Fred McDarrah, New York Chronicler, Dies

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Longtime Village Voice photo chief Fred McDarrah died this week at the age of 81. He captured half a century of highs and lows in New York City. Documentary photographer Marc Asnin speaks with NPR's Scott Simon.


A fixture of New York City's Greenwich Village in the 1960s and '70s and one of its de facto historians died this past week at the age of 81. Fred McDarrah photographed many of New York's iconic characters and signature moments including the Beat Generation, the Stonewall Uprisings, the burning remains of the Weather Underground's bomb factory. Fred McDarrah spent decades running the photography department at The Voice and training young photojournalists there.

Documentary photographer Mark Asnin interned at the Voice in 1983. He joins from our studios in New York. Mark, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. MARK ASNIN (Documentary Photographer): Thank you.

SIMON: And what was it like to watch Fred McDarrah at work?

Mr. ASNIN: It was pretty amazing as a 19-year-old and not even really knowing what The Village Voice was coming from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. Fred's great passion for photography and his way - he mentored you with tough love. And it was very interesting to me because Fred represented what I understood from Brooklyn - originally him being from Brooklyn - and how he covered a totally different world and he was used to growing up in, and I took that as an encouragement in my documentary work.

SIMON: Some of the most famous portraits or candid shots that he took of Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, do you have any idea what drew him to those subjects, that scene, if you will, in the '60s and '70s?

Mr. ASNIN: I mean, Fred was right there, you know, at the paper that was the document of its time and he was able to make those personal relationships. He continued to do that generations later in covering city politics. He really understood, you know, the New York world coming from it and just was able to fade in and out and be the fly on the wall.

SIMON: What do you think he looked for in a photograph?

Mr. ASNIN: Intimacy. I think Fred wanted you to be direct. He wasn't into all this equipment. He didn't believe in the long lens. He just wanted you to be right there. And the great other thing about the internship program was, you know, he brought people from all walks of life - men and women and people of color - when that really wasn't happening in the bigger world. I think one of the great legacies besides his pictures is the decades and generations of photographers who he inspired and helped and taught. Some of them went on to try to change things that were going on in the world.

SIMON: Mark Asnin who worked with Village Voice photographer Fred McDarrah, thank very much for speaking with us.

Mr. ASNIN: Thank you.

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