Bak in Time

Spying a thirteen-year-old Sunny Bak, amongst a crowd of New York paparazzi, Elizabeth Taylor showed concern that the young photographer was up so late past bedtime. But, that’s what you get when the school of life sees you interning with a gang of wisened paps.

“One night she looked at me and said ‘Aren’t you a little young to be out so late?’ I said to her, ‘well if you didn’t stay out so late I wouldn’t have to be up so late.”

Bak said of Taylor, “We were all following her around. She would get back to her hotel at two a.m. each night. One night she looked at me and said ‘Aren’t you a little young to be out so late?’ I said to her, ‘well if you didn’t stay out so late I wouldn’t have to be up so late.’” The next night, Taylor returned to her hotel before midnight.

“I never knew who we were photographing.”

The photographer and now, Venice Art Crawl President, told Beautiful Hollywood she started running with the paparazzi because it gave her a chance to take photos. “I never knew who we were photographing.” Explaining how she would run with the pack and snap whoever appeared the target. Many of her pictures remained undeveloped.

“My Dad brought me to a dark room, and I saw pictures magically appear in the water, and it was like, ‘Woah!’ It blew my mind,”

“I fell in love with the magic of photography, maybe when I was five? My Dad brought me to a dark room, and I saw pictures magically appear in the water, and it was like, ‘Woah!’ It blew my mind,” said Bak. Working as a journalist in New York, Bak’s father gifted the would be photographer her first camera, a Nikon Rangefinder.

Taking photos with the local paparazzi grew out of an obsession with the theater, Bak said she’d ride the 7 train, “the Flushing line to the end” to Times Square, where she would catch matinee shows on Broadway. Many of whom went on to become good friends of Bak.

“I used to play hooky and tell my mother I was at the library or my friend’s house, but I was really at Times Square seeing Broadway shows and skipping school on Wednesday afternoon to see matinees,” Bak said.

Noticing the herd of paparazzi photographing anyone famous appearing at show openings, Bak followed suit. “I just liked taking pictures,” she explained.

Times Square was rough for most back in the day, especially so for a 13-year old. Broadway actress Crissy Wilzak, who was in the original Seesaw, gave the young photographer some vital survival tips.“When you get out of the subway look straight ahead, walk like you know where you’re going. Don’t look around like a tourist,” Bak remembers Wilzak saying.

Three local guys, who went to become the Beastie Boys, often helped Bak out.

At 18, Bak rented her first studio where she focused on fashion photography. “My days shooting with the paparazzi taught me to get in focus shots fast, and people appreciated how quick I could get the studio shots they needed.” Using stand-ins also helped Bak streamline shoots. Three local guys, who went to become the Beastie Boys, often helped Bak out. It was, “the end of The Young and the Useless, which was their punk rock band and they were just starting to be the Beastie Boys, and they were playing around locally and stuff.”

Michael “Mike D” Diamond, Adam “MCA” Yauch, and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz were regulars at the studio, “I used to wonder why they were hanging out so much then I worked it out, the models,” said Bak.

Michael “Mike D” Diamond, Adam “MCA” Yauch, and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz were regulars at the studio, “I used to wonder why they were hanging out so much then I worked it out, the models,” said Bak.

While waiting for talent to arrive, Bak would put the fellas to work and have them stand on set she positioned the lights. She has many prints of Diamond, Yauch, and Horovitz hamming for the camera. All this was long before License to Ill, the album for which Bak snapped the picture on the gatefold.

The group shot the video for their song “Fight for Your Right to Party” at Bak’s studio. “The video was made at my studio, and my photos are all over it,” said Bak.

The group shot the video for their song “Fight for Your Right to Party” at Bak’s studio. “The video was made at my studio, and my photos are all over it,” said Bak.

Bak’s photos are the stuff of legend. A rockstar here, movie star there, and one of the ten best selling Newsweek covers, ever. For this shoot, Bak captured Catherine Angiel and her then-girlfriend Ashley Herrin in her arms. The headline read, “Lesbians.”

Bak said labels were never something she or her friends subscribed to living and loving in New York in the ‘80s.

Bak said labels were never something she or her friends subscribed to living and loving in New York in the ‘80s. She describes the time as a sexually liberated period where people were not gay or bisexual but more so, “just sexual. It just, sort of, was fluid. Whatever happened, happened.”

A surge of creativity electrified the city and Bak’s life, from the late ’70s to mid-‘80s. “It was a very creative time, and there was a lot of freedom and experimentation. It was an exciting time because anything went and everything did,” said Bak who at this point hadn’t considered labeling her sexuality.’

The outbreak of AIDs shuttered free love and saw a new wave of homophobia flood the mid-’80s.

The outbreak of AIDs shuttered free love and saw a new wave of homophobia flood the mid-’80s. “There was no AIDS until it happened in ’85/’86 and then guys were dying like crazy, and it was head spinning,” said Bak explaining how AIDS attached a new stigma to being gay. Before that “I just feel like it was sorta great and creative and wild and…free.”

Today she lives in Venice, California with her partner, Director/Producer, Gina Rubinstein. Bak refers to herself as “a gay woman.” However, there is a hesitation to go there, not out of shame, but more so out of reluctance to cow-tow to society’s need. And also, as a nod to a more creative and accepting time.

Bak’s life traces through a collage of pictures that document the experiences and adventure of love, people, and places from the mid-‘70s to today.

Bak’s life traces through a collage of pictures that document the experiences and adventure of love, people, and places from the mid-‘70s to today. She told Beautiful Hollywood, she is still discovering swaths of undeveloped film from her paparazzi days. “I’ll develop the film and be like, ‘oh look, it’s Andy Warhol.’ Or, ‘Ha! That was the night Ad-Rock and I were out late getting ketchup in a bodega.’”

Regular moments caught forever, yet another example of the magic of photography.

Sunny Bak Woman of the Year

Beautiful Hollywood says a BIG CONGRATULATIONS to Sunny Bak.

On March 04th, 2019, Assembly Woman Autumn Burke named Bak Woman of the Year at a ceremony in Sacramento. “I’m very honored, and it is so unexpected, and I really don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such an honor,” Bak told us.

Burke wrote on her Instagram, “Sunny has spent her life advocating on behalf of the arts, women, and the #LGBTcommunity.”

Listen to Bak’s Beautiful Hollywood podcast interview here.

https://anchor.fm/beautiful-hollywood/embed/episodes/Beastie-Bak-e3a1kl

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