Art Film

Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore Picks His 5 Favorite Images From Prolific New York Photographer James Hamilton

“The portrait of John Lydon, the sessions of The Ramones, and the contact sheets with Joey Ramone and his kitten, Legs McNeil standing on his desk of Punk Magazine, Tiny Tim in the back of the police car…” These are the images that come to mind when Thurston Moore thinks of photojournalist James Hamilton.

The musician—founding member of ‘80s alternative rock band, Sonic Youth—is one of many voices chiming into Uncropped, a new D.W. Young documentary which charts Hamilton’s emergence as a chronicler of A-list musicians, actors, athletes, and artists, as well as everyday Americans. The film follows Thurston’s contributions as the editor of Hamilton’s music photography monograph, You Should Have Heard Just What I Seen, released in 2010.

Midway through his time at Pratt Institute in the 1960s, Hamilton left school to become a full-time photographer, documenting emerging scenes in New York and traveling cross-country to capture the American way of life. The success of these early shots led to staff positions at The Herald, The Village Voice, Harper’s Bazaar, and The New York Observer; assignments for the likes of New York Magazine, Vanity Fair, and Rolling Stone; and working as a stills photographer for directors including George Romero, Noah Baumbach, and Wes Anderson, the latter of which serves as Uncropped's executive producer.

For Moore, the sweat-soaked shots of musicians in action or lounging backstage are especially prescient, as he prepares for the release of his latest album, Samurai Walkman: Flow Critical Lucidity, this September. “We depend on history to recount what is vanished, what is missed, dreamed of, mythologized. In James Hamilton’s photographic archives I encounter a universe of sweetness, of salaciousness and a spell-binding grace,” notes the musician, who here shares his five favorite pictures from the prolific photographer.

Patti Smith and Rod Stewart. All photography by James Hamilton and courtesy of the artist. 

Seeing Patti As a Journalist

"Patti is interviewing Rod Stewart for a piece in Crawdaddy magazine (the hipper alternative to Rolling Stone). Patti is holding a whole bottle of uncorked vino and is wearing blue jeans ripped at the knee revealing her lighting bolt tattoo as she casually questions Rod."

Iggy Pop at The Palladium on East 14th Street

The Casual Shot of Iggy Pop From Front Row-Center

"I love this concert shot, because while we were working on our book with James, You Should Have Heard Just What I Seen (published by Ecstatic Peace Library in 2010), I asked him if he photographed Iggy Pop and he said no, and then he said, 'But I did catch him live,' and showed us these incredible contact sheets from the show. 'So you did indeed photograph Iggy!' James thought they were too casual, I guess, but we pored over the contact sheets checking out all of Iggy’s moves on stage."

Portrait of Patti Smith

Patti Smith at the Hotel Chelsea

"So many 'greats' made formal portraits of Patti, especially around this time in her life (1970), but this is perhaps my favorite portrait of Patti Smith, ever. She is not yet famous, but there is some arresting in her look, as though she knows that she is ready for it."

Portrait of the Beastie Boys

The Beastie Boys As Boys

"This portrait from left to right: MCA, Mike D, [and] Ad-Rock indeed when they were really still boys, pulling faces and making every one smile."

Portrait of Candy Darling

The Iconic Candy Darling

"A beautiful print from our book Linger On: The Velvet Underground (published by Ecstatic Peace Library in 2023) of this photograph proudly hangs in our home, because our whole household is smitten with this subject. Candy was the sui generis trans actress who also became a muse to Lou Reed (you may know her from the songs ‘Candy Says’ and 'Take a Walk on the Wild Side’). This portrait of Candy Darling is one of Hamilton’s finest portraits."