Scenes from an arts scene unseen

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By Levi Wright

levi-wright@uiowa.edu

On April 24, The Iowa Review will release previously unseen photos of Debbie Harry, the lead singer for Blondie, taken by the famed writer, performer, and photographer Lisa Jane Persky.

This is the first of three issues that the Review will release throughout the year. It publishes every type of art that can be printed, showcasing work both from new artists and established ones. Now, however, it paints a picture the public hasn’t seen, at least not from these angles.

“[The photos] speak for both of us. There’s no gauze, no Vaseline on the lens, no special lighting; just a smoldering bottle-blonde woman in a band who at the time was still making stained-glass belt buckles for a few cents apiece and cooking breakfast on a hot plate in a freezing loft on the Bowery,” Persky wrote in a statement to be published along with the collection.

The photos she released are from before Harry first made her claim to fame. It was an era when Blondie was getting its feet off the ground, after Harry’s previous group had disbanded. Her début album was released in 1976, however, it wouldn’t be until the late-1970s that people realized the star she was. She went on to make the iconic songs “Heart of Glass,” “Call Me,” and many more.

“I feel clunky navigating the world,” Persky wrote. “I see myself as not only physically awkward but clumsy in social situations. To smooth my road, I’ve picked up a camera and used it.”

At the time they were taken, Persky was a small-time actor who had just moved to New York on a whim. Since then, she has made a name for herself, performing in Broadway plays and more than two dozen movies, including When Harry met Sally and The Big Easy.

“Lisa Jane Persky embodies the interconnected ethos of New York City’s downtown arts scenes in the 1960s and 1970s, when underground theater, film, dance, music, art, and literature cross- pollinated with each other,” wrote Kembrew McLeod, a UI professor of communication studies.