Fred W. Mcdarrah

'Village Voice' photographer


Frederick William McDarrah, photographer: born Brooklyn, New York 5 November 1926; married (two sons); died New York 6 November 2007.

Fred W. McDarrah preferred to say that he was on the periphery, "just a reporter-photographer" of all that happened in New York during the second half of the 20th century. In fact he was at the heart of it. His images – of Jack Kerouac and the Beat generation, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Andy Warhol, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Mapplethorpe, Susan Sontag, a campaigning Bobby Kennedy and the first gay pride activists – defined the city, its artists, politicians and freaks throughout the 50-odd years he clicked his shutter.

McDarrah was the leading graphic light behind The Village Voice, the alternative weekly newspaper which started in the city's arty Greenwich Village but became a national institution. He started as its only photographer, became head of its photo desk as the paper grew and was still working for the Voice when he died, having trained many successful photographers including James Hamilton.

It was McDarrah who took one of the first photographs of Bob Dylan in New York, the still little-known young man from Minnesota blowing his harmonica to accompany the singer Karen Dalton in the Bitter End club in 1962. Three years later, McDarrah captured an image of Dylan, by now famous, saluting the photographer in an unusually respectful greeting in Sheridan Square Park. The latter image has appeared in many books and exhibitions on Dylan. While the Voice's writer Nat Hentoff was credited with being one of the first to recognise Dylan's talent and potential, McDarrah's accompanying photographs helped launch the phenomenon of the young protest singer with the tousled hair, drainpipe trousers and high-heeled boots.

McDarrah's images not only helped turn The Village Voice into a leading alternative player in journalism – a timely challenge to the staid reports of The New York Times – but chronicled the era like no-one else. He photographed Bobby Kennedy visiting a New York slum on the Lower East Side; when Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, the Voice ran the picture – JFK's brother on a ghetto staircase, passing an image of Christ in a crown of thorns – across the top of its front page.

In February 1959, McDarrah photographed Jack Kerouac reading extracts from On the Road to fellow writers in Greenwich Village. The picture of Kerouac, standing on a small ladder, his arms outstretched in a crucifix-like pose, is considered the iconic image of the Beat artist. McDarrah had captured the writer a couple of months earlier, on New Year's Eve, partying inside a New York night club with Allen Ginsberg. McDarrah also took a celebrated photograph of Ginsberg, with the poet in a Stars-and-Stripes hat during an anti-Vietnam peace march in 1966.

A McDarrah picture of two smiling, topless, tattooed gay men became a lasting image of the Stonewall Riots of 1969, during which police clashed with activists after raiding the largely gay Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. McDarrah and his son Timothy later published a well-received book of photographs, Gay Pride (1994).

As his subjects noted, Fred McDarrah seemed to be everywhere, though never intrusive. He photographed Fidel Castro addressing the United Nations; he was at the Beatles' press conference in the Warwick Hotel on 22 August 1966 after they first hit the US (his studied photographs of the event continue to resonate perhaps more than the group's self-conscious, nervous words); and he gained rare access to many artists' studios, including Warhol's "Factory". Yet, as he was always at pains to point out, he never became part of "the scene"; he believed his role was to chronicle it from the outside. He captured his subjects more through charm and persuasion than invitation. And when he got rejected or kicked out, he made doubly sure he came away with a shot.

On a whim, he once put an ad in the Voice, urging readers to "Rent Genuine Beatniks – badly groomed but brilliant (male and female)" to liven up parties. He meant the ad as a joke but the paper was inundated with requests and McDarrah enlisted artist friends, and sometimes beatniks off the streets of Greenwich Village, to "add a little colour" to dinner parties around the Big Apple in return for a free meal.

Fred William McDarrah was born in Brooklyn in 1926. He served as a young paratrooper towards the end of the Second World War and stayed on as part of American occupation forces in Japan, taking pictures whenever he had time. Under the GI Bill to aid returning soldiers, he studied journalism at New York University, graduating in 1954. He joined the recently launched Village Voice as a salesman in 1959 but shortly afterwards moved into news and photographs.

McDarrah published more than a dozen books based on his photographs. Among them is Kerouac and Friends: a beat generation album (2002, co-authored by his son Timothy McDarrah). His book Anarchy, Protest and Rebellion (2003) uses his pictures to trace the 1960s in the United States, from the arrival of the Beatles, through the Civil Rights movement and the Stonewall gay riots and the influence of Warhol's Factory to the trauma of the 1968 Democratic National Convention when brutal attacks on anti-war demonstrators stunned the nation, and the catharsis of Woodstock the following year.

His photographs have been displayed in numerous exhibitions. Last year, to mark his 80th birthday, the Steven Kasher Gallery in New York mounted an exhibition, "Artists and Writers of the 60s and 70s," featuring more than 100 of McDarrah's photographs. A review in The New York Times described the exhibition as "a visual encyclopaedia of the era's cultural scene. Mr McDarrah was everywhere and seems to have known everyone who lived in or passed through New York, capturing them all on film."

Phil Davison

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
A recent rise in net migration has been considered bad news for the Government
voicesYet when we talk about it, the national media goes into a frenzy, says Nigel Farage
Life and Style
Miracle muffin: chemicals can keep a muffin looking good at least a month after it was bought
food + drinkThe alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Sport
Jonny Evans and Papiss Cisse come together
football
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Ashdown Group: Automated Tester / Test Analyst - .Net / SQL - Cheshire

£32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers