Then & Now: Dinanda Nooney in 1970s Brooklyn
In 1976, 416 Waverly Avenue in Brooklyn was the address of two incongruous but similarly named businesses: VIP Sewer Cleaning and Verify Investigation & Protection Services (ie., VIP Services). Both were the work of one man, John Benjamin Alfred Redman, aka “Johnny Redd”. On April 6, 1978, the photographer Dinanda Nooney (1918-2004) arrived to photograph the “plumber extraordinair” [sic] in his home, of which she noted the “exhuberance [sic] of decor reflects his enjoyment of life.”
Johnny Redd (1934-2006) was the son of Barbadian immigrants, one of seven children raised just two doors down at 424 Waverly Avenue. Aged 43, he lived there still, now with wife Beatrice and daughter Lisa, and owned the adjacent garden lot and the two story garage from which he ran his businesses. Built in 1894 for the Hoagland family, wealthy scions of Royal Baking Powder, the former carriage house now sheltered Redd’s very 20th century steed: a Harley Davidson Electra Glide so extravagantly customized as “to now look as if it were wearing a chrome Oscar De La Renta ball gown.” It was gold and chrome plated, encrusted with rhinestones, emblazoned with dollar signs and his name, and outfitted with a radio which in April of 1978 would have had hits from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack in heavy rotation. A 1986 New Yorker profile notes the attention Mr. Redd and his bike had attracted from beautiful women and celebrities (Muhammad Ali, Mick Jagger, Telly Savalas). But of his own star-turn in a movie titled “Satan Studs”, he is uncharacteristically coy: “It wasn’t Rambo or nothing.” Though Dinanda Nooney doesn’t seem to have photographed the motorcycle, she does capture him in his natural habitat as both a proud and successful family man, and a bon vivant of the disco era.
Between January 1978 and April 1979, Nooney networked her way through Brooklyn documenting residences and their occupants, asking each for a referral to another willing subject. Over 150 families or individuals entrusted her to capture glimpses into their private worlds and personal tastes. The portraits are at once intimate and yet tantalizingly brief. Perhaps behind each one is a character as extraordinary, in its own way, as that of Johnny Redd. On May 9, 1978 she photographed Conrad Milster at work as chief engineer of Pratt Institute’s steam power plant, where he still works today, and whose enthusiasm for steam whistles gave rise to a unique neighborhood New Years’ tradition for a half century. And on March 4 of that year, she visited the Park Slope home of Gerard Basquiat, Nora Fitzpatrick and daughters Lisane and Jeanine; not present that day was 18 year old son Jean-Michel who had left home and was on his way to stardom as a painter.
Ranging from Coney Island to Greenpoint, from Bushwick to Bay Ridge, her exterior views are portraits in their own right, suggesting a rich inner life- if only you could peek behind the front door, as Nooney and her camera did. Viewed in proximity to each other on the map below, her photographs give us cumulative portraits of Brooklyn neighborhoods at the close of the ‘70s, and thanks to Google Street View you can marvel at how much, or little, has changed in this last quarter century.
The Dinanda Nooney Brooklyn Photographs were a gift from the photographer in 1995.
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