Michael Grecco has enjoyed a long and distinguished career as an editorial and fine art photographer. Traveling the globe many times over in pursuit of his gigs, subjects, and ideas, he’s one of those curious-minded professionals whose creativity doesn’t end with the job, but extends to exploring the sights and sites of every place he visits. He’s known for emotional, evocative, innovative portraits of some of the best-known faces and brands out there. But like so many great eyes of his time, the punk rock scene of the late 70’s and 80’s, on both coasts, helped formulate his artistic individualism. Now that heady decade and a half are collected not only in his camera, but in the lavish new coffee table book Punk, Post Punk, New Wave: Onstage, Backstage, In Your Face, 1978 to 1991. Along with Oedipus and Tami Heidi, he’ll be discussing it — and hopefully oversharing what must be some pretty legendary stories — at Book Soup on Wednesday, November 11 (6pm).
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
MICHAEL GRECCO: That’s an interesting question. In the ‘70s, when I started creating work as a photographer, there was a great debate about whether photography was an art form. Since it was a mechanical recording of the world (sometimes), many disparaged it as fine art. Susan Sontag’s On Photography at the time both asked many of these important questions, and at the same time answered the question of whether photography was an art form or not. At this point, I do not believe there is a question about it, photography is one of our most powerful art forms. So to answer your question, once I picked up a camera when I was a kid and I knew I wanted to be a photographer, but it was a little bit later until I understood the power of photography in the art world.
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
Well, normally I would say that I create powerful dramatically lit conceptual portraits of celebrities and business people. My latest book though is called Punk, Post Punk, New Wave: Onstage, Backstage, In Your Face, 1978 to 1991, and it’s a document of the Punk scene from 1978 to 1991, documentary images and portraits. It’s a little different from what I am known for, but I think you can see the through line in it. I love shooting portraits and documenting subcultures. My company saying is, “I go out every day with the intention of breaking visual rules, to make an evocative image that inspires people.” That about sums it up for me, and Punk helped bring me to that place of creativity.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
I love architecture and cooking. I think I would be an architect though, cooking as a profession is too hard. Up too early, too many burns and too many cuts. I would stick to the drawing board so to speak.
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
I studied Broadcasting and Film at Boston University. As a kid I thought I knew it all, why study photography if you know everything. I laugh now about that. I got a minor in Photojournalism because that was something new and exciting also. The study of films and art history in school was really helpful creatively. Although it was not my intention, having tangential knowledge like that helps support your creativity.
Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?
I left a staff position at the Boston Herald on an invitation from People Magazine to be a regular contributor. Since I was truly inspired by Annie Leibovitz, I ultimately went to live in L.A. and shoot celebrities. It seemed like the place to be to do that. I used to joke like the theme song of the Beverly Hillbillies that I “packed up the truck and moved to Beverly, Hills that is,” although it was Venice in reality.
When was your first show?
It was in Boston, the May before I left for L.A. It was a group show with some amazing Boston portraitists. It was early college work, weird portraits. It was a very nice gallery by South Station. The day of the show we had a blizzard in May, three feet of snow. Only the three other artists made it. That December, I loaded the truck and “moved to Beverly.” I could not take it in New England anymore!
When is/was your current/most recent/next show?
I had a show at the Leica gallery a few years ago of some panoramic night landscapes I had been working on. It was called Michael Grecco’s Urban Landscapes.
What artist living or dead would you most like to show with?
Avedon or Helmut Newton are my favorites. That would be amazing, I never thought about that.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so what?
It’s better to say, what music do I not listen to. The Punk project and book, Punk, Post Punk, New Wave: Onstage, Backstage, In Your Face, 1978 to 1991 came about because Punk blew me away after being a Jazz snob growing up in New York City. I now listen to everything except most Rap, new Country and most Opera. Of course there are great things in each of those genres.
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