Richard Kern

The photographer on addiction, international investigations, and winding up in the MoMA collection.


I moved to New York in 1978.

I was looking in SoHo forever, because that was the neighborhood then. SoHo was cheap, but I couldn’t find anything under $300. People kept telling me to look in the East Village, and I finally did. I think the first apartment I got there, on 13th Street, was $178 a month.

You had to get the Village Voice on Tuesday night at midnight, because that’s where the apartment listings were. I showed up to see the apartment at 8:00 AM. There was a whole line of people waiting but I was the only person who brought cash with me, so I got it. But when I came back that night, there were all these trash cans set up with fires in them and all these drug dealers going like, “Smiley face. Smiley face.” You know, “C and D. C and D.” I realized then that I’d moved into a drug building. Three floors were processing, and two floors were shooting galleries. It was weird. Me and two other guys moved in at the same time. None of us had any idea, but we got these giant apartments for dirt cheap. I’m from a small town in North Carolina—I had no idea about all this shit. 


It started as a joke and now it’s taught in film classes.