How the Demimonde Cleaned Up Its Act

Don Herron photographed Robert Mapplethorpe, Annie Sprinkle, Michael Musto, and many other cultural hotshots — in their bathtubs


Back in 1980, before there was Facebook, Don Herron used the “friend of a friend” network to contact demimonde luminaries and ask if he could photograph them posing in their bathtubs. As he told Voice editor Guy Trebay at the time, “Several years ago I traded one of my silk-screened prints for a camera, and decided to do a series of photographs of people in containers. The bathtub was the logical container to use. I started with my friends and it grew from there.”

Herron (1941–2012) must have had a a great tub-side manner, because his subjects radiate bohemian bonhomie — photographer Robert Mapplethorpe glowers at his demonic best, Warhol superstar Taylor Mead casts a come-hither pout, and comely Paula Sequeira (occupation: belly dancer) poses with strategically placed seashells, Venus of the bathtub.

This Thursday, the Daniel Cooney Gallery will open an exhibition featuring 65 vintage prints made between 1978 and 1993. The downtown gang will all be there: artist Keith Haring, photographer Peter Hujar, performer Holly Woodlawn (the “Holly” in Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side”), sex activist Annie Sprinkle, artist Sur Rodney (Sur), and the Voice’s own Michael Musto, among many others.

AIDS took a terrible toll on too many of the subjects here, but before the plague came there was beauty and wit and talent to burn, and Herron caught some of that lightning — not in a bottle, but in a bathtub.