A few days prior Ricky met me on West 8th at Eva’s, a health food café where every busboy knows his name and his photos tile the walls. He arrives a few minutes late in a bit of a stupor, shell-shocked by the freezing weather.
Ricky Powell – Give me a minute. I can’t really breathe in cold water…or, air. Last night… I thought I was slick, they told everyone in my building that had a fireplace they had to get ‘em shut for some reason, and I bypassed getting mine sealed. But I tried it last night, and I guess they sealed it from the roof. Put a Duraflame in there, and it just…
Office – Smoked you out?
RP – I was buggin’ too, I was like, I gotta get this shit out of here. I live in a little studio and I was just like “Oh, no.” Turned into one of those catastrophes, I put it out, I was trying to shovel it with record cover albums, going out to the back to throw it out, smoke getting in the hallway. The creepy lady in the building came down the stairs, she’s like “Do you know what’s going on?” I was like, “No, go away. Shhh.” I didn’t want the fire department to come, and get reported to the building. Oh my god. I just ducked it, but I woke up feeling… I’ll be alright in a second, sorry. What’s your name again? Nice to meet you. I’ll be ready momentarily. I must be getting…this is embarrassing. Just gonna get some water and a napkin and I’ll be ready to start. [Ricky gets a bottle of water, blows his nose vigorously, and collects himself]
O – So take me back. Born in Brooklyn?
RP – [lifts his left sleeve to show a “Made In Brooklyn” tattoo] Yes. But I’m a Village kid. My mom’s from Brooklyn, but she broke out, and I remember moving to Murray Hill and then to the Village. ’68. Second grade. Union Square. Right around the corner from where Taxi Driver was filmed, so I remember that corner of 13th and 3rd well. I got an early introduction to, uh…
O – “Stuff?”
RP – Stuff. Well said, young scholar. Yeah, then 9th Street, I grew up around the corner. Just me and my mom. Single mom, only kid. That’s how it was with a lot of my friends, we all had it like that. Only kid, one parent.
O – You had a good relationship with your mom?
RP – Uhhhhhh…
O – I see.
RP – Unconventional. Nontraditional. I called her by her first name. I just roamed. Basically I think she just got doinked and got pregnant, manned up and took care of me. At least she gave me a room. But I give her props, because she would bring home stray animals all the time. She was nutty but she had a heart of gold for stray animals.
O – You’ve got a soft spot for animals yourself.
RP – Yes I do. [points to the face of a husky embroidered in his ballcap] I love huskies. I’m vegetarian, I love animals. Almost one of those people who likes animals better than people. Sometimes that’s the case, depends what company I’m in.
O – So you’re a longtime Village kid. I feel like I’ve heard you refer to Washington Square Park as your office.
RP – Ah, yeah. Well I live in a little room, so I don’t host too much for business meetings. I use this spot, Eva’s, it’s convenient. And the park! On the bench, by the arch. Feed some squirrels, and chop it up.
O – With the dudes offering dope to NYU kids.
RP – Oh yeah, some rich girl was in the news a couple years ago, she got busted selling pot out of the dorms.
O – There was once a girl there selling herself as well, along with drugs. One-stop shop.
RP – Really! Entray-preneur. Hmm. Well, you know. Everyone’s into what they’re into. [raises an eyebrow quizzically] SMH. Hashtag.
O – You’re on Instagram, huh? But your account is private…
RP – Dude, there’s mad kooks on there! Tell me your thing I’ll take you past everybody. You want to see how many people are waiting to be my friend? A thousand plus. I don’t just let anybody on. Seriously, I hate when jerkoffs get on there and they put a stupid comment, they think they’re funny. I’m like, “Get the fuck outta here. Go back to your fucking cave, in Wyoming, wherever you are. Get the fuck away from me.” It’s my page, it’s my world, it’s for me and my peoples, who I relate to. That’s how I see it. I’m rather dope. I love Instagram, it’s the latest phase of my photography career.
O – I was going to ask, because there are photographers who resent Instagram.