HR, Bad Brains, Valley Green Housing Complex, 9/9/79 | photo by Lucian Perkins

Photographing the Spark: A Conversation with Alec MacKaye and Lely Constantinople about Hard Art DC 1979 by Daniel Makagon

Jan 25, 2022

Part of the Seeing the Scene Series

Hard Art DC 1979 features photos from Lucian Perkins that document four punk shows in Washington, D.C. that happened in 1979: Valley Green Housing Complex, Hard Art Gallery, and two shows at Madams Organ Artist’s Cooperative. The release of a second edition of the book (January 2022) provided a timely context to talk with Alec MacKaye (the book’s narrator) and Lely Constantinople (the editor) about the scene that was documented by Perkins, the photos themselves, and making the book.

Of course, Alec is well-known to punks given his contributions to some foundational punk bands, most notably Faith and Ignition. His reflections on a burgeoning punk scene in D.C. and the documentation of that scene provide another layer of reflection on the city’s unique punk history. And Lely brings a different kind of rich reflection to the conversation given her important work as a photographer, editor, and curator. The Seeing the Scene series has primarily featured interviews with photographers about their work, but I’m excited to have the opportunity to zoom in on a specific photo book while contextualizing that book through a conversation about an important time and place in punk’s rich history.

Alec MacKay | photo by Lely Constantinople

Daniel: Alec, Let’s start with a general discussion about punk. How did you discover the music and how did you transition from liking the music to becoming involved in the D.C. scene?

Alec: My introduction to it was via my older sister, Katie. She had traveled to Europe in 1978 or ’79. She brought back a handful of punk records from that trip that she played for my brother and me: Eddie And The Hot Rods, the Sex Pistols, X-Ray Spex. Up to that moment we had been listening to a lot of harder, high-energy rock, like Ted Nugent. This was one step beyond.

What’s funny is it seemed like a while at the time, but now, when I look back, within six months I was in The Untouchables. I went the summer being a punk rock observer. With the shows, I could see that I wanted to be more than standing in front. Kids I knew, who were these other punk rock friends of mine, decided to start a band: Eddie Janney, Bert Queiroz, and Rich Moore. They started the band and told me I was in the band, basically. I was fourteen and they were all fifteen. Well, Rich was sixteen years old. But it was easy, wasn’t even really a transition into being a performer. Just doing the same thing, but on that side of the stage and holding guitars. I want to say that at any given show in those days, most of the audience was other bands. It seemed like everybody felt like they could do something.

Daniel: Had the guys in Untouchables played music at all before the band formed?

Alec: Eddie owned a guitar and he knew how to play it. Other than that, we were all new. Our drummer borrowed some drums from Jeff Nelson. Jeff was, in my mind, a totally accomplished drummer pretty early on. He had equipment and lived really close to where our drummer lived, so he loaned Rich equipment. We had a practice space, and one of the reasons Rich was an important part of our band was because he had a driver’s license and a car. [laughs] We played one out-of-town show, but we played around D.C. a fair bit for a couple years, including places where we were too young to get in. There was a time when we showed up for sound check and they wouldn’t let us in because we were underage. The people in the other band we were going to play with were old enough. They tried to stick up for us and said, “Well, if they’re not playing, we’re not playing.” The manager of the club was like, “Fine. Get out.” That’s not what was supposed to go down. [laughs]

Daniel: How did you meet these guys?

Alec: I met them at Wilson High School; it was my first year there. I got into punk right at the end of eighth grade in middle school. I can still remember the day that I wore my Buzzcocks pin to class in eighth grade. And I was like, “I can’t believe I’m going to do this.” The word “Buzzcocks” sounded so filthy, outrageous. I don’t know what it ever meant, if anything. This was me stepping over the edge or something. Then I had that whole summer, right after middle school, when I started going to shows in earnest and just really fully involved. By the time I started my freshman year at Wilson, which was much bigger than the school I’d left, and totally different—I showed up as one of the like three punk rockers there, out of thousands of kids, and it was not a popular thing in those days. But there were also people like me, who I had met at shows. I knew Bert from my neighborhood, through skateboarding. Eddie, I met through music. And then our drummer I didn’t know at all before I got to Wilson, but he was also a punk rock fan. It was a high school band, since Wilson High School is where we connected.

Nick English, Ruth Gutekunst, Edd Jacobs, 15th and P Streets, 9/15/79 | photo by Lucian Perkins

Daniel: Let’s shift to the book. One of the unique things for me about Hard Art DC 1979 is that the book documents the bands as well as the people at the shows: punks being punks, for a lack of a better phrase. A large majority of punk photos that appear in books, feature in zines, or posted to Instagram focus on the bands. When punks appear, the photos often document those punks engaging the bands.

Alec: Well, it’s funny. I remembered when the photos were being taken. It was unusual to have people taking pictures at little, tiny punk shows. Also, I remember seeing this guy at the shows, and he was old enough to have a mustache. I thought, “Who is this interloper? Who is this stranger? And what’s so interesting he’d want to take a picture of it?” In those days if I was walking down the street as a punk rocker and somebody wanted to take my picture, I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to be observed, even if I was looking strange. But I think those days are gone now with people having no problem with images of themselves everywhere, all the time. To my point, it was an unusual circumstance for these pictures to be taken, and I just ignored the guy mostly. Then a little while later these pictures from those shows were printed in the Washington Post, and I hated the article. To me, it just missed the mark completely and it sort of made fun of the punk scene. It felt goofy and misrepresented what we were doing; whatever it was we were doing. Then the photos were gone, and years passed. Some of the photos were used in Cynthia Connolly’s book, Banned in DC, maybe three or four.

None of the other photos from that time saw the light of day until my wife, Lely, was recommended to this guy, Lucian Perkins, who is a photographer and had just retired from the Post. He hired her to organize his collection, which was in his basement, and he had decades of all kinds of photographs. He won a Pulitzer Prize for a photograph of refugees, photographed in warzones, did fashion photographs. He did a lot of stuff, but not much music. She took a while organizing his collection, came across the contact sheets, and called me to tell me that I’m in the photographs. Again, I remember when they were taken. I was really eager and excited because they became sort of a mystery, mostly to my brother and me. We talked about these things all the time. “Whatever happened to?… He must have taken more pictures.”

When I started looking at them again, one of the things that leapt out at me right away was how amazing they were because they weren’t just of the bands. With most photos, you tend to see the guitar player jumping, here is a solo, or whatever. It’s great, but when that’s the same thing every time… It’s because of his otherness; the same thing that I distrusted about him and was confused by when I was fourteen, that was the key to why his photographs are amazing. Basically, he was like, “Oh, this whole thing is interesting to me. I don’t know what this is.” He’s looking at it in this completely objective way and it comes through the lens that way. He’s really interested in this totally strange thing, and he’s doing all that work with his lens; we’re lucky he did. He took pictures of just the scene in general. He didn’t really seem to mind if people didn’t like what he was doing, since he wasn’t trying to fit in. It’s pretty interesting to know now that that was the secret. There are so many other people who, when they did start taking photographs, they tended to be friends or people who were fans of the music. They wouldn’t want to put a camera in your face if you didn’t want it there. Lucian was much more like, “Why not? I’m gonna do it. I’m a photographer, this is what I do.” This approach made for some really interesting pictures.

When we started talking about it, I said, “I think we should make a book out of these.” And he said, “Nobody would buy this because there are only four shows. I only went to four gigs and then I never took pictures of music again after that. Why would they buy this?” I told him these pictures are unique. It doesn’t matter that there’s only four events. Look inside each photograph, there’s so much to see. Lucian a photojournalist and he’s much more mercenary. He finds the one picture that will get printed, that the editor will pick, or the one that will make this sale or whatever. His mind wasn’t in the more auteur kind of thinking.

Daniel: There’s an idea that’s linked to anthropologists but is applicable to documentary in general. The goal is to try to make the familiar strange and the strange familiar. It seems like that’s what you’re describing here. Punk shows were strange for Lucian because he wasn’t part of the scene. And his audience was going to be people who weren’t punks. Yet, he was likely thinking about shooting in a way that viewers could develop some sense of what it feels like to be there in those spaces. For you and me, this would be super familiar. But one thing that’s interesting to me is that most of the other photographers who were outside the punk scene strove to make photos where the strange seemed strange: safety pins through the cheek, crazy makeup, charged hair. There’s none of that in this book. I think the photos are excellent, in part, because the images likely made something that was strange to outsiders seem familiar to them. At the same time, the photos showed other punks nuances of their own scenes, making the familiar a little strange.

Alec: Basically, he arrived here from Texas and was trying to get anything printed in the Post. His mentor said to just go out and go to some night place and take pictures, so he ended up at DC space. I think Lucian just thought it was a weird thing and wanted to take pictures of this. He’s a good photographer. And maybe part of what works so well for some photographers is that they’re always on the outside looking in; it’s their plight and they have no other way of seeing things. That makes it so that they’re not afraid to explore things differently.

These pictures turned out great, but certainly there are people in those days who were taking the most campy, ridiculous, misrepresentative punk rock pictures—it just drove me crazy what would appear on shows like Quincy or that Geraldo Rivera would unveil in one of his shows. People saw that and thought that’s what punk was. There are no punk rockers who do that, look like that, or act like that; it’s just bizarre.

Daniel: Do you know why Lucian shot four shows? In theory he could have shot one show and maybe placed those photos with a publication. He would not have needed to shoot three more shows.

HR, Bad Brains, Hard Art Gallery, 9/15/79 | photo by Lucian Perkins

Alec: I think he was excited, and he found it really interesting. I think it’s lucky that he happened across HR (Bad Brains) first, who told him about the next thing to go to. I should back this up. I’m describing Lucian in way that’s two-dimensional. He was interested in the arts. This place, DC Space, which is where he met HR, is a restaurant/bar but it’s also an art space. DC stands for District Creative. This intersection of the art scene and the punk scene happened mostly just because they let punks play there, and there were a lot of art school punks. Lucian got in with the space, so he wasn’t like a total stranger in a strange land. But punk also wasn’t his area of interest.

Daniel: Another feature of the book that resonates for me is the crowd; it’s not just a boy’s club. There are a lot of women and girls in the photos. Can you talk a about the scene at that time? Were these photos a good representation of the scene you experienced?

Alec: Yeah, it’s interesting. There was so much more of a blend of people before the punk scene got self-conscious, I guess, and people were thinking that it should have a look. Early on, it really was a lot of different types of people. There were women and girls. I feel like it was sort of one to one at a show. Maybe not so many bands, but there were bands that were fronted by or had all female members. Some were—I guess now we would say—new wave or something like that. Women at shows didn’t seem unusual. In fact, that’s how I was getting to shows. One of my neighbors was eighteen and I remember hitchhiking to shows with her. She knew what she was doing and how to do it. And, as I said, my sister was the person who introduced me to punk rock.

Hard Art, first edition

There were just lots of different kinds of people at the shows, and I feel like a lot of it had to do with most of the shows not happening in bars. The bars didn’t trust the music yet. They couldn’t sell enough beer. Or it was a risk because people would damage their place. They had a different agenda. So, we found these art spaces, art galleries, and that’s why the book is called Hard Art, really. It was a place, but it was also an idea; they just had the same impetus. They encouraged us. Our age wasn’t part of the conversation. It was just like, “What do you got? Are you creative? Are you filled with energy?” We had a different thing: we weren’t trying to sell out a club, didn’t have to worry about how much beer got sold. And so, it was always a different blend of people there. It only cost me one or two dollars to get in. These art places were trying to raise enough money to pay the rent for the month.

But then when we started having actual punk rock shows, they became much more refined, I guess. Some of the people transitioned to a look or the way they acted that was more obviously punk. Others stopped going to shows, with some maybe feeling like they were left behind. As punk becomes more itself, it has to lose all these other things that gave it this amazing texture. I was a pretty discerning punk. Of course, when I say “discerning,” you could also say narrow-minded. A lot of arty bands from New York, I took a pass. If it was loud and fast, I’m all there. There were bands I just couldn’t deal with, that I find fascinating and amazing now. I wasn’t ready yet. But I was at least exposed to it. I mean, that’s the thing that’s different about punk: you did come in proximity with really different kinds of people who you might not get or appreciate. That’s something I’m grateful for forever. I met some of the most interesting people who I couldn’t deal with at the time and now I feel really lucky.

Daniel: Excluding the section shot at the Valley Green Housing Complex—which is a show for youth who were mostly not part of the punk scene—the other three shows present a young crowd of punks. This age demographic taps into what you’re describing about people staying in the scene or drifting away. There are a lot of young people in the photos. Kids. We see this right away because the cover shows a kid (Charley Davis), who looks like he’s twelve years old, up against HR. He appears in the book at various points, but the most striking image is one where we see him wearing sunglasses that are missing a lens. Then later in the book there’s a girl wearing the same glasses. She also looks very young. Did you have any sense of your age in terms of a general self-awareness, or did you simply feel like you were all in it together and so you and other young punks were simply unaffected by the presence of older punks?

Alec: Anybody over twenty started getting old in my book. That’s right when I met HR. I was fifteen and he was twenty-three and I remember saying to him: “Wow! You’re twenty-three and you’re still doing this stuff. That’s pretty cool.” I was really impressed that at his advanced age he was still giving it a shot. [laughs] The kid on the cover of the book, he and I were baptized together in the same font. His parents and my parents were friends within the same church. I knew him when we were very little, but then our paths went away. He lived at that place. His dad was a diehard hippie who lived in this art collective, I guess that was also sort of a commune, squat kind of a place. So, he lived there and that’s mostly why he was there at that time. He just liked to have a good time, but he did get into the most abrasive kind of punk rock and he had a crazy life. He looks about two years younger than he was, I think.

But you’re right, lots of really young kids. And there were people bringing their small children to shows even occasionally. It didn’t seem weird. I remember out in L.A. Mad Society had a kid singing, who was like thirteen years old. He looked like a tot. I wasn’t the only fourteen-year-old in a band. There weren’t many, but young people love honest music. If you’re twelve and you hear the Ramones, you’re ready to go. They’re the most direct delivery of anything: they don’t want to go down to the basement, they don’t want to walk around with you, now they wanna sniff some glue. The direct message is great. And they just say it over and over again, which is perfect.

Daniel: As you discussed earlier, so many early punk shows in different cities happened in clubs and bars, which creates roadblocks for younger kids.

Alec: Places like New York and L.A., they had an entertainment industry. They had a structure in place, and if you’re going to be a performer making music that’s your structure; it’s already there. D.C. didn’t have a thing. Everything that we did was in spite of what was here. The clubs we were not going to try; it wasn’t even a trendy thing, you know. I think about kids growing up in L.A. and having to get to East L.A. to go to The Vex and you’re fifteen. The only way there is by car and it’s going to take you an hour from wherever you live.

D.C. was really unique. In some ways it was a drag, but I think that at least for the scene, as it developed, it became our badge of honor. When Bad Brains moved to New York, the rest of us were pretty heartbroken. One of the things about New York is you get there—and even if you’re hot shit wherever you’re from—you get to New York and there’s a lot of competition. In D.C. we were so supportive. We knew nobody was trying to interfere with each other’s ascent or anything else. In fact, there was no ascension. Where we were was it, the perfect spot. We just changed the yardstick, measuring the way that we wanted to. I think that for other scenes it was a bit more complicated.

Lely Constantinople | Self-portrait

Daniel: Let’s get back to the book. Lely, I’d like us to talk a bit about your work. Obviously, the four shows provide a nice organizing device, but within each section there were sequencing choices to make the most engaging book.

Lely: The book comes from such a tight archive in terms of the number of photos. That allowed me to look at every single image. When you have an immense collection, you can get overwhelmed. You can’t see the forest for the trees, kind of thing. I feel like the size of this archive really helped me make decisions—not just this one’s better or stronger than another. I think it was, here are these four shows and within these four shows we can actually do repeated sequences of the feeling of that show. As Alec said, Lucian comes from an editorial photo journalistic background. They don’t get a lot of real estate in a newspaper. His editors are really harsh. He’ll send in hundreds of images, and they’ll pick two. And those two have to say it all. Lucian and I did disagree at times, since I was trying to get him to kind of shift from that journalistic approach. For example, showing HR repeatedly, from different angles of the crowd is not repetitive. That choice actually carries more weight. It’s not so much about telling a story in a single photo. They all have to tell the story together.

Daniel: You’re describing a tension I find very attractive about documentary photography. Single images can be so powerful yet sequencing the images well can also tell a dynamic, and often different, story. As Alec and I discussed earlier, a lot of punk photography tends to focus on the bands. There are band photos in Hard Art, but the bulk of the book presents punks at the shows. How did you work through the images in terms of when a photograph of the bands will feature and when we’ll see other types of show-going experiences?

HR, Bad Brains, Valley Green Housing Complex, 9/9/79 | photo by Lucian Perkins

Lely: I’m a really intuitive editor. I just know it when I see it, and I know how they can fit. If I have ten images in front of me that are from the same event, I don’t say, “We need one that is from here and one from there.” I would rather riff off of a detail within an image—let’s say of a crowd shot—that another image matches that same energy. Those two should go together and then riffing off of that: then this one, and then this one. There’s a rhythm to editing for me that’s hard to describe to people who may not work in that way. I think some editors really are much more scientific in their approach and work from a checklist so that they cover all the ground. I definitely don’t work like that. I do it more by feel and constant repetitive looking at the work. It’s like a puzzle that I continue to go back to over time and revisit so that I can have a different vantage point. Of course, I have to have deadlines, so by this date I’ve got to have fifty of these chosen. But within those times I’m just constantly going back and re-looking and re-seeing connections between things. And I will say, the Valley Green show in particular, I would not edit one single image from that entire experience. Lucian thinks a lot of those images are really repetitive of one another and I just want every single image, unedited, raw. I think the faces in the crowd at that show are otherworldly, so engaging.

Daniel: You and Alec both highlight Lucian’s photojournalist approach. He thinks differently than a documentary photographer, who is used to making books. Can you talk a bit more about the process of making this book?

Lely: It’s funny. When I brought up that work from the basement, I said I think I need to take this home to Alec and his brother. Lucian was in such a different part of his life; he had won multiple Pulitzers and these punk photos were not on his radar. Ceding the control for this book was easy for him, but I also deeply respect his work and his vision. We work really well together, because there’s just so many areas of the recesses of his mind as a photojournalist and how he’s thought about his work over the years that he brings. He has to. But I also know he doesn’t know who’s in the images. He doesn’t know how the images relate. And how they can speak. He has to trust me to say, “You don’t know any of that, Lucian. You have to trust that I know that in conjunction with Alec, Jayme McLellan (the project manager for this book), and others.”

Daniel: Alec, you serve as a narrator in the book. There are other essays: Lely and Jayme each write introductions and Henry Rollins has a piece, which is mostly about a single photo. Your text weaves through the book. How did that come about?

Alec: What I wanted to do was less. I thought the images said more without help than if I tried to explain them. I think one of Lucian’s early ideas was to find all the people and then do sort of a “where they are/look what happened” kind of thing. I think he was amused that some of them have gone mainstream, or were doing fuddy duddy things. It’s not an unusual thing for newspapers to do, to have that kind of a story. But it’s a really short story and then you’re done. And I said, “Who cares? Most people don’t actually care what all these people are doing for real.” They might be interested in a casual way, but what’s more important is why they’re here in this space. What’s happening in this image? That, to me, is more essential.

Anyway, what I hoped to do and I sort of pulled it off. It’s hard to describe, but I didn’t want to pin down the pictures and say what everything was. I wanted to go back to my memory, as the person in the pictures and feel that feeling. But I also didn’t want to ache for that past. There’s a lot of “Well, you know back then ice cream was a dollar” [delivered in an old-timer voice]. What I thought was really important is that there’s a fire in the photos that’s still burning. Here are pictures that present the beginning sparks and a scene on fire. I don’t want to kill that by over-explaining. Also, from my point of view I’ve seen enough books and interviews where they tell you the way it was and—I don’t know—I still read all those things, but I felt like these pictures just seemed so good that they didn’t need too much help.

Daniel: There is book called Let Us Now Praise Famous Men that’s about the impoverished lives of tenant farmers. James Agee wrote the text and Walker Evans contributed the photographs. Agee writes in the introduction that the photos and text are meant to complement one another. The photographs don’t show us what the text says, and the text doesn’t describe the photographs. Both the words and images rest alongside each other. Of course, the layout of the edition I have chunks the photos, so I don’t know if that goal of complementary approaches is achieved. That’s a long way to say that your text provides a narrative context for the photos. The photos can show us a lot, but the photos can’t speak to the context of an emerging punk rock scene. You didn’t say, “In the photo we see this.” We don’t need that type of description, since we can see the photos.

Alec: I’m not one hundred percent sure that it was only my idea, but an early impulse on my part was to not step on the pictures too much. Partly, this is because I felt like some of them had a lot of mystery in there. I think mystery is storytelling’s greatest source: leaving something open that draws your viewer or reader in. You’re giving them this unsaid thing and now they’re part of it. It enters their imagination and they’re finishing the story a little bit. When you see all the kids at Valley Green and there’s this one girl who’s just making all the faces, we don’t need to explain everything about it.

I mean, just the setup; it was an unusual circumstance to do this punk show at a housing complex and that’s all you need to know. Then after that, just leave the pictures alone and let them speak. But if I tried to tell you, I would be wrong. I would have a recollection, but I can guarantee that my recollection would be like those situations where people look at photos and the photos change their memories. That’s happened to me where I know I’m seeing it wrong now because I’ve just visually influenced myself, and so I will start speaking for the picture. I really wanted to avoid that if I could. Most of that I really can remember—most of those people I really can remember them—and I remember a lot of the circumstances. But I just wanted to give the sense of the experience instead of the explanation. I didn’t want to kill any of it with definition.

I know that doesn’t always work out, since not all pictures can do all the heavy lifting. Some photos are snapshots that aren’t strong in that way. It’s hard to know. Photographers and people who look at a lot of photography can tell, they can see it, and you know which images are good and heavy.

Daniel: Lely, you came to this project from a different standpoint compared to Alec. You are a photographer, an editor, have curated. We talked earlier about sequencing, but extending this discussion with Alec about the narration, what were your strategies when considering this book as an artistic artifact?

Lely: I am a full bleed kind of person. I don’t want anyone telling me what to see in photographs when I’m seeing them. I want this stuff to speak for itself. I want it to be dropped out of the middle of the sky and then I just pick it up and have an experience with it. And I think that’s what punk is, to be honest. Shows I went to, although I wasn’t a kid going to them, that direct experience that is central to punk is also what I needed in this book. Did I get what I wanted, which was no text? [laughs] No. I would have preferred quite literally no nothing. Just the images, a title, Lucian’s name, and a nice thank you in the back kind of thing. Explanatory text and essays and all that bullshit is so overdone. It puts something between us. But this is why I really love the text that’s in there is so direct. It’s Alec’s voice, which kills me every time. When I read the text in there, it’s emotional and pure.

Daniel: [Laughs] I’m not a photographer but as someone who loves engaging documentary photographs and who is a punk, I dig having access to the photos but also want the narrative to understand the punk history. Maybe I’m in the middle. [laughs] But I think the book is sophisticated and y’all did a great job with this project. With that said, can you talk about the changes that feature in the new edition of the book?

Lely: Like I said, this is a small and concise collection, yet we uncovered some additional images of Charlie Danbury, HR, and Valley Green. The new edition contains some new gems that we think are so great to show everybody. I’m not sure about numbers-wise whether new photos are equally divided among the chapters, but I think it’s about ten images that are new. And a new cover. The text stays the same, but Alec wrote a beautiful tribute to Charlie.

Alec: Charlie Danbury was the singer for Trenchmouth and died a couple years ago. Trenchmouth was one of the bands featured in the Valley Green chapter.

Lely: We’re also trying to take it to as many places as we can as an expanded exhibition along with this new edition, and in conjunction with James Schneider’s Punk the Capital documentary (a film about the Washington, D.C. scene focused on 1976-1983). We’re trying to do shows anywhere we can. I really want to do university galleries and educational workshops that will get to the next generation of kids. The nostalgia stuff for the sake of nostalgia is not interesting to me. Instead, I think about this more like a straight line to current punk. And we’ve done things like this: in New Orleans we asked local bands to play so we could loop in that component. And to work with visual artists, who really don’t get their due, would be a really good way to go.

Daniel: That sounds great. I like it when exhibitions or gallery shows can link to other elements of punk. While we’re on this general topic of historical photos, nostalgia, and new artists, I want to ask you, Alec, about your perceptions of changes with punk photography. We have been mostly been discussing your experience with these photographs versus your experience being in the photographs. You appeared in these photographs when you were in your early teenage years. But these photographs were the beginning of a documented life. That is, you would later be photographed when you sang in the Untouchables, in Faith, in Ignition, and then when you were in The Warmers. What’s your relationship to photography and photographers as your life in music took shape? Do you enjoy that process? Do you like being photographed?

Charlie Danbury and Alec MacKaye, Madams Organ, 11/11/79 | photo by Lucian Perkins

Alec: Not particularly, no. It hasn’t changed very much. Sometimes it annoys me because it’s just unavoidable at shows now. The reformed Germs, when they had that soap opera kid (Shane West) singing, they were pretty great. I can’t tell you how—I’m feeling it right now just remembering being at that show and seeing Lorna Doom and Don Bolles play the songs that were encoded in my body. I couldn’t believe that I was having this opportunity. That guy did a pretty good job of acting like a singer. He had a fan base of people who were there because he’s a TV star. Every time he came over to one side of the stage, all these phones and cameras lit up as everybody was grabbing pictures.

Now it’s everywhere, everybody all the time, but that was the first time I really saw this. I just thought how weird it was that they weren’t having the experience I was having, which was being in the same room with The Germs. They’re here in this place, I’m here in this place, and we’re sharing vibrating columns of air that are touching us at the same time, like a fucking magic experience. And then to see people, where the action is all in front of them, but they have a machine between them because they want to be able to reminisce in advance. Having that shortcut to the future is not my bag. I don’t really want to see the pictures. That all being said, I love looking at photography. I absolutely love looking at old picture books of punk rock bands doing anything. I buy them and collect them.

So, I’m glad it’s getting done but in the moment it’s not the thing I think about. Sometimes we have these shows at the Black Cat. A lot of the old heads will play and people bug out. It’s like an army of cameras in front of you. All of that is to say that, yeah, I had this sort of opinion about it, but I accept it. More than that, I hope that that the people who are taking all those pictures when they leave there, the next day when they’re not at the show, they go outside and look at an interesting sewer top or bus stop that has light playing on it in a certain way. I hope they’re being delivered to their creative lives through that camera.

Daniel: Absolutely. I think one other thing that’s interesting when considering the proliferation of photographers at shows is the shift in punk more generally. Some bands from your scene, most notably Fugazi, Girls Against Boys, and Jawbox, garnered mainstream attention as various punk subgenres became more popular in the early 1990s. The photos from that time are really exciting, but those images can’t document the birth of a scene because that birth had already happened.

Alec: Yeah, and I think that’s just lucky, you know. It’s lucky that Lucian was there, it’s lucky that whatever we were doing took root and kept going. All of it you can’t know until the test of time. Some things had fallen away, and this one thing remained. You forget all of the things that didn’t work and the people who withered, but here’s the echo. Here’s the thing that Lucian caught. I don’t know why Lucian took the negatives home, but a lot of times that stuff doesn’t get saved. There are a lot of situations when an outlet starts digging around looking for things and they’re like, “Oh, sorry, we didn’t need it because we took the three useful pictures and printed them.” The rest of it was just considered outtakes or it’s trash. These photos in the book could have easily been dumped by someone at the Post.