Shooting Tony Lo Bianco
Tony Lo Bianco poses for George's camera
Tony Lo Bianco October 19, 1936 – Brooklyn, NY
Over my career, if you can call it that, I have had the opportunity to shoot and interview many people from all walks of life. Sometimes it leaves no impact on me, and other times it does. Meeting Tony Lo Bianco was one of those times. Though I became an American citizen when I turned 21, I identify as an Italian American from Brooklyn. My grandparents were born in Sicily and lived in Little Italy and the southern part of Greenwich Village. At the turn of the 20th century, it was one neighborhood.
When they had a little money, they moved to the suburbs, to Brooklyn, the fourth largest city in America. When I got here in the 1960s, I went to Brooklyn. Each area of New York has its own Italian American type. Fiorello La Guardia was from Harlem. Martin Scorsese is from Little Italy, while Robert Di Niro is from Greenwich Village. Chaz Palminteri is from the Bronx, as is former America's Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He moved from the Bronx to Brooklyn, and Al Capone is from Brooklyn. (We went to the same grammar school.) Tony Lo Bianco is from Brooklyn.
Sometimes, you get the call to set up a photo studio in a hotel lobby or a room, and throughout an event, some person will rope a celebrity to have their picture taken. It's not the same as shooting the red carpet. You have to do the same thing you would do in the safety of your own studio but on location. You have a makeup person who also doubles on hair, just in case, and the two of you wait. I tell stories and jokes.
The door opens, and a man steps in. He looks around, appraising the room: my lights, a six by six-foot diffuser over a strobe light in model mode with a LED backlight. He gives the makeup woman the up and down and smiles a little. He sucks his teeth and turns his eyes to me. Tony Lo Bianco.
"Who are you?"
I look down at the camera in my hands.
"Uh, the photographer?"
"Don't you know?"
"Yeah, I'm the photographer."
He nods his head and checks out the camera. He nods again, and what I can only describe as a sneer.
"So, you gonna take my picture?"
"I'm going to take your picture."
"No, the makeup lady."
"I'm taking the picture."
"Too bad. She's not hard on the eyes."
I look at the makeup artist and raise an eyebrow as if to say can you believe this guy? It's like I'm at a holiday dinner with relatives.
He tucks in his shirt, pulls down his jacket, smooths his lapels, straightens his tie, and eyeballs me. I have to say he's looking like he's gonna pop me one.
"I'm ready. Take the picture."
I look to the makeup artist, "This guy. I ought to throw him a beatin'."
"Throw me a beatin'?" He smiles for the first time. "I'd like to see you try?"
"No, you wouldn't."
"It would be ugly," he laughs, "and I can't afford to injure the talent."
I have been snapping shots throughout this conversation... You never know. He gives me a look. (See picture above.)
Smiling, he asks, "What's your name." I tell him.
"Where you from?" I tell him. "Where in Brooklyn?" I tell him.
"Where'd you go to high school?"
"In the city." For those unfamiliar, that means Manhattan.
"Art and Design." He contemplates this, nodding.
"I went to Grady Tech."
"Oh, that's deep, Brooklyn." I contemplate nodding.
We both stand nodding.
I say, "look at me?" He looks. I snap a shot. Five minutes more, and he's out the door.
I outlined the different types of Italians around New York City. Joe Pesci, he's from New Jersey, so he is not part of this story. But of all the Italian American actors working in cinema, Tony Lo Bianca is virtually the only one who wasn't in Good Fellas or the Sopranos. Even Brooklyn-born Steve Buscemi had a part on the Sopranos, but almost everyone else hails from Jersey, the Bronx, or the city. Coincidence or not? Who knows?
For those who need more trivia, William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School is in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Just east of Coney Island. The next most famous graduate is the Grammy award nominated Rapper KRS-1 if you are a music fan, and four-time basketball all-star Rolando Blackman if sports are your thing.