Maurice Narcis is a documentary photographer who snaps anything from people to butterflies to the hand of Patti Smith as she clutches a tattered book of beat poetry. Based in New York City, he has photographed Lou Reed, Elvis Costello, The Moldy Peaches and many, many others.
SICK OF THE RADIO: Looking through your photography, I’m seeing a lot of candid shots. Would you consider yourself a band photographer more so than a portrait photographer?
MAURICE NARCIS: First and foremost, I consider myself a documentary photographer. My subjects range from the Human Race, to bands, to dead birds, peace demonstrations, houses, storefronts, etc. I usually tell people that I photograph nouns.
SICK OF THE RADIO: Is there something about catching people in a moment of activity that is more appealing than say, constructing a scene to photograph?
MAURICE NARCIS: Yes, one of the things I try to capture is people having a private moment, in public.
SICK OF THE RADIO: From what I can tell, you’re a New Yorker. I have found the people and places of New York to be some of the most photogenic I’ve ever encountered.
MAURICE NARCIS: NY is a never ending parade of people to photograph. I am a New Yorker and I do agree with you, because in N.Y., the opportunities are endless. NY provides me with an infinite source of subject matter. It could be Danny Glover at a peace rally, or a homeless man sleeping on the sidewalk, using a stray dog as a pillow. I am personally most comfortable, when surrounded by massive amounts of culture, so I feel right “at home” in NYC. In any case, I take pictures everywhere that I go. I have also enjoyed taking pictures in other places – I was hired to photograph a wedding in Florence, Italy and I documented the NY Antifolk tour of Europe.
SICK OF THE RADIO: When photographing musicians, especially those who have fame already, you’re working with people who already have an image or a persona that they want to convey. Do you try to make this pre-existing image come through on film, or are you usually looking for new ways to display people?
MAURICE NARCIS: I look for a way to document people that conforms to my perception of them.
SICK OF THE RADIO: You’ve shot some musicians of a very high profile (Lou Reed, Elvis Costello, Daniel Johnston) – is this at all intimidating to you? Or perhaps they are the ones who feel intimidated since you’re the one with the camera?
MAURICE NARCIS: I don’t really find it intimidating, and I don’t think the artists do either, but I have no real access to how they feel about it, in most cases. The one exception was when I was on 46th and 10th and I saw that Bob Dylan was standing next to me. By the time I was prepared to take the picture, his back was to me and he was headed into a building. It was too late. I was intimidated that time, you know, because it was Dylan.
SICK OF THE RADIO: Speaking of Lou Reed et al – do you have a good Lou Reed story to share about the photo you have of him? What are your most memorable – for good or bad – experiences taking photos of musicians?
MAURICE NARCIS: In Buffalo, while I was in college, a friend of mine got an interview with Lou Reed. The interview was to take place at a hotel in Rochester before Lou’s show that night. After about 90 minutes, I called up to Lou’s room and asked if I could come up and take photos. Ray Rachel, Lou’s companion, (and inspiration for the Velvet Underground song “Sister Ray”) responded by saying “Lou doesn’t need you” and hung up the phone. I was crushed.
SICK OF THE RADIO: I’m intrigued by the photo you have of Patti Smith’s hand. Why her hand, per se? (As opposed to her mouth, her head, her feet – all body parts which also have symbolic value).
MAURICE NARCIS: When I am in a photographic situation, surrounded by countless other photographers, I always try to create an image that I think nobody else will capture. I feel I accomplished that with this picture. Another reason I chose her hand is because she is holding her battered copy of Howl by Allen Ginsberg. It looked like that book spent a lot of time with her.
To see more of Narcis’ photography, click here.
Interviewed by: Carly Lewis
All images displayed by: Maurice Narcis
Photo of Danny Glover