Catherine McGann was hired by the Village Voice as a contributing photographer in 1986, shortly after graduating from art school. It was something of a dream job for her. She grew up in the city envisioning a career at the publication, which gave its staff ample opportunities to explore New York City without much interference.
“They got away with stuff that nobody let them do,” McGann says.
On August 12, 1988, an assignment from the music section came across her desk. Big Daddy Kane’s debut album, Long Live the Kane, came out on Cold Chillin’ Records in June, and a 23- year-old McGann was instructed to take a photo that would accompany the review. For her, it was one of the bigger assignments, and she was very excited.
Photos by Catherine McGann/Getty Images
McGann was something of a Swiss army knife for the paper, shooting everything from Hip-Hop artists to metal bands. While she humbly admits that Hip-Hop was not necessarily her specialty — instead pointing to Janette Beckman as the foremost rap shutterbug of the era — McGann was game for anything that her editors put in front of her.
“Anything that they needed, I would shoot,” she says.
She traveled to the Cold Chillin’ office on 66th Street and Broadway in Manhattan. Rather than shoot Kane and dancers Scoob Love and Scrap Love inside or at street level, they ventured up to the roof.
“That’s the greatest in New York,” McGann says. “I can’t even tell you how many shoots I used to do on my own roof, or on other people’s roofs. You have a ready-made studio, so we all just went up there.”
Since it was August, it was a particularly sweltering day. According to historical data, it hit at least 95 degrees. As such, Scoob Lover and Scrap Lover peeled off their shirts and took their places next to the man of the moment.
Photo by Catherine McGann/Getty Images
McGann wasn’t the type of photographer to provide much direction. She prioritized the idea that people want to present themselves in a certain way, and she wasn’t in the business of packaging them as she saw fit.
“I was never really a studio photographer,” she admits. “I was much more of a photojournalist and I really believed in a sort of realism. I wanted to show people for who they really were, not who I thought they were.
McGann recalled that Kane was quiet — yet cooperative — with an uncanny ability to pose in front of her Nikon FM2 loaded with black-and-white Tri-X film. With only a half hour to spare, she began popping off pictures.
“I was very intimidated because he was so quiet and he’s got this real look,” McGann says. “I felt a little bit like a fish out of water on this one, but I was thrilled to get it.”
* Banner Photo: Big Daddy Kane / Photo by Catherine McGann/Getty Images