Mark Allen naked on Avenue A

Here is a picture of me hitchhiking naked on Avenue A in Manhattan in 1991. Some friends and I came up with the idea, and shot it right outside the Pyramid Club on a Saturday afternoon. I remember it was a clear day. We huddled inside the club, wrapped a sheet around me, lifted the security gate of the club and ran out, I threw the sheet off and stood there - he snapped the shot. One take. Not bad for chaos! The photo was taken by our friend Merritt. The only reaction I remember was some little kids across the street screaming “Yeaaauuuu-eeek!!!? otherwise people just looked or drove by with wide eyes and blank faces. But this was downtown NYC after all, a long time ago. The East Village was very, very different back then - it was kind of like the American wild west. At that specific time, the Pyramid Club was known mostly for a Wednesday night psychedelic drag theater night called “Channel 69,? thrown by pioneering My Comrade publisher Linda Simpson. The club is amazingly still standing (and so is Linda). This photo was used for some NYC flyers, and even made into some giant posters for a Canadian event, which I have a roll of in my attic.

The picture was done before Madonna’s Sex book came out, which had this photo in it. Not that the same image hadn’t probably appeared decades earlier in countless Swedish porn magazines, or Tom of Finland illustrations, admittedly. I mean, a naked person hitchhiking? It’s like deciding to paint a bowl of fruit. I thought the background in this shot seemed really dull, until I realized the background in the Madonna’s was just as bland.

The boots I was wearing belonged to DJ Craig Spencer (sigh…), who weirdly actually ended up in Madonna’s Sex book, on page 33, helping Tony Ward rape Madonna in a school gymnasium, and then licking his ear.

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In a similar vein, I was recently contacted by some old friends from Act Up, letting me know about their recent 20th anniversary demonstration in Times Square. I couldn’t make it, but I saw some photos from the event. It was somewhat sparsely attended, but they must have anticipated that fact, in organizing a street demonstration - which seemed to be one small component of a larger strategy. This is the age where PR-soaked media/internet-tangled prankery grabs every spotlight. Larry Kramer’s gritty speech the night before was rather interesting. Usually I can’t get to the end of one of Kramer’s write-ups without my face contorting into a moldy, winced grapefruit (to protect my eyes?)… but I actually found this text by him to be very moving, and would recommend reading it to anyone.

It was nice to see some old friends in the recent Act Up demo photos. It prompted me to rummage through my rolodex of photos, and dig up this one below, which was snapped by Scott Walker at Act Up’s successful 1991 Kennebunkport action, which was not sparsely attended. The quaint little town was a second home to George Bush Sr., and on that particular weekend (while he and family was there) it was, quite literally, invaded by Act Up groups from all over the world - to protest his administration’s inaction against the world-wide epidemic at the time. Days later, Bush had to address the protest, and subsequent questions, during a nationally broadcast press conference. This photo was taken where the final march ended, a police blockade at the end of the long gated driveway leading to his home. It’s me, in front of a line of authority figures, making a funny face.


These types of photos, in the later part of the 20th Century, are all mock-ups of this iconic series of 60’s protest pictures, which have found eternal life in being done to death. Now it seems you can’t turn sideways without bumping into pictures of this sort, on people’s websites and things - like one of a girl flashing her boobs at a camera while a line of cops stand in a line behind her unaware, or a pic of some kid with his pants down mooning the front of a corporate headquarters building while flipping the camera the bird. The impact of this type of imagery has long-ago been smothered by the sincerest form of flattery, and mutated into reckonable commodity - which is probably why you still see it so much. So, again… here’s me in front of some cops, in 1991, mocking what they stand for with a goofy face and a thumb out pointing at them like I don’t care about them. I’m sure the world has never been the same since.

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Speaking of cigarettes hanging out of mouths as a tired-but-true photo prop device in pictures that are copies of other pictures, there are these two pictures (definitely not copies) of me in 1993, by the excellent shutter guy Hans Fahrmeyer, story here:

These were were copied, intentionally, a few years ago by Tony, who has a blog over at LargeTony.com: