God’s Light

 Location Little Italy
Rent $501.72 (rent-stabilized)
Square feet 295 (ground-floor studio in tenement)
Occupants Guy Stricherz and Irene Malli (fine-art photographic printers, CVI); Matilda (two and a half years old); Guy Emil (month old)

Four of you live in one room. [Guy] It makes life rather simple. We've got a chair, sofa, TV, and a kitchen. At night, this becomes a bedroom. Three of us sleep on the foldout.

First, let's discuss your Americans in Kodachrome book, which is impossible to stop looking at. We sent a release to community papers saying we wanted old Kodachrome slides of family and friends for a portrait of the American people in the post-war era. We looked at about 75,000. When we selected the images, we made these dye-transfer prints and sent them back their slides.

American splendor: Stricherz, Malli, and kids in Little Italy
Photo: Cary Conover
American splendor: Stricherz, Malli, and kids in Little Italy

The little girl on the cover, her hair in that golden Kodachrome light, the light at the end of the day, the end of the summer. The photos look as if they were made from gold and partly from that miraculous Kodachrome purpley blue, as in your own family photo—Enumclaw, Washington, 1952. It makes me think that everybody in Enumclaw lives in an indigo light—your father, coach of the high school Hornets, all his sons, your mother, that smile. The couple in the living room at Christmas, Anniston, Alabama, 1947—again the golden light. The woman is in a perfect black dress, sparkling sequin appliqué. He is so handsome, his arm on the back of the couch. Does he have a secret life? Doc and Helen Bagley. I like the understated quality of their tree.

The man and woman dancing in the kitchen in Preston, Connecticut, 1955, the black curtain with cream and red roses. He's holding her tight, Irish love in his eyes. Though maybe he's not even Irish. That wasn't his wife. She was holding the camera.

Then, the older man on the back of a motor boat, laughing in Carancuhua Bay, Texas, 1956, his arm around a woman, another to his right with silver hair, everybody loving to be with each other and the white and bubbly foamy wake behind them. The confidence of the era.

You wrote that two classical musicians named Leopold saw a color movie in 1917 and got so inspired that they invented what became Kodachrome in the bathroom of a New York apartment, and America lived on inside that film. One of the Leopolds was the brother-in-law of George Gershwin. From 1945 to 1965, the largest record of America was on Kodachrome. Other color films from the era have faded. [He sings to Matilda, "Mama, don't take my Kodachrome, mama don't take my Kodachrome awaaaay . . . ] Modern processes are much more limited, not as complex. Kodachrome, dye transfer, and Technicolor, like The Wizard of Oz—they all have a similar, complex palette of colors.

You've had a lab around the corner for 22 years. You worked on the book 17. You've lived here over 26. You do everything for a long time! I hitchhiked to New York from Washington in 1977. It was the blackout, summer of Sam, Elvis died. I lived in a couple of fleabag hotels, nine dollars a night. I wanted to work in the photographic industry. I didn't know anyone. I found this apartment in the paper. You'd get the Voice on Wednesday mornings in Sheridan Square. Scorsese grew up near here, above Albanese Meats. Remember Carmen Galante, the laundromat was his headquarters. [Irene] It was a dry cleaner. [Guy] It was a dry cleaner. Sorry.

How did you meet? I ran an ad. [Irene] I had graduated from Cooper Union. [Guy] I hired her. [Irene] We got along really well. [Guy] Six months later I married her, in 1989.

Irene grew up in a Sears Roebuck house that came in a kit. The kit for the house came inside the garage.

The book's last photo is Irene's father lying on a couch. A baby and two boys are behind him. One looks like he's going to torture someone with his Slinky. [Irene] I'm the baby. You know, my father told us he quit smoking before we were born. But you can see a pack of Kools in his pocket.

 

schlesinger@villagevoice.com

 
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