As I stand and announce, “I have to go,” photographer Sunny Bak, my neighbor and adorable friend, replies in a nice dominatrix voice, “Nobody leaves. We have to watch one more episode.” She’s right. We are shamelessly addicted to the gripping TV show Homeland. We think Claire Danes is a nutcase–and that’s why we’re obsessed with this episodic and watching these shows one after the other–I worship “On Demand.” I sit my ass back down on her hip red leather couch that a friend gave her because Sunny is loved. On a regular basis, I see the chicks, the muses, the clients, the friends, the cable guy, walking in and out of her house. People enjoy spending time with this kind spirit with a big heart and a big camera.
When I return to the couch, I can’t help but stare across from me at her beautiful black and white iconic photographs that we’ve come to love of the Beastie Boys. Sunny has also photographed celebs such as Madonna, Gregory Peck, Carly Simon, Billie Jean King, Bob Fosse, Keanu Reeves—Sunny shot the now classic “lesbian couple” on the cover of Newsweek 1993. Since 2004, she’s taken my promotional stills and we always end up having fun shoots.
On New Year’s Day after three hardcore episodes of Homeland, we needed a break so I asked Sunny a few questions.
Do you remember the moment you were turned on by photography?
My magic moment was when I was five. My father was a reporter for a Korean Newspaper for the U.N. I was with him one day and he brought me into a dark room. Seeing a photo appear in a shallow tub of water in a room lit by red right–was WOW!
How did living in your vibrant city of Manhattan inspire your photography?
In 1972 my dad gave me his Nikon Rangefinder which I used during a school trip to Broadway. For a paper assignment, I interviewed and photographed the cast of the musical, 1776–especially Betty Buckley, one of my favorite actresses. From that point, I fell in love with live theater during my teenage years. I was constantly taking photos for my school newspaper. I was there so often, the various casts would sneak me in. I felt like their stage manager and I was able to give them feedback. I would lie to my mother and tell her I was at the library. I was so involved in photographing these broadways shows and celebs, I started hanging out with Ron Galella, the photographer who took all those classic shots of Jackie Onassis. Also at this time, I made a dark room in the spare bathroom of my parents’ house and I would sell my photos to the cast members. As I was doing this, I had a button machine, that made buttons you’d pin to your clothing. I’d hand draw the logos to these shows on these buttons and also sell those to people.
Most memorable person you photographed besides me?
Madonna. It was early 80’s and I didn’t even know who she was at the time. My friend was bugging me to do a photo shoot of some new artist and I agreed. The night before the shoot, I saw this female singer with two dancers that I really liked at Studio 54. I had no idea what her name was. So now it’s the next day and we’re doing the shoot and it’s almost over and then it dawns on me that this woman that I’m photographing, some chick named “Madonna” is the woman I saw the night before at Studio 54. I got what I wanted and didn’t even know it. That’s the story of my life. I photographed her again with drag artist Lypsinka for People Magazine.
How did your famous cover of the lesbian couple on Newsweek Magazine happen?
I knew the girls on the cover; one of them was my x-girlfriend. At the time, 1993, k.d lang was on the cover of Vanity Fair Magazine with Cindy Crawford. Lesbians were the latest trend. Katherine Angiel, my x’s girlfriend, knew the cover editor for Newsweek and she kept bugging him about doing a lesbian themed cover. And it worked because Newsweek hired four different photographers shooting thousands of shots but my one photo was chosen. My cover ended up being one of the ten best selling covers of Newsweek.
Currently, you’re on the board of the Venice Art Crawl. As a Venetian artist, why is it important that you’ve become super involved in this collective?
This is my community, these are my neighbors and it gives me a sense of community that I’ve not had. I’m meeting amazing talented people who make Venice, Venice. Artistic expression has been part of Venice’s history.
What’s you favorite pick up line that drives chicks wild?
I got a box of organic veggies.
For more info about Sunny, visit: www.sunnybak.com, and www.veniceartcrawl.com
Book Monica Palacios www.monicapalacios.com for your upcoming university and cultural events focusing on: LGBT, Chicana/Latina, Theater, Women, Gender, Performance, Race, Class, Sexuality, Vegetarian Food.