I remember that night like it was yesterday. They say a camera stops time, and for me, in this case it’s proven to be true. One-quarter of a second exposure on my handheld Leica IIIf camera back in 1976 has endured via silver and megapixels all these years.
I spent a lot of time in 1976 looking through the French photographer Brassai’s photographs of Paris nightlife in the 1930s, and had worked out a way to shoot photographs at night by natural light without flash. In looking back now, it was all of another time – pushed tri-x film, arcane developing chemicals, nights in the darkroom. But it enabled me to return night after night to CBGB’s with boxes of pictures to show off my experiments to my friends in a budding scene and create my “Documents for Artists.”
It was in between sets when everyone headed out from within CBGB’s, to the raw air under the Bowery streetlights. Patti Smith was standing in mid-conversation that night, when I tapped her on the shoulder and asked if I could take her photograph. I know I saw the Bleecker Street sign in the background and thought “perfect.” I knew that she was standing in the right spot, under the streetlamps. All the elements were in place. So when she turned my way and brought her hand to her face – I knew in that moment, the photo was mine to have or screw up. Shooting at night, handheld – no tripod - meant both Patti and I would have to be perfectly still. I did my part that night, and obviously Patti more than did hers. One-quarter of a second stopped forever. Time on my side.