Documenting Punk’s Changing Sounds and Scenes: Part of the Seeing the Scene series
I purchased Glen E. Friedman’s My Rules in 1983 at a Music Plus or Licorice Pizza record store in Southern California, probably not too long after it had been released. I was a pre-teen at that point and had been using any money I could scrape together to buy records. The photos that appeared on the sleeves and in the liner notes helped me learn about the different styles punks adopted in different parts of the United States and England to complement the various regional sounds. Unlike the album art, My Rules provided a concentrated visual focus on bands I knew or was just discovering.
I would soon purchase my first copy of Flipside and would chase down some other local fanzines, like Fight for Freedom. I studied the photos in these zines to make sense of how people were doing punk. Of course, many fanzines in the past and in the present feature photographs. Some of those zines are printed with better quality, which help the photographs stand out. Sometimes the photos merely function to help flesh out content. In other cases, such as Razorcake’s recurring Photo Page, photos are foregrounded as an important creative expression made by punks for other punks.
I’m not a talented photographer, so I rarely make photos. My contributions to social media mostly feature photos of zines, junk on the ground, or street art. However, my interest in punk photography has expanded over the years. I seek out photozines and regularly purchase photobooks. I spend more time with the photo pages in fanzines and follow punk photographers on social media. This interest coincided with a broader excitement about documentary: other forms of photography—especially street photography, film, audio documentary, and literary journalism.
This new series, Seeing the Scene, will chart documentary photography in a variety of ways. I will interview punk photographers, punk photozinemakers, street photographers and street photozine makers, as well as folks involved with DIY photobook production. Additionally, I will curate some pieces where punks talk about their favorite photobooks, photozines, and documentaries focused on photography. The series will ultimately feature a mix of broader discussions about creating punk rock media, the craft of making interesting photographs, and get into some of the nuanced details of sequencing. I hope you enjoy reading the series as much as I expect to enjoy the conversations and writing up the interviews.
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Dave Sine created Tidbit to contribute to punk’s DIY efforts, shifting from an interview-focused zine to a photozine. He started making zines in Southern California at a time when California hardcore was reshaping the sound and experience of punk. Dave continued documenting punk bands and a variety of scenes in the U.S. through his zine Tidbit. He was there when various forms of alternative music became mainstream and he sought out underground music when the alternative bubble burst. Dave’s move to New Jersey at the end of the 1990s and then to Portland in 2018 accompanied interesting shifts in punk’s varied sounds, and his photographs document these changes.
Daniel: Let’s start by talking about how you discovered punk.
Dave: It basically comes down to my dad. My dad has always been into new music, whatever the case may be. It was early 1980, Huntington Beach, California, and I moved back in with my dad after my parents had divorced. Punk wasn’t on my radar at that time, but he brought a couple punk records into the house, and my stepbrother and I just ate them up. My parents were great; they encouraged us to check out new things. Because Huntington Beach was such a hotbed of activity, we had neighborhood kids who were into it as well. My brother started going to shows really early; I didn’t go until like ’86 or so. It all kind of solidified, punk as a lifestyle, when my parents took my brother and me to see The Decline of Western Civilization in the theater. I was like, “Yeah, I want to live in a church like Black Flag.” It felt like, “those are my people.”
Daniel: When did you start taking pictures?
Dave: The first show I took pictures at was early in 1989. Sometime in late 1988 a friend of mine, who I used to skate with, handed me a fanzine that he did. It kind of blew my mind: “An average person can do this?” I thought it was stuff other people did who had more means than I had. And here was my friend who was just like me—no money, no nothing—and he made this cool little fanzine. So, he and I did an issue together and then I started my own. Initially a friend was going to take pictures for me, but I wasn’t into the photos he took. I felt like I wanted more creative control over it. I bought a little cheap fully automatic camera and started taking it to shows.
Daniel: The zine you made at that time was a mixture of writing and photos?
Dave: It was mostly interviews with a little bit of writing and some reviews. But mostly interviews and photos. I wanted photos to go with those interviews initially and I was taking a ton of pictures, so I started using more photos in the zine. And it became a pretty dominant aspect of the fanzine.
Daniel: What was the name of that zine?
Dave: The first zine I did was called On Line, which is funny given the way the world went computer-wise. I did three issues of that and at the end of 1991 I started Tidbit. I think I did six issues of Tidbit and a photozine in the ’90s—from ’91 to ’95 maybe. I did one strictly photo issue. It was photos from the first two years that I made photos that I used to fill that issue. Then I resurrected it in the late 2010s as a photozine.
Daniel: For people who got into punk at the time you did, and in that part of the country, My Rules (Glen E. Friedman) was really important.
Dave: I remember a friend had it and I remember looking at it.
Daniel: By the time you did the first Tidbit photozine, had you seen other photozines?
Dave: Yeah, because it was one of the last issues I did during that first run of Tidbit. There was Intermission fanzine from Justine Demetrick. She’s from back east—New Jersey/New York area—and did a great photozine. That was a big influence. She only did two or three issues maybe. But I was inspired by every photo that I saw. It was always great to have the record and study the photos, whether it be G.B.H or whatever. And so it was seeing those photos that shaped me when I got my camera.
Daniel: Can you talk a little bit about technology and how you learned to make photographs?
Dave: My first camera was a little automatic thing and I didn’t have any photo knowledge. It was super simple and was small and fit in my pocket. It wouldn’t get damaged. It wasn’t until way later that I upgraded to an SLR. I took a photo class at Orange Coast Community College, mostly just to have access and to learn how to use a darkroom. I flunked out the first time I took it because they didn’t automatically drop me from the lecture; I was just going to the lab to make prints so I could have them for my fanzine. So, I would say a good ten years or so with those automatic cameras. I had two little automatic cameras because one eventually died and so I bought another one. But I had those until ’97, when I bought an SLR.
Daniel: I know you said that the first photozine was a product of having a backlog of photos. But what was the inspiration for doing an issue as a photozine versus a general issue during the last incarnation of the zine?
Dave: When I resurrected Tidbit as a photozine in the 2000s or whatever, I was inspired by my friend Chrissy Piper, who did a cool photozines series called 3 Records. And by a book from Pat Graham, who took great photos in DC. I kind of used those two as inspirations. The photozine just encompassed anything that I took photos of, any photo that I liked. I just didn’t have the time or energy to do interviews. And I liked the idea of making a very simple photozine, where the photos spoke for themselves: a page with a photo on it, no writing, all the info is at the end, and leave it at that.
Daniel: Were the photos all live show shots or were you intermingling other kinds of “punk” stuff?
Dave: The initial run of Tidbit, when I had the interviews in it, was nothing but music. The only time there was non-music photos were the two times I did a tour diary. Otherwise, it was purely musical. The first ten years of taking photos was 99% show shots.
Daniel: Did you play in bands as well?
Dave: No. I had no musical talent. I got lucky; friends that I went to high school with started bands. Going to shows with them and hanging out with them, you just meet all these people. I would find a little spot on stage and point my camera at them.
Daniel: What are you trying to do or capture when you make a photo?
Dave: What I try to do is capture some energy of the band ’cause that’s one of the great things about punk rock is how it’s such an energetic music with the crowd and everything. And it’s kind of nice to capture a little bit of motion and emotion or to even capture a quiet moment in the noise. Really, to capture a moment because I love punk rock music, I love small shows, intimate shows, and to be an arms distance away from a band and snap a photo is a pretty privileged thing to be able to do. I’m trying to capture that vibe of we’re all on one level: there’s no big stadium lights, there’s no big stage; it’s just “Here we are in a garage” or wherever.
Daniel: Do you have a normal spot you seek out when you’re shooting shows, or do you move around to shoot from different vantage points?
Dave: I usually don’t move around too much, but it depends on the club or where the show’s at. If it’s a very small place and it’s not too crowded, I might move around. Sometimes it depends on the band. If I was on the left side of the stage the first time I saw the band and I’m going to see them a second time, I’m going to try to be on the right side of the stage. Or I try to get somewhere in the front, sometimes in the center and sometimes a little off to the side so I can try to play with angles. But usually as close as I can get.
Daniel: Obviously one of the big differences between shooting most punk shows versus shooting other music genres is the chaos that is close to the front. Does that affect how you position yourself?
Dave: Yeah, definitely. If I know it’s going to be a rowdy crowd, I might go more towards the side. I have had two flashes broken. My neck probably makes more noise than it should because stage divers landed on me. I have shoulder issues from a guy landing on my shoulder that I never had looked at, so I don’t know what’s wrong with it. I’ve taken a beating capturing some of these shots but it’s all part of the process and part of the fun. I’m up against the stage, so I’m gonna get bumped and landed on. So, I try to be safe and I try to have fun. If it’s not fun then I’ll move. I still have fun, so I try to find a spot and shoot away.
Daniel: How does shooting bands on a stage versus shooting bands that play on the floor affect your photography?
Dave: I’ll definitely go off the side if there’s no stage because it’s more open and it should be open so there is no barrier between the crowd and the band. I don’t want to be a barrier standing there stagnant, in the way. I’ll stand off to the side so I can do my thing, and everybody can do their thing to the full extent.
Daniel: As someone who started photographing at a time when hardcore was getting established and punk as a whole was changing, do you feel as if the changing sounds and scenes have affected your photography?
Dave: A little bit. When the ’90s came and every band was getting signed, there was that whole alternative music scene. In the area where I was living the punk and hardcore thing was a very different scene because way too many musicians were trying to get signed, which really changed underground music as a whole. I shot less in that time and branched out to find different kinds of bands and different kinds of places.
One band was World Inferno Friendship Society, a punk band but very different sounding than the basic punk that everybody knows. That kind of helped me find new bands and new avenues. But things have come full circle and there are new bands now, like that band Fucking Invincible was really good, Tørsö, Ursula, and a lot of really great bands that are just raw. And there’s no ulterior motive of wanting to be signed or to be big; they just want to play shows. Then that band G.L.O.S.S. brought a lot of people back into it because they were a band that means something, has a message, and is just raw. There’s none of that shit about getting big. It was kind of like that when Born Against came around because hardcore was so stagnant; they brought punk back into hardcore: some politics and some meaning. It was like, “Yes!”
Daniel: When Tidbit was photozine, were you doing color? Black and white? A mix?
Dave: A mix. When I bought my first SLR, I was taking color photos because it was simple: drop them off at an hour photo place and get them later. I didn’t have the means to develop anything at home and black and white had to be sent out. “I’ll just do color.” But then as I got stuff to develop black and white at home and I was renting a darkroom space in New York City from time to time, I decided that I would figure out how to print in color. I taught myself that and would print black and white and color. So, I started to switch back and forth more often.
And if I wanted to play around with some low light photos without flash, I could put some 3200 speed film in the camera or play around with whatever tickled my fancy. If I knew a club had decent lights, I might go with no flash and high-speed film and play around with that. When I resurrected Tidbit as a photozine, I wanted to use any and all photos I made (old and new) ’cause I was still making photos after I moved, the first time Tidbit died. I was still shooting that whole time and I had this backlog of photos, so here’s a chance to use some of that stuff.
Daniel: It’s interesting because if you think about documentary photo books, those books were produced because museums and galleries dedicated very little space to documentary photography. In some sense, the zine is a similar kind of response: you’re not going to see punk photos in a museum or gallery except in a DIY-focused gallery. And most publishers focused on documentary photography books aren’t going to touch punk photography. The photozine is a way for any punk to share their photos through print.
Dave: It started in the ’90s with better printing available at the lower end with Kinkos and the old 5090 (Xerox) machine. You could include your photos. You didn’t have to worry about halftones and weren’t limited by anything. You just taped a big ass photo on an 8½” x 11” and, “Alright, that’s a page.” You knew it was going to look good and that really helped spread photozines because you didn’t have to deal with technical issues that most people don’t understand. I remember first getting halftones and thinking, “I don’t know what’s going on here.” But then it was like, “Here’s this… can I get that… so I can reproduce…” so that 5090 machine helped a lot.
Daniel: Not having made a zine myself, I never thought about that type of technological change; that’s fascinating.
Dave: Yeah, if you think about it, now I could probably make a photozine at home with a decent printer. Whether I was shooting digital or film, I could load the files and print out ten zines and go hand them out at a show if I really wanted to because that technology makes it easier to do-it-yourself publish.
Daniel: I assume the expense went up dramatically when making a zine with color photos. Did that affect your print run?
Dave: Actually, when it came to printing the photozines in the 2000s I was printing them at my work. We had a fancy digital printer. I was like, “Man, why didn’t I think of this before?” I worked there for a bunch of years. I talked to the head of the art department: “Hey, if I brought this thing in, could you help me print it?” He said he would, so I would usually just buy paper. I would scan all the photos, lay it all out, burn it to a disk, bring it to work with the paper, and he would print it for me when work was slow. I kind of just did them at random, whenever I wanted to. He would print them for me, I’d bring them home, staple them and put them together. Those photozines, I only made forty-two copies of each issue. I picked that number in reference to Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But I also just wanted to keep the number low ’cause I didn’t know what kind of market…who would be interested. And I didn’t want to be stuck with one hundred zines, two hundred zines. Like, “Let me just keep it small, keep it fun, and manageable.”
Daniel: In the grand scheme of things, it seems like there are less photozines than other types of fanzines, but it also seems like photozines get a lot of attention. So, the buzz is out of proportion in some respects. Did you feel like your photozines received more attention than the interview issues?
Dave: It’s weird because when I first resurrected it as a photozine, the first issue sold really quickly. The second issue, I put it out and a couple months later, I think I got three orders. Each one was hit or miss. One I put out, I announced that it was available and got one hundred likes on social media and I had one order. [Laughs] And then the next one, I would get twenty orders. “Oh, alright, great.” So, it was hit or miss for me. I’m not really good with social media for promotional stuff. I never have been, which is another reason why I kept the print levels low. I wanted to create it because I had the urge to create. I didn’t have the urge to sell. I just wanted to create, put it out, and see where the chips fall. [laughs]
Daniel: What year did the last zine come out?
Dave: The last photozine came out in 2017.
Daniel: I get what you’re saying about social media, but Instagram seems to be a different type of promotion because the work itself does the promotion, although posting frequently seems to be crucial.
Dave: One of the things with social media is that I don’t post too many live photos or photos that I took with my camera. I will post photos I took with my phone, but film photography, I hardly ever post any of that stuff. So that probably didn’t help sell zines. [laughs] But I was often finding that some of the older stuff that I posted on Flickr years ago, it started popping up across social media without any photo credit. It made me hesitant to throw stuff out there because once I put it out there suddenly it’s that person’s photo. That probably kept me underground because people weren’t looking for me as a place to go for old band photos or new bands photos. So maybe it was just friends or random people who remembered me doing a zine would be the people who were ordering the zine.
Daniel: I think it’s interesting to consider how some people re-post images on social media but always credit the photographers and other people just re-post, as you described. Many of the photographers that I follow have been doing this for a while and I think they are both part of their local scenes but also have some respect for punk photography from the standpoint of an international scene.
Dave: For a while I put stuff on an old website that I had, and I put watermarks but they would crop that out. Or I was putting “copyright by” and they’d still crop it out. And I don’t want to use a big watermark to the point that it’s hard to enjoy the photo. So, I would keep it off to the side in the corner, which, again, makes it easy to crop. I know there are ethical people and sometimes people just screenshot wherever they found it and forgot where they got it, so I would often post in the comments that it was my photo. And sometimes people were like, “Oh, cool, thanks.”
Daniel: I want to return briefly to technology. You said earlier that you shot with a SLR and the lighting in the space would influence choices about film. Did you ever move to digital photography?
Dave: I never had the money for it. When digital cameras came, it was megapixels, this, that, and the other thing and I didn’t know any of that shit. It was so much money; to get the digital version of my Canon was well beyond my price range. I figured, “All right, I’ll just stick with this.” I could probably get something affordable now, but I’m just not that interested. I don’t care about the quick turnaround. I like the hands-on approach to film. Even though I’m not in the dark room making prints anymore, I just scan everything. I still like having the negatives. It feels more real to me.
Daniel: The obvious challenge is that you have a limited number of shots per roll of film, which might especially be a concern when there are multiple bands on a bill. Whereas with digital, stating the obvious, you can shoot, shoot, shoot.
Dave: I’ve seen people at shows with super expensive cameras just holding it up, waving their arms around, with the flash going off dozens of times. I guess that can be considered photography but being financially restricted most of my life, I might have one roll of film and want to take pictures of six bands. I’ve got twenty-four frames, so I gotta make it count. I might only take one or two pictures of one band and then try to have the last ten for the band I’m most excited to see. That kind of forced me to be more selective when taking a shot. I have no problem with that; it’s a fun way to do it. Work within the limitations instead of thinking of that as a limit.
Daniel: The last photozine came out in 2017. Obviously, there’s the never say never approach, but do you have plans to release another photozine?
Dave: At this point, I’m semi-retired. And never say never is totally applicable because when I put Tidbit to rest in ’96 I thought that was it. You never know when the situation might arise when I can make a little zine again. Or maybe I have the funds to do it again, the funds to print it on my own. I’ve always wanted to do a book made of prints. Ideally, I could go into a dark room, pick a group of photos, make one hundred prints of them, and bind each one into a book. It would be neat to do that. I might do a small version of that. I always have the urge to create, but I’m not sure what that will be. And another photozine would be fun if it was different than the last one.
Daniel: With the last one coming out in 2017, social media already existed and blogs exist. What do you think is the place for photozines in this current media climate?
Dave: I do have a blog. But I think that being an older person, who likes analog and holding things in my hand, I like the idea of putting photos into something concrete that you can hold in your hand and feel the texture. You can look at it in a lot of different ways that you can’t on your phone or a computer screen. There is something tangible; it can get crumpled up or torn. The blog is just kind of a place to put things. Everybody’s got a blog or something. I started my blog before social media really took off, especially Instagram. Now a photo-related blog can be lost really quick. But I do it because I enjoy it.
I’ve just always really liked photozines. I like zines in general. DIY publishing has always been the coolest thing to me. The fact that anybody can be: “I have thoughts” or “I have creative juices” and boom, you made a tangible, little paper thing out of it. I always loved that, and I’ve always been a very visual person. I’ve always studied the photos on the records and in the fanzines, whether it be Thrasher, or Maximum Rocknroll, or all the photos on the lyric sheets. Whatever records I was listening to, I was always studying them. Photo books are nice, but a zine is more do-it-yourself and it was more at my level; it seemed like a more human level than a more commerce level.