Before Pete Kuhns became the Village Voice’s sports photographer, he covered Seattle’s punk scene during the ’80s for the biweekly Seattle music newspaper The Rocket. The difference between documenting Black Flag and yellow flags isn’t as big as you’d think: Kuhns’s high-endorphin action shots of The Clash, X, Dead Kennedys, and Public Image Ltd are all printed in black-and-white for maximum drama, and there are plenty of fit, bare-chested men, if you’re into that.
So how did a young University of Washington student with very little photography experience get front-row access to shows that went down in rock ‘n roll history? “It wasn’t easy,” said Kuhns. “Me and a friend at the school paper were punk rock fans, and we’d trade off.” At an Iggy Pop show in 1983, Kuhns was taking shots when, suddenly, nine amps fell into the crowd, injuring a woman. “After that, there were lawsuits,” said Kuhns. “The scene dried up.”
In the early ’80s, photographers and art directors from The Rocket began migrating east to the Voice. In 1987, a photography position opened up there, and Kuhns got the job. The shot he took in Tillary Park during the summer of 1998 is a classic portrait of Brooklyn streetball legend Anthony Heyward, the original “Half Man, Half Amazing.” “He wasn’t that big, but he could dunk, he could fly through the air,” said Kuhns. “Everyone wanted him on their team that summer.”
Though Kuhns is still passionate about photography, he now works 60-plus hours per week at a job that pays the bills – he’s an installation coordinator for Twoseven, a design firm that creates the Fifth Avenue display windows for Chanel, Dior, Hermes, and Gucci.
“Pete Kuhns: Photographs” runs through February 27 at Sage Bar, 299 Graham Avenue, Williamsburg; opening reception Thurs., Nov. 13, 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.