Amy Arbus on her photo ‘Julio Q’

For Contact Sheet, Document asks a photographer about the unseen story of a frame that defines their work.

Date Taken: 1985

Location: Broome Street, New York City 

He went by Julio Q, his initial as his last name. He was very small, and he passed away not long after that from the usual early 80s disease. There’s so much of him in the photograph, a child like quality of him.

Most of the pictures I was doing for the Village Voice were taken of whomever I found on the street or in interesting clothing stores. What was so challenging was how to find the best background, the best lighting and the best situation in the matter of minutes. I knew that I was interested in the back of Julio’s outfit, so the garage door seemed perfect. When I noticed the little shape that echoed the shape of a person I was really excited that the people I call the “photo Gods” had shined down on me.

Around this time I had figured out that I was documenting a scene Susanne Bartsch led. She threw parties at local clubs and invited all these young, extremely creative kids that were artists of some kind. It started to dawn on me that the camera was my ticket into meeting all these people that I wouldn’t normally have the guts to talk to. People whom I was completely intrigued by. In retrospect, I was documenting a time and a scene that was particularly wonderful and creative time, despite the political situation and the fact of AIDS being so terrifying. It was a very upbeat moment and money was not necessary for these people to live and create. We’ve never seen that since. It was really quite magical.

In those days, it was so much fun to take pictures of people because they were never suspicious. They were just honored. To be in the Village Voice was a very cool thing. After years of doing it, people would say, “What took you so long? I’ve been waiting for you to walk by and stop me!” Or sometimes they’d say, “Oh no, I’m not wearing my favorite outfit, can we do it another time when I have my better outfit on?” Drawing attention to yourself in those days was a calling card. I’m different and this will show you. If you’re interested in what you see, I have something to talk to you about.

I think it is happening again. People are not afraid to be different, to celebrate being different. There’s some sort of irony that I haven’t figured out. The more repressed our society is getting because of who’s in power, it ends up forcing people to come out and protest and be different and make statements.

Made famous for her work as a street style photographer for the Village Voice, Amy Arbus, the daughter of photographer Diane Arbus, recently returned to the streets of New York City to capture the styles of people during a period of resistance. 

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