October 20, 2019 #1 Local News, Forum, Information and Event Source for Venice Beach, California.

Going Bak in Time with a Photographer

By Melanie Camp

Spying a thirteen-year-old Sunny Bak, amongst a crowd of New York paparazzi, Elizabeth Taylor showed concern that the young photographer was up so late past bedtime. But, that’s what you get when the school of life sees you interning with a gang of wisened paps.

Bak said of Taylor, “We were all following her around. She would get back to her hotel at two a.m. each night. One night she looked at me and said ‘Aren’t you a little young to be out so late?’ I said to her, ‘well if you didn’t stay out so late I wouldn’t have to be up so late.’” The next night, Taylor returned to her hotel before midnight. 

The photographer and now, Venice Art Crawl President, said she started running with the paparazzi simply because it gave her a chance to take photos. 

“I never knew who we were photographing.” Explaining how she would run with the pack and snap whoever appeared the target. Many of her pictures remained undeveloped.

“I fell in love with the magic of photography, maybe when I was five? My dad brought me to a dark room, and I saw pictures magically appear in the water, and it was like, ‘Woah!’ It blew my mind,” said Bak. Working as a journalist in New York, Bak’s father gifted the would be photographer her first camera, a Nikon Rangefinder.

At 18, Bak rented her first studio where she focused on fashion photography. “My days shooting with the paparazzi taught me to get in-focus shots fast, and people appreciated how quick I could get the studio shots they needed.”  Using stand-ins also helped Bak streamline shoots. Often enlisting some local guys who went to become the Beastie Boys. It was, “the end of The Young and the Useless, which was their punk rock band and they were just starting to be the Beastie Boys, and they were playing around locally and stuff.”

Michael “Mike D” Diamond, Adam “MCA” Yauch, and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz were regulars at the studio, “I used to wonder why they were hanging out so much then I worked it out, the models,” said Bak. 

While waiting for talent to arrive, Bak would put the fellas to work and have them stand on set she positioned the lights. She has many prints of Diamond, Yauch, and Horovitz hamming for the camera.  All this was long before “License to Ill,” the album for which Bak snapped the picture on the gatefold.

The group shot the video for their song “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party)” at Bak’s studio. “The video was made at my studio, and my photos are all over it,” said Bak. In fact, the band spent so much time in her studio, its location is marked on a map in the Beastie Boys Book released last year.

Bak’s photos are the stuff of legend.  A rockstar here, movie star there, and one of the ten best selling Newsweek covers, ever. For this shoot, Bak captured Catherine Angiel and her then-girlfriend Ashley Herrin in her arms. The headline read, “Lesbians.”

Bak said labels were never something she or her friends subscribed to living and loving in New York in the ‘80s. She describes the time as a sexually liberated period where people were not gay or bisexual but more so, “just sexual. It just, sort of, was fluid. Whatever happened, happened.”

A surge of creativity electrified the city and Bak’s life, from the late ’70s to mid-‘80s. “It was a very creative time, and there was a lot of freedom and experimentation. It was an exciting time because anything went and everything did,” said Bak who at this point hadn’t considered labeling her sexuality.

The outbreak of AIDs shuttered free love and saw a new wave of homophobia flood the mid-’80s. “There was no AIDS until it happened in ’85/’86 and then guys were dying like crazy, and it was head spinning,” said Bak explaining how AIDS attached a new stigma to being gay. Before that “I just feel like it was sorta great and creative and wild and…free.”

Today she lives in Venice, California with her partner, Director Gina Rubenstein. Bak refers to herself as “a gay woman.” However, there is a hesitation to go there. Not out of shame, but more so out of reluctance to cow-tow to society’s need to label and, a nod to a more creative and accepting time.

Bak’s life traces through a collage of pictures that document the experiences and adventure of love, people, and places from the mid-‘70s to today. She said, she is still discovering swaths of undeveloped film from her paparazzi days. “I’ll develop the film and be like, ‘oh look, it’s Andy Warhol.’ Or, ‘Ha! That was the night Ad-Rock and I were out late getting ketchup in a bodega.’” 

Fleeting, real moments with the famous, captured forever and for Bak, this is yet another example of how photography can be magic.

Listen to an exclusive Beautiful Hollywood podcast with Sunny Bak on Anchor FM find it at  anchor.fm/beautiful-hollywood.

On July 13, the Venice Art Crawl and Mar Vista Art Walk are joining forces to create GetAround, an art event that runs from the 405 to the beach along Venice Boulevard. There will be shuttles but anyone heading to the event are encouraged to bike, scoot, or ride-share.

Listen to the Beautiful Hollywood Podcast with Melanie Camp and hear Sunny Bak share her story HERE.

Related Posts

Marina Spooktacular returns, Soulfull Cacao Ceremony & Concert: Yo! Venice Westside Local Show October 18, 2019

October 19, 2019

October 19, 2019

Yo! Venice Westside Local Show October 18, 2019 – all your fun local events and happenings in under 5 minutes*...

40 Units of Permanent Supportive Housing on Lincoln Boulevard?

October 15, 2019

October 15, 2019

Venice Community Housing submits proposal to LA City Planning By Sam Catanzaro An auto repair shop on Lincoln Boulevard in...

Edify TV: Westside Measles Exposure

October 15, 2019

October 15, 2019

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has announced that a person with measles visited several Westside businesses this...

Man Who Died on Venice Beach Last Week Identified

October 15, 2019

October 15, 2019

Cause of Timothy Hutson’s death still unknown By Sam Catanzaro Over the weekend investigators identified a man whose body was...

Body found on Venice beach, Building affordable housing too expensive? House homeless in already built units and temporary shelters? Yo! Venice This Week October 14, 2019

October 14, 2019

October 14, 2019 1

Yo! Venice This Week October 14, 2019 – all your local news and happenings in under 5 minutes.* Body found...

Prince vs. Bowie silent disco on the Santa Monica Pier, Los Angeles Brazilian Film Festival: Yo! Venice Westside Local – Oct. 11 2019

October 11, 2019

October 11, 2019

Yo! Venice Westside Local – Oct. 11th 2019 – all your local events and happenings in under 5 minutes.* Prince...

Body Found on Venice Beach

October 9, 2019

October 9, 2019

Body found Wednesday morning By Sam Catanzaro The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) is investigating a body that was found...

Building Affordable too Costly? Use Existing Units to House Homeless

October 9, 2019

October 9, 2019

Report released showing cost of developing affordable housing in Los Angeles By Sam Catanzaro As the Los Angeles City Controller...

Letter to the Editor: Bringing Homeless into Policymaking?

October 8, 2019

October 8, 2019

Dear Editor: It was ironic to see your cover story (Bringing Homeless into Policymaking? – 9/26/19), with yet another dubious...

Man arrested for stabbing wife on Speedway near Venice Beach, Thatcher Yard development to break ground in 2020: Yo! Venice This Week: October 7

October 7, 2019

October 7, 2019

Yo! Venice This Week: October 7, 2019 – all your local news and happenings in under 5 minutes* Man arrested...

Man Arrested After Repeatedly Stabbing Wife in Venice

October 7, 2019

October 7, 2019

LAPD arrest man on suspicion of murder Friday night By Sam Catanzaro A man was arrested in Venice Beach Friday...

Venice student donates over $1,000 to Bahamas relief effort, Skate, Bike, and Roll Breast Cancer event: Yo! Venice Westside Local October 4 2019

October 4, 2019

October 4, 2019

Yo! Venice Westside Local October 4 2019 – all your fun local events and happenings in under 5 minutes.* Venice...

Thatcher Yard to Break Ground in 2020

October 4, 2019

October 4, 2019 1

98 units of housing for seniors and formally homeless families By Sam Catanzaro According to a report recently released by...

Venice Fifth Grader Raises Over $1,000 for Families Devastated by Hurricane Dorian

October 2, 2019

October 2, 2019

10-year-old Scarlett Johnson raises money for Direct Relief By Keldine Hull As students around the world become more vocal about...