May 9th, 2016
I love your vintage ‘70s black & white prints of the San Francisco punk scene. What is your formal training as an artist & how did you get involved in the Punk scene?
In 1977 I met the editor of Search & Destroy at Tower records when he came in to the store with the first issue to sell. I thought it needed more photography! One week later I did my first photo shoot with the Dils. They blew me away when I saw them at the MAB and I was hooked! After that I started working at Search & Destroy full time.
I’ve had virtually no art training, but I guess I have what is called “an eye”- that helped. I’ve dropped out from 3 colleges, and am basically self taught, I prefer to make my own trajectory. I did study photography for a year at City College, mainly to use the darkroom and equipment. I poured over art books to study what made the art I liked so incredible, like the surrealists and the symbolists. In my younger days I loved Life Magazine and later the fantasy photography of 60’s Vogue influenced me.
When you were going to all the shows back then, how were you perceived – as one of the gang? Did the camera around your neck grant you more access, or restrict it?
I was in the middle of it. All the early punks were part of the gang, there weren’t that many of us in the beginning. I didn’t wear my camera on my neck, that would have been too obvious and very uncool. I was more casual, waiting for the right moment, not forcing it. I kept my camera in a bag or held it in my hands. Film supplies were expensive, so each shot had to count. After a few months, Dirk Dirkson started letting me into the Mabuhay for free because he liked our magazine, and we publicized the club. Search and Destroy gave us a certain cache, but I still needed to get on the guest list whenever possible! As time went on, more people started to recognize my photography, and were willing to go on photo excursions with me, instead of just being photographed in the club…
You have to understand that in the beginning, we really didn’t know each other that well. We were crawling from the woodwork, finding each other little by little. We brought in our friends; it was like a secret club, who was doing what and what bands were starting. It was slightly competitive but supportive.
Who were your favorite subjects to photograph?
Penelope of the Avengers was so photogenic and very easy to work with. Everyone was in love with her back then. I was in awe of DeDe Troit who I shot a number of times. The Mutants were so much fun, everything they did and said was instant art! I adored meeting and photographing John Cooper Clarke in London. It was always a different experience – at the clubs you had to be surreptitious because “punks” were not into posing per se. I always tried to think of everyone as my peer so I wouldn’t become intimidated. But I had to make it interesting for them too. Sometimes I shot spontaneously, like in the clubs. Other times a photo session was set up that took place in some unusual location I chose, where spontaneity was a natural effect. You have to be on watch to catch the moment when it “happens"… I liked to do portraits,too. Being a Photographer for Search and Destroy gave me access to so many incredible musicians and artists!
What was it like seeing your work in print as things were happening?
It was fabulous, inspiring and almost instantaneous - it gave my work purpose. What could be better? - Punk was my art school! It challenged me to become a better photographer so I could get more of my pictures published in S&D, and allowed me free use of my creativity to come up with whatever I wanted. It was a wonderful time of experimentation. The magazine was an incredible collaborative forum, which is what any artist wants. We didn’t have to be worried about sales or whether the advertisers liked what we produced, we just put it out there, trying to make it as intense as possible
What’s your process? What cameras do you use?
I developed and printed all my own B&W film and silver print photographs, and experimented with printing processes like solarization until the late 80’s. I also shot lots of color infrared film in the 80’s but it was discontinued. Eventually the chemicals got to me and affected my health. I didn’t really start going through my punk negatives till 2003 when I got a digital scanner, and I use an Epson printer. Now all my prints are pigment on archival fiber paper. I still shoot film which I love so much, I’m not a fan of digital cameras. Nikon FM is my main camera and I also have a Russian panoramic camera and use plastic cameras too.
What was a favorite punk moment?
There really were so many! But one night, Tuxedomoon gave a house party for the Screamers, after they came up from LA with their wild entourage to play the Mab. Suddenly and unexpectedly, Tommy Gear took some encyclopedias from a bookshelf and put them on the floor, then opening the bag he was carrying, he took out a electric hand saw and without a word, suddenly began sawing through the stack of books. Everyone turned to look at him, it made such a racket. It was an amazing punk moment and I was so glad to be there with my camera!