Caught in the Act by Dona Ann McAdams


Photo-documentarists are true chance artists. Capturing history with the split-second timing of a shutter is an act of faith, not only in one's intuition, but in the subject matter itself. Knowing when to point and shoot is one thing, but being in the right place at the right time--and knowing what to do once you're there--is quite another.

As the house photographer since 1983 at New York's Performance Space 122, McAdams, seated front row center with her ultra-quiet Leica, has been the most consistent witness to the countless artists who've passed through the former public school's theaters; Caught in the Act is a black-and-white photographic tour of those years. Familiar faces and unsung heroes fill pages interspersed with text, drawings, and musical scores from, among others, Karen Finley, Allen Ginsburg, Philip Glass, Eric Bogosian, Diamanda Galas ,and Meredith Monk. Village Voice columnist C. Carr, who worked the arts beat from the pre-gentrification days of the East Village scene through the NEA wars, sets the context with keen observations on the evolution of the "cultural margin."

McAdams has a selective eye, and she patiently awaits the intangible moment when a performer channels vibrancy, indulgence, surprise, beauty, and ugliness. We see Reno, head flung back, arms akimbo, legs barely able to support her volcanic energy; Bill T. Jones staring defiantly from behind a backward American flag; Ron Athey immersed in ritual; and Patrick Scully in quiet repose. Some of the most poignant images are of those who are gone--Ron Vawter, David Wojnarowicz, and McAdams' dear friend John Bernd. "The fire is lit and so is the sky," intones poet Eileen Myles in the book's closing pages; McAdams dramatically records those flames of inspiration.

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