Late-night taxi driver turned assistant professor turned NYC police officer Stephen Capozzoli kicked off his retro video and photography exhibit at East End Arts Gallery in Riverhead last Friday — this time, as the self-proclaimed “audio-video” guy.
The “Frankie Says …” gallery exhibit — a tribute to the 1984 song “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, a popular English band of the decade — presents Mr. Capozzoli’s photographs of the gritty city streets and conceptual art videos portraying the punk rock era. The videos, which Mr. Capozzoli helped create, were contributed by video artist and longtime friend Paul Tschinkel.
Mr. Capozzoli, who goes by the pseudonym Frankie Neptune, grew up in Brooklyn and lived at LeFrak City in Corona, Queens, during high school. He spent his undergraduate years at Queens College, driving a taxi part-time to pay his tuition. In 1975, he found himself in the Hoosier state, pursuing and earning a master’s degree at Indiana University. He started working at a college in Chicago, doing educational media work, and then returned to the Big Apple to serve for three years as an associate of educational communications and assistant professor at Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn. There, he dealt mostly with creating audio and video instructional programs for medical, nursing and physical therapy students.
His time at Downstate catapulted him into his next life.
“The truth of the matter is…” he said, “I never had a camera before and I went [to Indiana] for instructional technology. I learned how to use a camera professionally because my job was videotaping autopsies and taking pictures of things in medicine.”
In time, he said, he realized there was more to see than the human liver.
“When I was a young guy in my 20s, I met a man named Paul Tschinkel,” Mr. Capozzoli said. “We went around making videotapes of the clubs. I picked up a camera when I got a little older and I started taking my own images of stuff, of New York City and things that struck my eye.”
He showcased his early prints at the likes of the SoHo Photo Gallery and 55 Mercer Gallery and presented some of his videos at The Kitchen. But around the same time he began getting experimental behind the lens, Mr. Capozzoli decided he didn’t want to move forward with his instructional development work because achieving tenure-track would require obtaining a Ph.D.
“I didn’t want to do it, so I took the NYC Police Officer exam and I passed and I became a cop,” he said. “I was only going to do it for two years and then go back to grad school full time, but it was so much fun, I said, ‘I’ll stay.’ ”
He remained on the force 20 years, spending his first five on patrol and climbing the ranks to sergeant and lieutenant, working with such specialized units as the narcotics and legal bureaus, internal affairs and community affairs. During those years, he said, he watched Williamsburg and other “marginal areas that had a lot of drugs, a lot of poverty” change and reinvent themselves, with the help of policing.
The two-decade period played a significant role in how Mr. Capozzoli began viewing his surroundings. He made lasting friendships on the force and last year, published a fictional book based on his combined experiences, “NYPD: The Way Things Were.” The main character in that book is named Frankie Neptune.
“People have told me … ‘You know, of all the people we went to school with, who would have ever thought you would be a cop?’ And I say, ‘Yeah, it’s interesting.’ But I’m not like most cops, I don’t think.”
East End Arts will be extending the run of Mr. Capozzoli’s show through Sunday, Oct. 6.
Southold resident and artist Franklin Hill Perrell, former chief curator of the Nassau County Museum of Art, will host a Skype interview with Mr. Tschinkel at EEA 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 4. Visit eastendarts.org for more information.
Top photo caption: Stephen Capozzoli, aka Frankie Neptune, with East End Arts development and marketing director Monique Cutone (left) and executive director Diane Burke. (Credit: Mahreen Khan)