Text and photos by Darryl Reid.
The basement is so suffocatingly hot and humid from the sardine-packed writhing bodies that the walls are dripping with sweat. The music from the amps is loud enough that it becomes less like hearing and more of a physical sensation in the brain pan. I struggle to keep my place front and center when the lead singer, a rail-thin man covered in bandages and writhing on the floor, latches onto my pants and attempts to pull them down. I grasp my pants with one hand and snap a picture with the other. The flash barely goes off when, like a coked-out acrobat, the singer flips off the ground and kicks me right in the face.
I’m in the bowels of Scum House, a tiny, barely finished room that is about to see a rapid descent into disrepair. Later this same night while doing a band photo-shoot I will get threatened with stabbing by a couple of crack-heads and have a toenail torn off in a mosh pit. And it’s just another night for a punk photographer.
I’ve been kicked in the head several times by wayward stage divers, and had my camera kicked, shoved, and dropped. I even had a drugged out punk try to steal it right out of my hands. I’ve taken pictures in dank, mold filled basements that are so crowded with sweating bodies that one can barely move. I’ve lost a good portion of my hearing, tinnitus is an almost constant part of my life. Above all I never make money, I am constantly running at a loss. At best the person putting on a show will be a fan and let me in for free, but most of the time I have to pay to play. I avoid thinking about how much I have spent on this over the past four years and I sometimes question why I even do it. The answer I always come up with is this: because I am obsessed with music and photography and the space where these two obsessions meet.
I am a self taught-photographer from Ottawa, Canada. My mother was an amateur photographer who passed on her love of the medium to her children. Unfortunately I never actually picked up a camera until about four years ago when I stole my sister’s old Pentax to bring with me to a punk show. I was bitten and I’ve been shooting the local underground music scene ever since.
In my work I use both digital and analogue cameras to capture a purely subjective experience. Many music photographers attempt to depict an objective experience, they want to show what band played where and when. I initially tried to do the same but it became frustratingly clear to me that it is nearly impossible to capture an objective experience with a camera, as both the photographer and the audiences experience or create and interpret the image. Who is playing and where is secondary to what it feels like to experience raw noise and aggression. In my best work the image is unstable and seems to be on the verge of collapse, as if the raw sensory data cannot be contained in a simple image. The truth is, without the chaos, the movement of the crowd, the constant aggression of both performer and audience, a simple objective picture bleeds off a huge amount of information. I realized this problem early on when my work failed to match what I had experienced while being in that particular space.
I solved this dilemma when I realized (from analyzing my hero’s work) that not everything has to be in focus, that the image and even the subject can be unstable, that the black edges of the world can encroach onto the image, that the subjects can disappear into blinding light or murky nothingness and that shadows can threaten to eat the entire picture. This instability of image has become a popular concept in punk photography of the past few years.
More than other music scenes, punk has had an obsessive need to record its existence through amateur photography. I believe that this is an outgrowth of the genre’s marginalization. Most bands could never afford professional photographers and most music journalists were too busy ignoring smaller local scenes, so a cottage industry sprouted up of punks picking up cameras and shooting the scene around them. It was these photographs of the early punk scene that inspired me both to get into punk and to pick up a camera. Like me, most punk photographers will never make a dime off this passion, instead giving their work away for free in exchange for some records or t-shirts or the occasional a few bucks the bands can scratch together.
Most importantly in punk music, the performer and the audience are one. Between me and the musician there is no stage, no line of demarcation. I often shoot on the stage or so close I can often have my camera mere inches from their faces. Punk music is best experienced in person in shoddy, illegal, thrown together venues, where audience and band can become a nebulous whole. The best punk photographers are the ones who engage in this milieu, who brave being kicked and spat on and who have developed the ability to shoot a band, dodge beer bottles and hold their pants up all at the same time.
Today’s punk landscape can seem fractured and closed off, and to a degree this is true. There are dozens of genres, sub-cultures and cliques. Through my photography I attempt to cross all genres, classes and cliques within punk culture to create a through-line that highlights the commonalities of punk/Hardcore Culture.
The punk scene is transitory, bands will come and go with the rapidity of a decaying isotope. New bands are pushing themselves into a scene that is constantly reinventing itself. I want to capture this transitory movement and somehow make it permanent. I want these bands to be remembered for a little while at least.