When your aunt pulls out her forgotten photos of family vacations past, you're probably going to tune out. But when punk rock photographer Edward Colver tells you he's got boxes of negatives he hasn't looked at in years, you drop what you're doing and gather around.
Colver is opening up parts of his rarity-filled archives to the general public starting this weekend at downtown L.A.'s Lethal Amounts gallery.
Today it'd be insane to hear of an event, let alone a musical performance, that wasn't covered by at least a dozen crappy cameras. You can't even go to a show at an Elks Lodge in Faribanks without seeing the dull blue hue of phone-cameras raised high.
Of course, it wasn't like that back in the late '70s, when really groundbreaking hardcore spectacles full of snarling kids popped up in dirty back rooms and make-shift venues all over L.A. There are probably more photos of burgers eaten in Echo Park an hour ago than there are shots of infamous Germs frontman Darby Crash gnashing and stalking the stage.
And yet, Colver’s got them. Because he was there and he was one of those snarling kids.
He and gallery owner Daniel Fuentes were kind enough to peruse some of his photo deep cuts with us in advance of Saturday’s opening. "I went to five shows a week for five years,” Colver repeats almost mantra-like as he goes through them. “So, I’ve forgotten some of this stuff entirely. I likened it to a five-year party. I’d see my friends every night and we’d see great music.”
He may have forgotten that he took them (especially since also shot about 80 album covers in that span), but when he sees them, he remembers every fact about them. And, laconically, with a slight drawl and dry wit, he talks about how he made so many legendary freaks, geeks, punks, goons, troublemakers and generally edgy motherfuckers look so cool.
“This in Pomona, where he used to live. Where I was born, where my father was born. I met him through Rikk [Agnew of The Adolescents]. He was quite a character, he was like 17 years old then and quite brilliant. He wrote all the lyrics to 'Only Theater of Pain' when he was 17 years old. That’s pretty incredible that it still holds up today.”
Next: More of Colver's classic photos and the stories behind them
“You want one of Lydia Lunch’s nipple?” Revolutionary performer Lydia Lunch, naked, wrapping herself around a bomb? Yes. This one speaks for itself.
“These guys, The Brat. East L.A. Chicano punk. Not too many people are aware of them, but they played an important role in why so many Latinos got into punk rock,” Fuentes explains.
“These are some of the earliest photos of Redd Kross. The tightest group shot of any band I’ve ever taken.”
Unlike photographers now, shooting in rapid succession, praying for something magic, Ed took photos like this, and even his stage diving shots, with clockwork precision. He knew what he was looking for and he caught it at the moment he wanted it. There aren't many wasted Ed Colver shutter snaps.
“Early on I learned to shoot either one person, or get the whole friggin' band in the photo," he explains. "There are so many other live photos where it’s three out of four and it’s like, ‘What the fuck is that?’ All it takes is some thought and some timing to get it right.”
Through the dozens of photos we go through, where he lacks a story, he drops a smattering of one-liners.
“We could do a whole show of photos with weenie in it,” he says about The Mentors’ Eldon “El Duce” Hoke, holding a huge dildo over a Go-Go’s record in a toilet. “What’s funny is that the dildo looks so real in there.”
Showing a photo of Henry Rollins in nothing but a dirty jock strap: “I hope that’s not a boner.”
On his iconic photo for the cover of Black Flag's Damaged, "Oh, I broke the mirror myself and set it all up. Blood doesn't come out instantaneously like that. "
Looking at a photo of actual unnamed grave-robbing musicians digging through a coffin, it barely phases him. “Yeah, they are actually grave robbing. Some guys from West Covina. They tried drumming with those bones later that night. They broke, though."
Yeah. That is why Edward Colver is a living legend and exactly why the exhibit is essential viewing. In L.A.'s hardcore birthplaces, even in Pomona graveyards, and everywhere else where the wasted youth of L.A. got together to fuck shit up, he captured it all on glorious silver halide.
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And Fuentes, for his part, knows exactly what Colver's work is worth to a generation accustomed to instant photographic gratification. These are the photos that punk kids who weren't alive yet can worship like a baby boomer looking at a young Elvis. This is idol worship punk style, this is "Idle Worship."
Edward Colver Photography Exhibit "Idle Worship: California Underground 1978-1984" Opens tomorrow, Sept. 20 at 8pm at Lethal Amounts, 1226 W 7th St., Downtown.