Save the Date & Interview: Closing Party for Edward Colver “Idle Worship II” at Lethal Amounts – Saturday May 20th
Edward Colver is best known for his iconic images of California punk and hardcore spanning the years of 1978-1984 though he has also captured many other subjects, from Tom Waits to Timothy Leary to Ice Cube, and others.
His current show at Lethal Amounts, Idle Worship II – The Photography of Edward Colver, LA Underground 1978-1984 features more than 100 photos, including images of seminal punk bands Germs, Black Flag, Dead Kennedy’s, Circle Jerks, Minor Threat, Christian Death, Gun Club, X, Social Distortion, Fear and others are previously unpublished. The show opening was packed, and in celebration of the event, a closing party has been booked for May 20, 7-11 PM.
This interview was transcribed from his appearance on my LuxuriaMusic.com radio show, Over Under Sideways Down, on 5/10. Though Ed is heavily associated with all things L.A. Hardcore, he is a fan of psych and hard-edge garage which is what we played on the show.
I was born in Pomona, the same hospital as my father, my great grandfather and grandfather raised oranges in the San Gabriel Valley, my father was a forest ranger for 43 years in the Angeles National Forest
Did you ever get to visit him at work?
Yes, when I was young we lived in a Ranger Station in San Dimas Canyon, and in the summer when I was a teenager and even younger I’d go to work with my dad all the time. I caught a rattlesnake once, he wasn’t happy.
With your bare hands? How did you keep it from biting you?
I pinched his head pretty hard. He wasn’t happy.
Speaking of being bit, when did the rock ‘n’ roll bug bite you?
When I was a teenager – early Who, The Pretty Things.
Before punk rock you had quite a history of going to shows.
I started going to shows in the mid-60s and stopped in the early 70s because there wasn’t much to see. I just didn’t go out much. I used to see Iron Butterfly before they released their first album. I saw Love, The Mothers of Invention, Blue Cheer. I saw Blue Cheer in 1969 at The Shrine my ears rang for three days afterward. I saw The Seeds, Country Joe, Moby Grape, Big Brother and the Holding Company, actually I saw them four times my brother was friends with the drummer, we saw them three times at The Golden Bear and once at The Shrine.
Where was The Golden Bear
Huntington Beach, I saw Tim Buckley there three or four times. He was so talented. In the ’60s, I detested most folk music except for traditional American stuff, and Tim Buckley, Nick Drake, Tom Rapp. I saw every show T. Rex played at The Whiskey in ’71.
How did you find punk rock
When I used to watch television, I saw a news report about Madame Wongs and I thought “that looks kind of intriguing.” Went and had a look and wasn’t too thrilled – except the early Motels were cool. I liked seeing them in those days, they were kind of moody and dark, but then the Hong Kong Cafe opened up across the alleyway, and I started going to punk shows there in ’79, maybe late ’78.
Greg Ginn, Henry Rollins – Black Flag 1982
Ed had just started messing around with a camera and took one with him from the very start of going to punk shows. The first live shots he did were of The Motels.
What kind of gear were you using?
A really lame Yoshika Rangefinder 35 millimeter camera. I was doing entirely available light stuff and my friends Bruce Kalberg and Frank Gargani of NO MAG – Frank said to Bruce “there’s a guy on the scene that’s shooting available light” which was pretty crazy there was so much action going on. After a while, I got a small flash.
Every punk photo I took up until the time – I was doing album covers – was shot with a 50mm lens. I was on stage next to the people. They were my friends. I’d see them 3-4 times a week. It was a small scene back then and I had carte blanche.
Ed mentioned that the group photos of The Gun Club that were taken for the “Fire of Love” album were their first group shots. When I asked if they hired him, he said: “that would have meant there was money involved”.
Did you do many shoots for free?
There were many album covers I got paid $100 bucks for doing, but I was glad to do them, I was having fun.
You used to do a lot of photo shoots at your place downtown, you also did an MTV thing out of there?
That was Carlos Grasso, I.R.S. Records Cutting Edge, on MTV, mid ’80s.
Oh yes, they used your place to shoot show segments. That was near where you did the photo shoot for my band Yard Trauma.
That was actually just down the street from there. All those buildings are gone, too.
We were in some vacated burned out building, everyone was scared too…there were all kinds of crazy noises.
Yeah, noises in the dark.
And I’ve known you since — I wasn’t even living in LA I was living in Tucson visiting Los Angeles, we met at Faulty Products, two years before I moved here.
On La Brea.
Yes. I used to buy from them when I ran the Roads to Moscow record store in Tucson and they were distributing my cassette label. And then I saw you at Canter’s, you were alone and invited me to sit with you, and you gave me a stack of photos; Black Flag, Green on Red, many others. I still have them! You helped to make me feel welcome in Los Angeles!
Dead Kennedys 1982
How did you snap such amazing photos in the middle of all that chaos?
I was like an art monster all through grade school, high school junior college, etc. So I had a sense of composition. I watched all those punk shows through a “keyhole” viewfinder which was really weird. I’d lose my peripheral and just watch the action. I was paying attention to looking for a photo. I’d sit there with my shutter release half way down waiting for something to happen, and also I knew the songs, the people. I’d know, OK they are going to jump on the first chord of this song, they usually would so I’d get airborne shots of the bands. I shot a lot on stage.
So then all these great shots of yours were not random?
No, I don’t think so. I worked at composition – even when I was getting knocked sideways I was still trying to compose a picture.
One of your most famous photographs, the one that’s on the cover of your book “Blight at the end of the Funnel” the Wasted Youth flip photo
I shot that at an Adolescents, DOA, Stiff Little Fingers show at Perkins Palace on July 4, 1981 and the airborne punk is skateboarder Chuck Burke. I was on stage when I shot that, The Adolescents were playing. He’s silhouetted against a dark background like he’s jumping into this void. Had I been out in the crowd it would have been entirely different.
Let’s talk riots – tell me about this photo
San Vicente and Sunset in front of the Whiskey at a Black Flag show. A good friend of mine threw the beer bottle that started that riot.
This one was at the Hollywood Theater, the premiere of The Decline of Western Civilization. 71 motorcycle cops, seven cars and two paddy wagons – communists handing out revolutionary newspapers, punks got rowdy with the communists and started throwing the papers around – I’ll never understand how the cops mobilized 71 motorcycles, spontaneously. Let me point out that those are hand-held available light at night, you can do that all day long with your cellphone, that was mission impossible ith the equipment in those days.
Did you ever have problems with cops not wanting you to take pictures?
Nope, I think being older helped, I was 29 when I started taking photos of the punks – most all my friends who were in bands were teenagers or in their early 20s. The cops tended to leave older people alone, in a crowd of teenagers I looked like an old fart!
Black and white outtake photo from Damaged
Another iconic shot of yours is on the cover of Black Flag’s Damaged album. Did Rollins actually punch that mirror?
No, I set that up entirely. Had he just punched that mirror he wouldn’t have blood on his hand. The photo was taken in Hollywood at an old wood-framed house that was called The Oxford House, it was a punk rock pad. I took red India ink with me, I put duct tape all over the back of the mirror, I washed it then I smacked it with a hammer – I cleaned it again, took the India ink, went into the kitchen and started experimenting to make the blood. I came up with the red India ink for color, liquid dish-washing soap for consistency, and instant coffee for color and consistency, and it looked just like blood.
Later issues of the album are in black and white.
I’m so bummed about that, Greg never talked to me about reissuing it, he did really shitty black and white then really shitty color versions of it, then he reissued it finally looking like what I shot, with somebody else’s name on it. All those credits were on the back of that record for 25 years and all of a sudden it gets changed.
Did you get any money from that shoot?
My friend Steve Sinclair from Modern Warfare that worked at Greenworld gave me a dozen albums a couple of years after I did it. I don’t recall getting any money for it. Every time a record is reissued, the photographer is supposed to be paid again. Lisa Fancher from Frontier paid me for a reissue, no-one else.
You still have images that have not been seen by the public. How many of the images at Idle Worship II are previously unpublished?
50%. I have thousands and thousands of really good photos that are on par with a lot of the published ones that I’ve never done anything with. A lot of my older photos were published out of necessity. I’d do a photo shoot with a band, with like five different setups, they would use one on the record or a publicity photo, then I’ve got four other setups of the band, totally different photos that no-one has seen.
Check out Ed’s book Blight at the End of the Funnel: Edward Colver
Oki Dogs 1979-80 left to right Reed Campbell, Linda Curd & Monty Harrison
Tom Waits 1985
Ian McKaye. Minor Threat 1982
Raymond Pettibon 1982
Ice Cube just after NWA broke up
Red Hot Chili Peppers 1984
Ed Colver “Idle Worship II”
Saturday, 5/19/17, 7 PM – 11 PM
1226 W 7th St,
Los Angeles, California 90017