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Fully Engaged

Monday, November 12, 2018


Bonnie has lived in New York City since 1984 and now resides in New York and Florida. She has always been a curious and perceptive observer. Her observations became acclaimed photographs, including of the political landscape she experienced in her years with her late husband, Senator Frank Lautenberg. Her repertoire has grown to include the relationship and influence of one art form to another, developing shows on the life of Andy Warhol and the girl of the moment, Lady Gaga, of course! Here’s how:


 


What was the first photograph that set you on your professional path?

Frank was always working! We were going to the White House for the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Accord in 1993 and because he couldn’t leave his desk, we got on the last bus from the Capitol to the White House. By the time we got to the U-shaped seated venue, all the seats reserved for the senators facing the stage where the signing was happening were taken, so we had to sit in the top of the U surrounding the event next to the Virginia Senate delegation of Senator John Warner and his then girlfriend, Barbara Walters, as well as Chuck and Linda Robb. We were in good company but not a good seat to photograph this historic event. I knew I had to move, so I got up and sat on the grass in what seemed like a better place to take photographs of Clinton, Rabin and Arafat coming out of the White House. The late journalist Charles Krauthammer was sitting next to me in his wheelchair. 


 


How was the shot?

When I picked up my photos at the lab near my office, they told me my shots were as good or even better than many of the other professionals work. I realized I had captured a powerful piece of history through my lens. Another lab told me the same thing when I brought my film in to develop after I returned from India. I began to think maybe I really had talent. I was very encouraged! 


 


Where did you go from that lofty moment?

Frank was a very accomplished senator, having written major legislation that stopped smoking on domestic air flights, raised the drinking age to 21 and changed the standards for what constitutes drunken driving to .08 BAC. I was thinking about all the other senators and what they had accomplished and told him I wanted to photograph them and find out what their proudest accomplishments were. He said, you’ll never get them all! That’s all I needed, a good dare! I created this piece called “How They Changed Our Lives—Senators as Working People”—portraits of 101 senators from the 109th Congress and the new senators from the 110th Congress. That portfolio was exhibited right before the 2012 presidential election at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City. 


 


What were some of the other senators’ proudest accomplishments?

Joe Biden was proudest of his Violence Against Women Act, Ted Kennedy’s was the Voting Rights Act of 1965, John McCain was the McCain-Feingold Act and Senator Tom Harkin, my first Senate get, wrote the Americans with Disabilities Act. 


 


Who was the toughest to wrangle?

Hillary Clinton wanted to do it, but I was having a really hard time getting her scheduler to fit me in until I saw Huma Abedin in the coffee shop of the basement of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Fifteen minutes later I had it booked. Her photograph was fabulous and her proudest achievement was the $4.1 billion she and Senator Schumer raised to rebuild the World Trade Center.


 


Who was the handsomest?

Chuck Hagel. But some of the Senate offices were pretty handsome too, and one even had a grand piano in it!


 


Tell me about the Obama portrait?

I took that picture at (now Governor) Phil Murphy’s home in New Jersey. Obama’s first chief counsel as president, Gregory B. Craig, saw it in Frank’s office and wanted it for his office in the White House. I was thrilled! Then the art collector Eli Broad saw a small image of the photo and asked me if he could buy the image and 300 smaller images for him to give out as gifts to each of his guests for an inaugural dinner party he was hosting in Washington. I put each one in a white folio with “Change Will Come to America” in gold lettering. It was really fun to have been at that dinner party and see my photograph at each place setting. 


 


And how about this for a leap…all the way to Gaga!

I sat in the front row of her Radio City concert, and I had read in the New York Times that she lets you take pictures, so I brought my camera with me. They’re great photos of her. 


 


What’s up for Art Basel Miami Beach?

I’m debuting my newest work, Artistica!, as the solo artist at the Jean Albano Gallery at Art Miami. I had this idea that artists are influenced by other artists and art forms, so I began this conceptual transformative project about two years ago. While doing my research I discovered that [many artists have been directly impacted by movies.] When I showed it to Jean Albano last summer, she thought it was really exciting and asked me if she could exhibit it at Art Miami this December. I was honored by her offer. I was also blown away by the positive response I got from several other gallery owners I showed it to. 


 


Please tell me we can call it a day. I feel utterly inert.

I’m also coproducing a musical based on Andy Warhol’s life. My partner, Steve Leber, wrote the treatment for this Broadway musical after I took him to see some Warhol Soup Cans belonging to Frank that were going up for auction at Sotheby’s after Frank passed away. The Warhol Foundation loved it and approved the project. Trevor Nunn is directing. Stephen Schwartz is writing the music and lyrics, and Rupert Holmes is writing the book. We have a great creative team. It will open in 2020. 


Mic Drop.


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