UNDERCOVER #1: JOSEPH SZABO
by Gianpaolo Arena


DINOSAUR JR “Green Mind”,  1991, Blanco y Negro.


© Photo: Joseph Szabo, Priscilla, Jones Beach, 1969

«The echo of the wall of sound, full of crashing distortions and feedbacks from the earlier beautiful You are Living All Over Me (SST 1987) and Bug (SST 1988), still vibrates in the ears when Dinosaur Jr, together with Hüsker Dü, Pixies, Sonic Youth and Pavement, approach a different songwriting, intimate and slightly commercial. The combination of noise and melody will mark the American indie rock of the ‘90s and beyond. The egocentric personality of J. Mascis, the coarse and unkempt style, the sad, visceral and cathartic songs are in perfect synchrony with the spirit of their generation.Green Mind was released in 1991 for Blanco y Negro with an emblematic and beautiful cover. The photograph is of Joseph Szabo: Priscilla. The portrait of a little girl grown quickly, cigarette in her mouth and eyes out staring at the empty; a lost innocence and telltale signs of a fragility never condescending. Szabo through his photographic imagery describes, without judging but with the intent to understand and comprehend, the ambivalence of the life of a teenager who tries to become an adult. His images reflect the rituals of the generational transition, the blossoming of sexuality, mild euphoria, disorientation, being part of a parallel universe, fluid and evolving: from a status sexually indeterminate to the progressive awareness of one’s body and emotions. From 1972 to 1999 Joseph Szabo teaches photography at Malverne High School in Long Island, NY and since 1978 at the International Center of Photography in New York where he has the chance to portray his students and other members of an epochal teenage riot sliding on the fine edge between intimacy and epiphanic events, endless and timeless confusion, time spent in doing stunts, leisure, boring stuff or nothing at all. His first book, Almost Grown published in 1978 by Harmony Books and acclaimed “Best Books of the Year” in the list of the American Library Association and the next Teenage in 2003 now reached several hundred dollars on Ebay. The sour adolescence described by Szabo will soon change over time, deepening its vices, obsessions and fears, as told by diary and hedonistic evidences on the youth deviance. Albeit with different accents, Tulsa (1971) by Larry Clark - that lately with Harmony Korine will take this world to the cinema (Kids, 1995 and Ken Park, 2002) - or Nan Goldin’s The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (1986), will pave the way then followed by various Tillmans, Teller, Templeton, McGinley… The sleazy generation, to which the ambiguous innocence of Priscilla belongs, was devoted to self-destruction with little desire for redemption.»

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LINKS

Joseph Szabo 
Dinosaur JR 
Nan Goldin: The Ballad of Sexual Dependency at MoMA 
Dinosaur Jr. performs live in the KEXP studio. With interview by Henry Rollins 
Larry Clark: Untitled Kids at Fraenken Gallery


Dinosaur Jr. is an American rock band formed in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1984, originally simply called Dinosaur until legal issues forced a change in name. The band was founded by J Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Murphhoto. © Photo by ROVI


Still from the film 'Ken Park' directed by Larry Clark, 2002

© All copyright remains with the photographer and property.

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Undercover is a special issue dedicated to photographers and musical covers.