Sunny Bak has a mountain of negatives from photo shoots she did over the years with her friends, the Beastie Boys, from concert scenes to moody studio portraits and outtakes from an iconic pose of the trio on the site of the old New York World’s Fair that appeared as the gatefold of their 1987 breakout album “Licensed To Ill.”
But one of her favorite pictures captures an unguarded moment of giddy innocence, just before fame hit. The image shows Adam (MCA) Yauch clinging to a Los Angeles marquee that alerts fans to an upcoming concert by the Beastie Boys on their “Licensed To Ill” tour.
“We were riding around in a limo, I think around Grammy time, and the boys saw their name on the marquee and got excited, so we all jumped out of the car, and I caught MCA jumping up on it,” Bak recalls. “It's one of my favorites because, at that time, we were not used to all the attention they were suddenly getting and it was all fun to be around still.”
The picture is among those that will go on display in an exhibit titled “Rock, Paper, Photo” at Studio 18 in Pembroke Pines on Friday, the same day Bak gives a morning talk and slide show on her work for Business for the Arts of Broward at the NSU Museum of Art. On Saturday, Bak also is scheduled to speak at Forre Fine Art Gallery in Fort Lauderdale.
“Rock, Paper, Photo” will include never-published images of the Beastie Boys and other celebrities, including Andy Warhol and Madonna, as well as works by graphic designer Cey Adams, whom Bak calls “the fourth Beastie Boy.” The Los Angeles-based Bak used a Kickstarter campaign to make prints of the 25-year-old negatives and hopes to tour the exhibit along the East Coast in time to display them in Brooklyn on May 3, also known as MCA Day, when fans honor the legacy of Yauch, who died of cancer in 2012.
Bak was a New York fashion photographer in the 1980s when an intern from her old high school started showing up at her lower Broadway studio with a friend from his band, the Young and the Useless. Soon, Adam Horovitz, and his friend, Cey Adams, were joined by Adam Yauch and Mike Diamond. The two Adams and Diamond soon began tinkering with the rap sound that would lead them to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“I think the boys hung around a lot because there were always models around. We were all young and hung out at Studio 54, Palladium, Milk Bar, Danceteria, the World, Save the Robots and the like every night,” Bak says. “Rap was just starting, and I really just learned about it being in the studio while they were recording ‘Licensed To Ill.’ I would listen to them recording and keep waiting for the singing to start.”
Most of the pictures from those days were taken with a Nikon F3 and a Hasselblad ELM, says Bak, whose next project is a series on New York City drag queens using wet-plate tintypes.
While “Rock, Paper, Photo” may offer some revelations for Beastie Boys fans (“There are some tour photos in showers that involved honey and girls. I'll say no more,” Bak says) the photographer is more interested in contributing to the legacy of Yauch.
“Adam should be remembered as an artist with integrity and a great sense of humor who is also a constant, dear friend,” Bak says. “I could go years without speaking to him, but when he would call, it was like it was yesterday I saw him. He never forgot the old times, the good times and always was just Adam. I miss him.”
IF YOU GO
Sunny Bak will speak at a breakfast from 7:30 to 9 a.m. Friday at the NSU Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, 1 E. Las Olas Blvd. Admission is free, but RVSP encouraged: email@example.com. Info: 954-940-5444 or BFABroward.org. She’ll also give an art talk at 6 p.m. Saturday at Forre Fine Art Gallery, 1007 E. Las Olas Blvd, Fort Lauderdale. Info: 954-463-0011 or Facebook.com/ForreGallery. Her exhibit “Rock, Paper, Photo” runs Friday-Oct. 16 at Studio 18, 1101 Poinciana Drive, Pembroke Pines. Admission is free. Info: 954-961-6067 or PPines.com. More info: SunnyBak.com.