures were often used to document the city’s thriving alternative nightlife as well as provide evidence of alternative lifestyles. The Voice catered to a bohemian, sophisticated readership that reveled in their own exploits and those of their friends and neighbors.
How would you describe his photographic style, and what ideas did he capture in his work?
More than anyone else, Fred W. McDarrah’s work recalls that of Weegee (Arthur Fellig). Like Weegee, McDarrah was a master of street photography—the sudden insight, the lightning-quick glimpse of another world.
McDarrah was straight, but he photographed decades of pride parades along with just about every major queer political activist, artist, and writer from the 1960s through the early ’90s: James Baldwin, Frank O’Hara, Djuna Barnes, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Rauschenberg, Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Candy Darling, and on and on. How did a straight man become so invested and immersed in the queer community and its fight for civil rights?
He was always interested in the “alternative” and maintained a consistent interest in documenting the struggle for civil rights, be it on the basis of skin color, gender, or sexual orientation. The evidence shows that he admired the courage of these pioneers and recognized how absurd it was for mainstream society to ostracize them.
Can you describe a few of your favorite photos of the collection? What sets them apart for you?
That’s easy: There are two. One is the two-page spread that opens the book. Taken on April 21, 1966, the photo is set in Julius’ Bar, which still exists today at 159 West 10th St. At the time, it was illegal to serve liquor to anyone who openly declared him- or herself homosexual. The photo shows the moment when four members of the Mattachine Society—John Timmins, Dick Leitsch, Craig Rodwell, and Randy Wicker—declared themselves to be gay and demanded a drink, and the bartender refused to serve them. The second is the gorgeous photo of Cecil Beaton, himself holding a Hasselblad camera, as he’s positioning Andy Warhol and glam twins Jed and Jay Johnson during a shoot at the Factory in 1969. Beaton is slightly inclined toward Warhol and Co., who look regally on as though Beaton were a supplicant and they were Greek gods.
Where can readers find more of McDarrah’s work?
This spring, during World Pride 2019, the Museum of the City of New York celebrates his photos in a show entitled “Pride: Photographs of Stonewall and Beyond by Fred W. McDarrah,” and Saks Fifth Avenue will put his photos in the main windows of their stores in New York, Beverly Hills, San Francisco, and Brickell (Miami). And his photos will be featured online in the New Yorker “Photo Booth” and elsewhere. His images will be very hard to miss. If you see a black-and-white street photo of Greenwich Village in the 1970s, more often than not it is by Fred W. McDarrah.
Karen Schechner is the vice president of Kirkus Indie. The “Gay Is Good” photo above is by Fred W. McDarrah.