Informer: How long have you been photographing the "Go-Go" community and why?
TSE: I began taking a camera that I purchased from a trombone player to shows while I was a member of the Petworth Band in 1980-82, but I didn't take it seriously until 1986 when I started hanging out with MeShell Johnson (Ndegeocello) who was playing bass with Little Benny and the Masters. I was home from school and remember thinking how special it was that there was a girl bass player in the Masters. It seemed worth remembering and recording.
Informer: Your dedication to the "Go-Go community is evident. Do you feel that the community is receptive and appreciative to what you do?
TSE:If I were really dedicated I'd be on the stage, so I guess you can say that even my dedication has its limits, and it would not be fair to measure the community's dedication to me by its support of me. The Go-Go Community, like all folk expression, is dedicated to itself and that has to be enough for me. I need them to continue Go-Go (for now) more than they need me to photograph them. I, but they will need me more later. It's a crooked handshake, so all in all, I'd say that the community has been about 30 percent appreciative.
Informer: Tell us about your exhibit at Vivid Solutions.
TSE:The great thing about the exhibit is that it's the first of its kind. Go-Go's has struggled to find a strategy that will allow it to climb out of the box from a local, ghetto noise to a national art form. Photography can help Go-Go become modern in the same way that it helped Jazz and Hip Hop. Everyone knows what KRS-One looks like, but no one knows what James Funk looks like, so I wanted to change all that as well document what appears to be a struggling and vanishing folk cultural moment. I think of Go-Go is more than a beat. I dream about it as aresistance movement against gentrification as well as a powerful tool for true Home Rule and the struggle for black statehood in America. The authorities and outsiders who come to D.C. to live don't hate Go-Go. They are afraid (to death) of it!
Informer: You have thousands of photos, how did you select the ones in the exhibit?
TSE:We did it together, the gallery and I. I gave Vivid 700images and Beth Ferraro, the director, narrowed it down to 70, and from there we somehow made it to 36. It was difficult. It really can't be done in a one-, two-month, exhibit but we did a good job and managed to give it a sense of history filled with pleasure and pain. I am proud that the show includes both color and black and white photography as well as those amazing Day-Glo Go-Go posters from Globe Poster Corp. Day-Glo makes the darkness glow!
Informer: Where is the next stop for "(Un)Lock it: The Percussive People in the Go-Go Pocket?"
TSE:I would love for the show to move from one quadrant in D.C. to another over the next two years, or to even find a permanent home at the Anacostia Museum where, I think it belongs but...I got a call from AlonaWartofsky, who used to write about Go-Go in the '80s and '90s for the Washington City Paper, and she says there's interest in the show from a gallery in Tea Neck New Jersey, so I say yes––it's time for "(Un)Lock It" to go and glow national.
Informer: Can you explain the fundraising challenges that you experienced putting on the exhibit.
TSE:That's easy. Go-Go is contemporary folk music and folk ain't got no money. The gallery mounted the show out of a belief in the project, and since no one has purchased a single photograph, I am still trying to raise the money to pay the bill and I will. I didn't expect Go-Go to pay for a Go-Go show even though it would be easy for a few of the bands with consistent weekend gigs to do so, but it's like Chuck Brown sang, "Master Card, Visa, American Express, I ain't got nothin' against no credit card but the cash is the best! We need some Money y'all. Talkin' about money, money, money!"
Informer:"(Un)Lock it: The Percussive People in the Go-Go Pocket" ends on Sat., Oct., 8 with a poetry reading from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. One of the poems you will be reading is The Helicopter, a tribute to Lil' Benny, so what is it about the legacy of Anthony "Benny" Harley that would make a poet with a national reputation like yourself honor him?
TSE: I came of age during the Golden Age of Go-Go. I saw the Soul Searchers first, Rare Essence second, then Trouble, then E.U., so my experience of the pioneers is framed by an accurate witnessing of the lineage of the way the foundation of Go-Go was formed, not by rumor, gossip or by 'he say, she say.' Benny was phenomenal from the very beginning and he inherited his early style from Donald Tillery of the Soul Searchers and "added a little action into it!" as he liked to say. Gifted with the upper body strength of a wrestler, he could play two horns at once, lead-talk more casually than anyone else, and play every anatomical inch of any style tambourine. In literature, we writers are always looking for metaphors and tropes (characteristics) that will come together in one body and represent the best of a time and place. Anthony Benny Harley is that figure for D.C. An immediate legend, his life reads like the making of a local cultural hero and myth! My poem is just a step to help it.
The Gallery at Vivid Solutions is a photography & digital arts exhibition space dedicated to showcasing and supporting established contemporary artists, as well as aspiring local Washington, D.C. talents. The gallery is located at 2208 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave SE, Washington DC 20020, sharing the building with Vivid Solutions DC Print Lab.