The Village Voice, Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane & Brenda Starr
Annie Sprinkle photo: Thomas McGovern (www.thomasmcgovern.net)
Thomas’ AIDS portraits were shown for the first time at the Neikrug Gallery in New York in the winter of 1988 as a fund raiser for the People With AIDS Coalition, better known as PWA Coalition. These pictures came to the attention of Fred McDarragh, then photo editor of the Village Voice, who invited him to become an intern at the paper. At age 31, Thomas had some reservations about being an intern and working for no pay but eventually Fred convinced him to come on board with the promise of paid photo assignments every week. Thinking that this would be a good career move I encouraged him to consider it. Working at the photo archive on weekends in addition to the photo shoot pay and my income made it seem manageable. So Thomas went to work at the Village Voice and Fred, good to his word gave him an assignment the very first day, a city hall demonstration where he almost got beaten up. It was a quite a trial by fire path to a career in editorial photography but at least nobody got hurt. By the following fall, work at the Voice had gone well and the internship had ended. It was now time to freelance and while it was a bit risky financially, he went for it and was by now getting quite a bit of work from the NY Times and other publications in addition to the Voice. He even did a shoot of Juniors Delicatessen (very famous for cheesecake), for the New York Daily News Sunday supplement. Juniors was so pleased with the spread they gave us a huge cheesecake to show their appreciation. During these freelance times, Thomas often had more time than I and whenever he could, he would make sure that dinner was on the table when I got home. That was such a loving thing to come home to after a stressful day at work and I got quite spoiled by it.
Rachel Rosenthal with Sage photo: Thomas McGovern
The Voice often gave Thomas theater assignments and since they were most frequently in the evenings, I usually went along for company. I was there on one of his first theater assignments and saw that he shot the entire thing without film in his camera! Fortunately, there was film in the camera bag and without missing a step, he loaded up and got his pictures without anyone ever being the wiser. I still tease him about that sometimes and he makes a point of sharing that story with his first year students.
Ethel Eichelberger photo: Thomas McGovern
We saw lots of theater, much of it horrible and some of it really fine. There was the amazing Rachel Rosenthal who was holding a dress rehearsal on a night when her beloved and aged pet rat Sage, was dying. She asked Thomas to hold it for her during the performance so it wouldn’t die alone if its time came while she was on stage. That’s not a request easily refused no matter how rodent-phobic one might be so we baby-sat the poor old rat, me holding him when Thomas was actually shooting. She is an amazing performance artist and a beautiful person and we felt honored to help. We were also fortunate enough to see some other great performance artists like Michael Moschen, Paul Zaloom, Annie Sprinkle and Ethel Eichelberger. Then there were the miserable off, off, way off, Broadway performances. I recall one notable night of theater in the round when the only audience was a semi enthusiastic band of what were clearly relatives, one of whom kept falling asleep. I could relate in that case but Thomas had to stay awake for the entire mind numbing performance in order to shoot afterwards. We never quite knew what we would see but we saw quite a lot.
Michael Moschen photo: Thomas McGovern
I have always been rather romantic about newspapers and the people who work for them starting with Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane, Brenda Starr and Rosalind Russell in “His Girl Friday”. What I found through getting to know some of the non-fictional, real life at the Voice, while not exactly in the image of the old Hollywood newsroom, was not so different either. When not shooting theater, there were many other interesting assignments. There was a wonderful arm wrestling exhibition at Flushing Meadow Park and Thomas got to shoot Al Sharpton, Ed Koch, Rudy Guilliani and other city pols, as well as demonstrations and perp walks, and, speaking of romance and adventure, things requiring stake outs. He shot an elementary school principle that augmented her wages by selling stale cookies to her school’s children at outrageous prices. She was dubbed “ The Cookie Monster” in all the papers and he was able to get her peeking furtively around a doorjamb while trying to escape the photographers. That one got a full front page in The Daily News.
Arm Wrestlers at Flushing Meadow Park photo: Thomas McGovern
For those of us who lived and or worked in the Village, the Voice was the paper of choice when it came to listings of movies, restaurants, jobs and apartments not to mention the personal ads that drew their own increasingly larger audiences. There was no dearth of commentary and certainly many important cartoonists like Matt Groening (The Simpsons) started at the Voice. We were incredibly honored when the great cartoonist, Stan Mack, author of a weekly strip called “Stan Mack’s Real Life Funnies” based on true life observations of real people, made us the subjects of one of his cartoons. Some years later Thomas was able to buy the original cartoon for me as a gift, but only after trading some of his own work and paying some cash. Stan was reluctant to part with an original and had never done so before. It hangs over my desk now and is highly treasured.
I am still proud of the work Thomas did at the Voice during his tenure there and I was elated when eventually, after Fred McDarraugh retired, Tom became the photo editor. This of course is his story but our work and social lives were very intertwined and physically we were only a few blocks away. Sometimes the distinctions between our worlds got lost a bit. Whatever else, my romantic take on the newspaper world remained intact.
Thomas, second from right rear and colleagues at the office