Paul Zone’s Playground: 14-year-old Wunderkind Captures New York Underground

By on June 12, 2015

It’s hard to imagine a time when everyone was comfortable with a 14-year-old kid running around taking pictures at rock concerts but luckily for Paul Zone, his friends, and us, that’s exactly what happened throughout the ’70s, with the evidence collected in Paul Zone’s mammoth good-times anthology, Playground: Growing Up in the New York Underground. 

Paul Zone with longtime friend and fan Debbie Harry at Leslie Lohman Gallery, May 29, 2015Paul Zone and Debbie Harry at the New York opening of Playground: Growing Up in the New York Underground. Photo courtesy Paul Zone.

At age 14 Paul went to shows with his brothers Miki and Mandy, catching T. Rex, David Bowie, and Alice Cooper live, and with his Brownie or 110 Instamatic he started taking pictures of the bands he saw and new people he’d meet. Naturally attracted to the more flamboyant, his eye caught Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, Joey Ramone, Alan Vega and Martin Rev of Suicide, the New York Dolls, and more, just collecting image of what he liked, the people he hung out with, and what he saw.

Sylvain Sylvain, Johnny Thunders, and Jerry Nolan (New York Dolls) at Max's, August 1973.Sylvain Sylvain, Johnny Thunders, and Jerry Nolan (New York Dolls) at Max’s, August 1973. Photo by Paul Zone.

Paul never felt like he was documenting anything in particular, just spending fun time with friends and people he liked. “When the Ramones and Blondie started to play at CBGB, and clubs like that, there were only about 20, 30, or 40 people in the audience and all of them had their own bands and they were just friends,” Paul explains to BedfordandBowery.

After several years of checking out local shows and taking photos, Mike, Mandy, and Paul formed their own band, The Fast, and releasing the single “Boys Will Be Boys” in 1976. Later Paul got involved in the dance scene, issuing the mega world hit “Male Stripper.”

Wayne County Coventry, Queens, 1973Wayne County at the Coventry, Queens, 1973. Photo by Paul Zone.

After attending an LA art show in the aughts, celebrating CBGB’s and the punk days, he found he had seen all the photos and at a friend’s suggestion decided to look through his old photos, kept safe in his sister’s garage. Once he started plowing through the material, he realized he had done much more than just take a few snapshots. After shows in LA and Europe, Playground became a book, and Paul brought the show home to New York for his first exhibition of the photos.

Debbie Harry Maxs 1975Debbie Harry at Max’s, 1975.

In celebration of the release of Paul’s collection, many of his friends and fans come out to the Leslie Lohman Gallery on Prince Street in SoHo, including Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie, and several New York artists and photographers, several of whom also documented those amazing times.

nakedbartenderOpening night of Playground: Growing Up in the New York Underground at Leslie Lohman Gallery.

Playground: Growing Up in the New York Underground is available from Glitterati Incorporated.

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Gallery photos by Shade Rupe

About Shade Rupe

Shade Rupe is the author of Funeral Party 1 and 2, and Dark Stars Rising, a collection of interviews with Divine, Crispin Glover, Gaspar Noe, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Udo Kier, Tura Satana, and many more. He co-directed the live recording of Teller of Penn & Teller’s off-Broadway show Play Dead. He was a featured guest on "Bravo’s Scariest Movie Moments" alongside Stephen King, John Landis, Guillermo Del Toro, Peter Jackson, and more. He is now working on an updated edition of Dark Stars Rising to include new interviews with Norman Reedus, William Friedkin, John Boorman, and more. Visit him at