When SI staff photographer John Iacono, who photographed this week's Giants-Skins game (page 22) and the Penn State-Iowa wrestling (page 30), was growing up in the '50s on Manhattan's tough Lower East Side, he belonged to a gang. "You had to join," he says now, "because if you stayed alone you had no protection. You had to fight. Thank God I never got hurt." But on one of those mean streets there was also a place for a kid with an interest in photography: the Henry Street Settlement.
Founded in 1893 and soon thereafter offering programs in the visual and performing arts to the Lower East Side, the Settlement boasts an alumni honor roll that includes Jimmy Cagney, Martha Graham, George Abbott, Tony Curtis and Debbie Allen.
Iacono had always liked photography, and he started taking lessons at Henry Street when he was 13. Now 45, he started his career at Time Inc. in 1959 as an assistant in the LIFE photography lab; he went from there to photographer's assistant to free-lance photographer and finally, in 1980, to staff photographer for SI. "John comes through on every conceivable job, and he'll work 30 days in a row without complaining," says fellow SI photographer Heinz Kluetmeier. "He's a guy you can always depend on."
"John just gets better and better, and I think it's because he had an old-fashioned apprenticeship," says TIME photographer Neil Leifer, formerly with SI, who grew up with John and also got his start at the Henry Street Settlement. "And he's the nicest person I've ever known. He makes friends for SI whenever he sticks out his hand."
But beware: That hand belongs to a serious practical joker. Ask free-lance photographer Jim Drake, who, awakening after a night of revelry, found his belongings taped to the ceiling of his hotel room. "All my clothes, my shoes, even magazines," says Drake. "At first I thought I was taped to the ceiling."
Iacono's only defense is heredity. "I got it from my mom," he says. "Sometimes when we'd come down for breakfast we'd pick up the coffee cup and the saucer would come with it. She'd taped them together."
As for his photography, Iacono says, "I find it exciting to see a picture being made. As a kid I always dreamt of being at ringside because my uncles were big fight fans. It turns out that now I get to go to almost every major fight, and you know, I still feel the same excitement I felt when I was a kid."
Iacono's enthusiasm survives his last fight, where he was accidentally punched in the mouth by Trevor Berbick after Berbick was felled by Mike Tyson's left hook. "Berbick grabbed for the ropes, but he missed and cut the inside of my mouth," says Iacono. "It was the best punch he threw all night."
IACONO: IT ALL BEGAN ON HENRY STREET