Many of you may remember Pulsating Paula’s fabulous photography from biker and tattoo rags in the ‘80s and ‘90s. She was a fixture on the motorcycle and tattoo scenes for several decades, documenting the counterculture of her chosen worlds. Paula Grimaldi-Reardon, a lifelong New Jersey resident, had a disarming, friendly, and flirtatious demeanor that melted the hearts of the toughest of bikers, who allowed her to delve deep into their worlds and photograph the lifestyle and culture of the motorcycle and tattoo scenes from 40 years ago.
Photo by Annie Sprinkle
Paula discovered her eye, and her talent, for photography at the tender age of 8, when someone handed her a Polaroid camera to capture a family gathering. As Paula recalled, “I took the photo and they all made such a big deal on how perfectly centered everyone was in. It made me feel so good. It’s funny how a little appreciation and praise boosts your morale.”
Along those lines, she began working as a go-go dancer at various clubs in New Jersey and New York—a calling which continued for nearly two decades. What a paradoxical departure from her previous job as a New Brunswick police dispatcher! This was just one of the many oxymorons that defined Paula—her sweet disposition and caring nature somehow meshed perfectly with her hardcore partying and hedonistic lifestyle.
After her first husband Jeff surprised her with her first SLR camera, a Canon AE-1, she began photographing biker parties, swap meets, motorcycle runs, rallies, tattoo conventions, and other motorcycle- and tattoo-related events. Paula not only documented the scene, but she was fully immersed in the lifestyle, which gave her the access denied to outsiders. As one of the few women contributing to motorcycle and tattoo magazines in that era, she carved a path for other female photojournalists to follow.
She was a regular, and much-admired, contributor to Biker Lifestyle, Tattoo Magazine, and other Paisano publications in the 1980s and 1990s, and her work remains hugely popular today. Although she was paid for her magazine work, she never did it for the money, rather, she took photographs to make her friends happy. And she truly enjoyed the entire process of photography, from capturing images to developing film in her own darkroom.
One of the elements that made her photography stand out was her ability to cross between milieus—outlaw bikers, the underground tattoo tableau (tattooing didn’t become legal in New York City until 1997), and the sex scene. Paula’s immersion in all of these worlds enabled the most honest photographic documentation of its time. The trust she invoked in the folks comprising these scenes allowed her to capture intimate, honest, and sometimes graphic moments that other photographers could not.
Pulsating Paula had many devoted fans world-wide, and even History network requested permission to use her photographs in its 2015 Outlaw Chronicles television series. Her photographs continue to be featured in countless print publications, websites, blogs and other media outlets. And her own image has been displayed in everything from erotica-themed playing cards to aftermarket motorcycle parts manufacturers’ marketing materials.
Paula had successfully fought the ravages of breast cancer twice, but in 2012, it metastasized with a vengeance. Not long after receiving her final diagnosis, she asked me to write a book with her photographs, with details of her fascinating life. For some years she’d been posting her photographs on social media, and it was of the utmost importance to Paula that her work continues to be made available to her friends and fans, and that her memories of the good times didn’t die with her.
So in 2014 we formed a company, Pulsating Shadows, to begin working on the book. I recorded hours of video and audio interviews with Paula, and she made sure that upon her death I would receive her entire photographic archives—negatives, slides, prints, and more. It wasn’t until the year after her 2019 death that I was able to save up enough money to start having her negatives and slides scanned—a time-consuming, painstaking, and very expensive process, but necessary in order to create high-quality images.
Plans call for a series of books (her photographs span two decades and a variety of subjects), and a short-form documentary supplemented by art exhibits to complement the book. In the meantime, my friend and very talented creative force Carol Mittelsdorf and I have designed and produced a 2022 calendar containing select high-resolution images to keep her work in the public eye, and to raise funds to help finance not only the image scans, but the book and video production. The calendar, as well as memorial patches and stickers, are available at www.pulsastingshadows.com, where you can also keep up with progress on these projects.
It’s a great honor to be named Paula’s official biographer, and I’m doing my best to bring forth artistic works that would make her proud. Follow the project at facebook.com/pulsating shadows, @pulsatingshadows, and pulsatingshadows.com, where products can also be purchased to support our efforts. We can sure use your support in finally giving Paula the recognition she's always deserved.
Marjorie Kleiman (Shadow) / Website / Facebook / Instagram