Documenting Denmark’s Punk Rock Underground: Part of the Seeing the Scene series
Christina Carlsen had been making photographs for decades when a photography exhibition at the 2014 K-Town Hardcore Fest provided the push she needed to share photos that had previously been used to conjure personal memories with a larger public. She not only exhibited her work but used the fest and the accompanying exhibition as inspiration to create a photozine, Inferno. The style and design of that zine are both quite unique, so I was excited to have the opportunity to learn more about Christina’s approach to photography and her production processes.
Daniel: How did you get into punk rock?
Christina: That’s a large question. I was a bit of a loner, didn’t have many friends. I was riding horses in this riding school and met a friend, or became a friend, who was a couple years older than me who introduced me to music and kind of gave me a way into a world that embraced people like me. She introduced me to the mainstream part of punk, metal, and hard rock. Through that I found my way into DIY punk and the underground scene. I started listening to music around ’93 or ’94. I was born in ’82 so I was quite young at that point, and I didn’t start going to actual shows until ’97.
Daniel: How much longer before you discovered more DIY-oriented stuff?
Christina: It must have been around ’98. I just went to as many shows as I possibly could. I didn’t have a single friend in the town I used to live in, so for me it became my thing and it was the only time I could feel free and welcome and felt like I belonged somewhere. I would save up all my money to buy CDs, mailorder, and then go to shows in Copenhagen. I used to live an hour and a half outside of Copenhagen. So, I guess it was after I had found some of the bigger venues in Copenhagen, usually there would be flyers for smaller shows. I started attending gigs at this small venue called Stengade. I actually live like a hundred meters from Stengade now, which is kind of funny. I think that place was a gateway to a more underground scene because there were actual punks handing out flyers.
I then found myself going to the main squat in Copenhagen after a gig at Stengade. I ended up finding the land at the end of the rainbow, you could say. I always think about it that way because it was a super scary place to be when you’re there the first time. There were old squatters, punks, and it’s dirty and dark and gritty and dangerous. Everyone was kind of on edge and there were fights. People were drinking a lot. It was different than being at a mainstream venue, obviously. I still felt like, “I need to be here as much as I possibly can” after that. So, I did. I went to as many shows as I could. I got my first friends there and found my family there, you could say.
Daniel: How long were you attending shows before you started photographing?
Christina: Before I even started going to DIY shows. I always really enjoyed making art, taking pictures, and expressing myself visually. I always enjoyed doing that even before I started going to shows, so it just came naturally that I started taking pictures and documenting. I liked saving the memories I got at those places.
Daniel: Mainstream venues in the U.S. often have a photographer’s pit. For someone just starting out, it might be harder to get a press pass to photograph in those venues. Is it the same in Denmark?
Christina: I was shooting with a pocket camera back then. When I was shooting at the main venues, I guess it was different than the U.S., because the bands that I was into weren’t that big here compared to at that time in the U.S. The bands that I would go see, a lot of them were American but also Swedish skate punk bands. They would play mainstream venues but more like a six hundred-person capacity venue. There weren’t wave breakers and an actual pit.
Daniel: When you started going to DIY shows, did you start photographing right away?
You’re really putting yourself out there when you go to the front and you’re visible in that way.
Christina: A little bit because I was too scared [laughs]. I didn’t feel like putting myself out there in the beginning. But then I quickly started taking pictures there also. You’re really putting yourself out there when you go to the front and you’re visible in that way. And it wasn’t until a couple years after taking pictures that I got a half-decent camera. My family didn’t have that kind of money. I was just taking pictures with a pocket camera.
When I finished ninth grade, I was about sixteen years old. I did two years bouncing back and forth between different technical schools: graphic design and computer science. Then I ended up in a youth photography school for six months. They leant you a camera for the duration of the school period and taught you how to use it as well. I did a lot of projects with that camera and that was the first time that I started taking pictures with a proper camera. In that school we had access to a darkroom and teachers would give you feedback and encourage you to explore photography. And I’d spend my time at school making my zine; I had a zine back then as well, which was more of a regular zine. Not so much photography. But I would spend all the time at school doing this.
Daniel: Has your style of photography changed over the years? Do you still look for similar experiences or actions to shoot?
What I’ve always tried to do is, not so much capture the great motif, but to capture the energy and the passion and the craziness that goes on…. Going to shows, and playing music myself as well—that was the youth drug for me.
Christina: I kind of think that I’m not a super-skilled photographer, really. I have a taste, you could say. I know what I think is nice and what I like to look for, but I’m not especially good at always getting that. What I’ve always tried to do is, not so much capture the great motif, but to capture the energy and the passion and the craziness that goes on. That was my drug—going to shows, and playing music myself as well—that was the youth drug for me. It’s always been the energy and the passion that goes into the music, and I have always tried to capture that in my pictures as well. Sometimes with luck and sometimes not so much. But that’s always been what I’ve been trying to get at.
Daniel: Do you feel like you’ve become a better photographer in terms of identifying that energy and then capturing that passion in your photos?
Christina: Yeah, I think so. I would like to still dive into it a bit more. I think there are a lot of ways that I can improve my photography. I also think that I am maybe a bit lazy at times. You wouldn’t find me to be a very good press photographer, for example. I edit the fuck out of my pictures. They don’t look like that when I shoot them.
Also, I have been making a series of pictures at the backstairs of Ungdomshuset. The idea is to document the bands right after they got off stage, still full of adrenaline and covered in sweat. I think it’s the best possible moment to capture a band. I have about a hundred of those kinds of pictures by now. Maybe when I have doubled that, I’ll make a book. [laughs]
Daniel: A lot of your photographs are from Ungdomshuset, a DIY community space that you just mentioned. Do you have a place within that space where you regularly stand when you photograph, or do you move around a lot?
Christina: My approach, especially to DIY shows, is very much one about not trying to take up too much space. I have often missed out on taking pictures at really good shows because I felt like there were too many photographers. I think the show is more important than the photography. I always hated going to shows when there are five people in the front of the crowd or the stage and nobody is enjoying the band because everybody is just there to take pictures of the band. And I think that ends up taking up too much space and taking over the atmosphere, so you’ll usually find me where I’m less in the way.
I think the show is more important than the photography…. The band is not there for me; it’s the other way around.
If there’s a really good pit going, and it feels natural that I’m in the middle of it with my camera then I will be. But if it’s a nuisance then I will go to the side or even put my camera away because I don’t want to obstruct the gig. The band is not there for me; it’s the other way around. I think there’s nothing more frustrating than a lot of people with fancy equipment taking up a lot of space at a show. At a DIY space you don’t have the rules that you have at a main venue, where you need access to the pit to take pictures and you can only be there for the first three songs. You can’t shoot with a flash. There’s a reason for that; it takes up too much of the show. You have all these press photographers flashing their cameras all the time. It’s distracting to the band and the audience. The band is there to play music and to give the people who are there an experience.
So, I think we kind of have to make our own rules that are unwritten in a way. Not a lot of people respect them, but I have my own guidelines when I go to a show. As I say, if there are a lot of people who brought a camera then there’s a good chance that I will leave mine in the bag. I’m not taking pictures at all because I don’t want to be that fifth photographer in the front row taking up all the space at a show. So, you’ll find me exactly where I take up the least space. I try to also participate in the shows that I shoot. I’m a photographer with my camera but also enjoying the show and dancing along, behaving like a concert guest or whatever.
Daniel: A lot of the photos in your zines that were taken in Denmark feature stages, whereas your photos from Colombia, for example, bands are playing on the floor. Bands in the U.S. tend to play on the floor at DIY shows. Does a band playing on a stage or on the floor change how you photograph a show?
Christina: Yes, I guess it does. It could be a good thing or a bad thing. You move around a little bit more when it’s on the floor. Everyone mingles a little bit more. There’s not so much of a line of people: here’s the audience and here’s the band. It all tends to blend in. You do that as well as a photographer shooting a show; you get to blend in a little bit. You can end up being at the level of the drummer even, which is not something you normally would get to do if you aren’t very comfortable in the venue
As we discussed, a lot of the pictures that I take in Copenhagen I take at Ungdomshuset, which is the main DIY space in Copenhagen. This is also a place where I volunteer, and I have been doing so for the past twenty-two years or so. I’m obviously very comfortable there. I book shows there as well. But it’s not the same when you are at a venue you don’t know. You won’t automatically jump on the stage behind the amps to take a good picture of the drummer if you don’t know the venue very well. Most people won’t know you: “What the fuck are you doing! Get down from the stage!” I take advantage of being a known face and being comfortable there.
Daniel: A large percentage of the photos in your zines show the bands, but we don’t see many images of the crowd. We see the energy of the band, but not the crowd. I assume some of that is because the bands are playing on a stage, not the floor.
Christina: It’s also the political climate in the punk scene in Europe, especially. The people are not very happy if you take pictures of the crowd. A lot of the DIY spaces in Europe also have a lot of left-wing activists. They try to create a space that’s safe to be at without having to worry that your face is on the Internet or someone’s Facebook feed. Unless I know the people in the pictures or if it’s a big festival or something with a massive crowd and there are a lot of people attending the gig, I try to avoid it if I don’t know the people. There’s a good chance those people don’t want to be in the photo that will be published. I actually have a lot more pictures of guests, but I don’t choose to publish those because I don’t think it would ethically be the right thing to do.
Daniel: Moving a bit more to the zine itself, you said that you made more general zines when you were younger. What inspired you to make Inferno a photozine instead of a general zine?
Christina: I think the first issue was 2014 or 2015. I always liked the format of zines. I never felt like I was good enough to do it. And I was very unsure if anyone would find it interesting, or would even look at it, because there are so many people doing these things. I guess I never really felt like I was talented enough for anyone to bother buying my zine. But a lot of friends had been bugging me for years about it: “Hey you should show some of your pictures, maybe make an exhibition.” I was like, “I don’t know. Why would anyone want to look at that?” I think I was a little sensitive about it.
I could publish about forty zines if I want to since I have so many pictures. I’ve never really shown them to anyone. It’s always just been for me in a way, memories and stuff that I was just messing about with for myself. But then because people always see me at shows, they would say, “Why don’t we ever see your pictures? Why don’t you show them?” So, I released it the same year we did an exhibition (Burning! at the 2014 K-Town Hardcore Fest). We’ve had exhibitions, different art installations, and different post-exhibitions throughout the year. With all this work making a zine and getting ready with Will Kinser. We did an exhibition together and there were a lot of pictures from the zine. That was the starting point. It felt like, “Okay, if we’re doing this work anyway, I might as well.” And in my professional life I work as a graphic designer at an offset printing house, so I printed them myself as well.
Daniel: What was the print run for each issue?
Christina: I did 250 of the first one, I only did one hundred of the second one, and number three is two hundred. I had an idea that I would reprint the second one because it was not made off-set because I was running out of time. Every time I’ve done the release of the zine at the same time as K-Town and at that time I’m usually crazy, crazy busy. It’s actually really dumb for me to do this. It’s just a really good place to get them out. It feels like a good thing to do but when I’m in it, I’m like, “Oh fuck, why did I do this again?” So, the second time around I ended up passing my own deadline and didn’t have time to offset print it, so I was like, “Ah, fuck it, I’ll just digitally print one hundred of them and reprint.” But I just never got around to doing the reprint, so that’s why it’s only one hundred.
Daniel: Let’s talk a bit about sequencing. How did you think about organizing the images and what inspired your thinking in terms of what you put in the zines and the choices that guided how you put the zines together?
I want women because I want the zine to reflect the shows I go to, to reflect the diversity of the scene that I am in.
Christina: This is very technical, but working at an offset print house I went with the largest piece of paper you can get and then used it to the max. That’s why the format is how it is; it’s the maximum amount of pages for the biggest press sheet you can get. So, “I have a certain amount of pages and what do I want?” I would like to have different instruments so it’s not all just cool male singers in the front. I want women because I want the zine to reflect the shows I go to, to reflect the diversity of the scene that I am in.
Even though the older bands and bands that have been around a long time are good at dressing up and looking cool on stage, it’s not just these bands that are in the zine because they are more photogenic but also the bands that just have good energy. So maybe I’ll pair two pictures where one is crazy, good energy and maybe one is not, but they speak to each other anyway. I also try to not have the same qualities in a spread, try to make some different qualities. Maybe I’ll have the lines in a picture speaking to the lines in a different picture, so I’m talking about the movement going from picture one into picture two. I also try to have some pictures in there of good memories.
Daniel: Sometimes with sequencing people talk about a specific image following another image, but another conception of sequencing will take into account how one image might set up something that comes six or seven images later. Were you thinking across that many images or were you primarily focused on images that are placed next to one another on a single page or across two pages?
Christina: When I work on it, usually I have a lot more pictures picked out than actually end up getting into the zine. I guess because I’m also a graphic designer I get to take my photos out of Photoshop or Lightroom and put them into a more visual space, which is InDesign. So, I get to see the actual spreads laid out and I get to look at the whole thing at the same time. Because I don’t have to look at the images individually, I can look at them as a whole. I want to start out with some of the best ones, obviously, to get some attention, but I try not to begin with all my favorites. I save some of them for later.
Also, if there are some that I think are really powerful then maybe I pair them up with some that are not quite as powerful. They can give something to each other, in a way. I think about it more like trying to get a flow through the whole thing rather than having individual spreads look good. Also, let’s say I have two really detailed images but one that’s not so contrasty or has a dark background, you don’t have a lot of details, so maybe they will be next to each other. And I won’t have the same qualities in the next spread. If I have close-up shots then I won’t have close-up shots in the next spread. I’ll try to split out the different qualities of the pictures so that I encourage people to use their eyes in different ways from spread to spread.
Daniel: Has your sense of how to make the zine, given what you just described, changed from issue one to issue three? Are you a better storyteller and zinemaker as you contemplate what you did in the last zine and what you want to do with the next zine?
Christina: I’m not sure. I think that my list of criticisms towards myself just grows longer [laughs] in a way. So, I’ll say, “Yes and no” at the same time. Some of the choices I made in the first one I don’t understand now. I wouldn’t make those choices again. If I flip through my pictures, I’ll be like, “Why did I choose that picture? Why did I not choose the other one from that show?” I never delete anything. I have a crazy, massive archive of pictures. I know I probably should, but I don’t even delete the ones that are blurry and bad because I’ve found that a couple of years down the road I look at them again and find qualities in one of those blurry pictures. It’s like, “Wow. Why have I never seen that? Why have I never edited that picture? It actually looks really cool.” I don’t want to rob myself of the possibility of finding qualities in something that I didn’t see the quality in five years ago.
Daniel: It seems to me that there aren’t many punk photozines compared to other types of punk zines, but photozines receive a fair amount of attention compared to these other types of zines. What is your sense of the place of photozines in the general sphere of zines? And why do you think more photozines aren’t produced each year compared to other types of zines?
A zine doesn’t come as easy. You have to put in work: edit them, print them, distribute them. You can’t just do it right now while you’re on the toilet.
Christina: I think it has a lot to do with the labor. Maybe it’s a bit harsh to say it like this, but for the younger generation, quick approval is the best you can get. So, if you can just get a lot of likes on Instagram or Facebook or whatever you use then it’s better. The other thing is that a zine doesn’t come as easy. You have to put in work: edit them, print them, distribute them. You can’t just do it right now while you’re on the toilet. And you won’t get instant approval of your work. I think that goes for many things, actually. At least here, people don’t take the time to do many analog things anymore. I also think that everyone’s a photographer these days. You can become a quick one superfast.
I’m not sure exactly why, but I think that social media has a lot to do with it and I don’t think that people read in the way they used to. When we grew up in the scene it was super normal for most gigs to have someone at a table selling zines. There’d at least be a box of zines next to a record distro. Now many people don’t even want to buy records at shows: “I’ll just buy them on the Internet.” They don’t want to buy zines because they’ll read it on the blog or whatever, or the posts made on social media. It was a big step for me just creating an Instagram account, ’cause I don’t do social media at all. It was only because I had a Flickr account that nobody was looking at, and it felt like a waste of time, that I caved in and did that Instagram account so I could show my pictures on the Internet. But it felt a little bit like a defeat for me, I have to say.
Daniel: You wrote an introduction to the first issue but not for the third issue. Did you write an intro to the second issue? And was it a strategic choice to exclude an intro from the third issue?
Christina: I think it was maybe out of laziness because I pushed it to the very last minute. I had something written and I thought is sounded a little dumb and forced, so I decided not to put it in. I didn’t want to have something in just to have something in if I didn’t have anything to say. Obviously, you can hear that I am someone who can talk, and talk, and talk [laughs]. But I felt like when I had to write that intro that it would become sort of the same as the first issue because it’s still the same things that drive me. I think if I had to write anything then I would want to tell some of the stories that go with the pictures more than I would like to say, “This is my photozine, this is why I do it.” So, I felt that when I wrote the piece for the second one, I thought, “This sounds tacky” and I didn’t want that. It should be there because it needs to be there.
Daniel: This discussion about text highlights a difference between a photozine and a photobook. In theory, a book can create more space for text. And a zine is so much shorter, so you’re trying to get as many images in as possible instead of storytelling through text.
Christina: I would have to cut out one-fourth of all the images to do that or write on top of them. I definitely wanted the pictures to take up the space and I also didn’t want any frames or decoration. I wanted to have it as raw as possible. I wanted to get away from this whole art way of making photozines because it often ends up looking like something from a gallery. This is not something from a gallery and shouldn’t be either. Whenever I exhibited my pictures, it was never on a white wall. I’ve always put them up on dirty walls and put nails through them. I made them from what they come from or made them match what they come from. These pictures were not taken to be put into frames and hung on a wall in a gallery. I’d rather put them up with nails on a concrete wall. I do that because I think that’s the context they belong in. I think they get to own themselves by not having a white frame or all be the same size. Also, they’re all cropped. So also I guess I break a lot of rules about the ideal, unedited, uncropped image by doing that.