Saturday, June 30, 2007

my first camera

it was this pentax. well, its not exactly my first camera... i'd used instamatics, polaroids and movie cameras before... but the pentax was my first SLR.

it was a christmas present from my parents in 1972. my first pictures were of the family dog. then everything in the house was fair game. i took this photo of myself in the mirror.

then i went outside and started taking pictures of everything in my path. some local kids posed for me and i really like the way this image has aged. i don't think i knew those kids back then...and now, 35 years later, who knows who they became?

kids small

i'm really glad that i shot everything i looked at. i found this shot of traffic on wilshire blvd. in santa monica, circa 1978. not sure if this was taken with my pentax, or with my second camera, my preferred (the one i still use NOW) nikon fm.

the gap sm blvd vw bug Watermarked

i still take pictures of every interesting thing i see, even if it isn't human... i mean... doesn't every photographer?

wires ecu grey small

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

backstage: who are these people?

john hiatt, a critic's favorite singer/songwriter is backed in a corner of his dressing room at the whisky a go go in was an industry meet n greet... a function at the junction...DJ's, journalists, contest winners and what have you crowd the star of the evening to have their 15 minutes of a brush with greatness...maybe i'm cynical after so many years of doing this. but to me, hiatt seems tentative and on guard.

so may years of doing this... the people you photograph get used to you; they know who you are; they know you're a professional. there are backstage naifs though...they're either super fans and can't believe they are there meeting you, and end up telling you their whole life story and how you figure into it... or they want a little photo opportunity. that latter is easiest, if they pose and then go.

backstage is a weird place. it is at once your sanctuary before and after you do your show. you have your friends come up and see you there. then you have your duty...your record company, your manager...they come up; that's fine. then you have your job. meeting the public. that's the variable you can't control. that's the contradiction of the backstage space. its meant to be your sanctuary, yet, you have to open your door to strangers...because they are the ones who got you on that particular stage. one other shy guy, a critically acclaimed fellow said, "its hard to be a saint in the city." he knew what he was talking about.

hiatt nietschze
Jack Nitzsche, friend, Hiatt

Jack Nitzsche - now that was a backstage visitor Hiatt wanted to see, and you can see by his demeanor that he's happy to see Jack. and Jack, so accustomed to the Hollywood backstage hustle, looks at the camera to give the final photo a focal he knows John's not looking at the camera.

the late Jack Nitzsche was working with John Hiatt on a track for the soundtrack to William Friedkin's movie in production at that time, Cruising, starring Al Pacino as a cop working underground in the gay subculture looking for a serial killer striking that scene. the soundtrack to the movie was completely produced by Nitzsche and features many contemporary and at the time, heralded underground artists, like Willy de Ville and The Germs.

these backstage situations - where the labels host a meet n greet - these are the ones where you have to fire a flash. you need those flat, brightly lit photos for the trades. i got some of those from this function at the junction...but i couldn't bear to post them because they are flat and brightly lit.

instead.... i give you one of my favorite "backstage" photos that i've taken with a flash:


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Fragile Light at Night........Nasvhille

the stage at family wash

There's a bar/restaurant in East Nashville called The Family Wash. It was made out of a former laundromat, hence the name. East Nashville is a cozy enclave of artists and musicians, and The Family Wash is one hang out friendly to them as well as to families.

family wash still life

Part of the coziness results from the nice and friendly people; another part comes from the wood and the magnicifent available ambient light that wafts in but never directly from the big windows at the front. And of course, candles during the night time hours.

spock at the bar

Here is my friend Spock, tending bar - these photos were taken last year, in May 2006 when I was staying in Tennessee for a couple months. First, Spock went on vacation to Mexico, and I stayed at her wonderful house and sat with her lovely dog, Shelby Todd, and her cat, Spice. When she returned, I stayed and we planned her house-warming party to celebrate her first year in Nashville. We are both LA natives who moved to NYC and neither of us are in NYC now...

still life with ladies

Here's Julia, basking in the glow of the candles and low ambient lights. She watching Warren Pash perform some songs on acoustic guitar. Warren is the man in the shadow below. Illuminated is Reeves Gabrels, the guitarist. He has a regular gig at the Family Wash on Sundays. Loud Sundays, that is!

shadowy men

I don't like using a flash - not even at night or in dark situations where everyone else wouldn't hesitate to flash. I like capturing what my eye sees. Of course, the human eye compensates for darkness...the iris opens wide to let in more light. And you can do that with your camera too. Its become such a preference for me, that I'm not sure I even like fully illuminated vistas. I certainly don't like bright television lighting of sets.

I'm an available light lover all the way.

warren in the doorway, vertical

The photos of Warren and Reeves were taken outside, late at night. They're illuminated only by the street lamps, moonlight, passing car headlights and the sole light above the entrance to the restuarant.


Again...this kind of situation really calls for the film and camera to push themselves to their performance limits. My Nikon FM - the same one I've been using since 1973 - has a fast lens - 1.8 is the widest apeture. I used Kodak Professional BWCN400 film stock for these shots. Normally, I do shoot Tri X or T Max, but this is the kind of film you could get processed anywhere, as it is a C-41 process. So, you can do it at any 1-hour photo place. Its great when you're traveling. And as you can see, it performs exceptionally well in low light situations.

warren in the doorway again

Interiors are my preferred locations...and I'll look to any source for illumination.

family wash bar still life glowing

Monday, June 25, 2007

pushing the film in hamtramck


hamtramck sky on 666
the sky and its fragile light

those cloudy skies were directly overhead in hamtramck, the old polish enclave of the detroit metro area. this is what the skies looked like on 666 - june 6, 2006. i came into town to see my friends, and since mike walker's new band, cuckold were playing with steve nawara's new band, a sort of rocket 455 reunion on this date could i not attend?

my friend, eugene strobe not only picked me up, but he put me up in his cute hamtramck house for the few days that would be in town.

eugene is a host with the most hospitality...he took me around on photo safaris, and i took some photos of him, and also of our friends, marty morris and dave shettler of the band, SSM when an "s" and the "m" came over to borrow a kick drum pedal. the other "s," john szymanski aka johnny hentch was not around that day. too bad! he's pretty photogenic.

ssm with a different "s"

i like to take pictures at twilight - at the moments before sunrise, and after the sun sets...the light is fragile and changes quickly. when you shoot at those times, you really push your film, your camera and your skills to their limits. i like to shoot with the iris wide open. it makes for a shallow depth of field, and allows me the focus on a narrow vista within the frame. everything else is soft while one specific part of the frame is sharp.

that's kind of the way i see. i have astigmatism in my right eye, and i don't know if that's why i see things that way, or if i just look at the world as if i'm shooting a movie. i understand that the painter known as El Greco suffered from astigmatism also and that's why his paintings look the way they do. it makes sense to me. el greco, though he painted in spain, and is considered a painter of the spanish school, was actually greek.

eugene strobe
eugene on his porch after sunset

dave shettler
dave shettler with eugene’s kick drum pedal

the twilight is flattering to everyone – and although these guys are handsome, young and photogenic and would look good in any light…the twilight makes them seem younger, softer and even more photogenic.

eugene wienie
Genie’s Wienies

i don’t think Genie’s Wienies is in business anymore… at least not by the same people who have been operating it since it opened. there were all kinds of real estate signs on the side of the building last year. now i wish we’d had a Genie’s Wienie. what did we have instead? probably pierogies


Saturday, June 23, 2007

the story behind the photos: stiv n me in london, 1985

stiv amst. 85 - 72

i know you are accustomed to seeing me photographing stiv, but here, he's photographing me. this photo was taken - of him photographing me photographing him - in amsterdam in july 1985.

1985 was the summer that stiv, michael monroe and i were roommates - in stiv's flat, in mine, and in michael's manager's flat ...

mike monroe july 85
michael monroe in my flat at the portobello hotel

why did we have so many places to stay? well, we didn't stay in any of them for very long, for reasons i'll explain later.

stiv and i were in amsterdam for a week's vacation, so that when we returned to the UK, we could have an additional 6 months to stay without having to do deal with getting extended stay visas. we were both pretty savvy at getting around having to deal with government paperwork. i mean - can you imagine lords of the new church-era stiv in the US embassy?

although he looked out of place in a government office, stiv lived the life of a rock n roll celebrity; had a rather palatial (by london standards), expensive flat in ladbroke grove. arundel gardens. we could see lemmy's house from stiv's roof deck (see, i meant it when i called it palatial by london standards), and we were walking distance from the portobello hotel, where i always stayed in those days. whenever it was available, i got rooms 6 and 7, on the ground floor. the big room opened out into the hotel's beautiful english garden. the little room was big enough for the bed, a desk and the walkway between them to the bathroom, which was only big enough to turn around in. both the rooms were gorgeous though. the big room had a giant four-poster bed with a canopy and green velvet curtains that wrapped around the entire bed, so you could completely block all daylight out and sleep in.

even though i charged these posh portobello stays with credit cards that my parents paid, i was careful to stretch out my credit allotment. usually, we'd stay at the hotel for a week each month. that would basically take care of the time it took us to find another apartment - or holiday let.... we were on the move that summer because stiv and his girlfriend had split up and he couldn't really afford the palatial ladbroke grove digs on his own.

michael was in between flats, too. there was a month his manager went out of town, and we stayed there. after that, we stayed at the flat where i was house-sitting when little steven came to london...

stiv told me that little steven was a big dead boys fan. steven hung out with us, took us out to dinner, and we in turn told him where to get 24/7 eats (at the portobello hotel restaurant, but of course!) and where to get pizza by the slice that tasted almost like NY pizza (very tough one, that). steven was in town to work on his anti-apartheid project, a record called "sun city." he was going to be recording it at island, where i worked. small world, isn't it? stiv and michael ended up singing choruses on the record, along with half of london... they're also in the video hart perry shot, both in the studio part, and in the street scenes shot later in NYC.

in addition to his own "sun city," little steven went in to produce demos for stiv and michael.

we were in the recording studio in convent garden - neals yard studios, so named for neals yard, the little square in convent garden where the studio was located. peter cooke and dudley moore recorded their comedy albums there, and so did monty python! we loved that vibe. during the recording sessions, which went deep into the night, i'd go out before the shops closed to get some food for us - usually mediocre pizza and OK salads and sandwiches. then i'd crash on the couch in the front lounge, as the guys would just record all night long, often doing some takes over and over again. musicians would come and go all night long as well.

one morning, i woke up to find polaroids of me in full clown face make-up. everyone denies doing it - and because when i awoke, my face was clean, i wasn't exactly in the position to accuse anyone of really messing me with me.

during those recording sessions, stiv, michael and i had to move again.

stiv's former drummer in the wanderers, ricky "rock" goldstein had a flat in the ravenscourt park section of hammersmith, and i had stayed with him and his wife, margaret before. they were going on a brief holiday, so stiv, michael and i decamped there.

stiv ravenscourt pk small
stiv in the bedroom of the ravenscourt park flat

believe it or not, we lived a sort of happy nuclear family type existence... with me the mom and stiv and michael as my sons. only they both always spent way more time primping in the bathroom than i ever did. we moved by taxi. stiv had a genius way of packing, and always only carried one suitcase. but that one suitcase carried everything AND the kitchen sink. stiv packed for us, and left michael and i to hail a taxi that would take us from old church street in south kensington to ravenscourt park. an older gentleman cabbie picked us up, and was flirting with michael, thinking he was a woman. i did all the talking, saying that my friend was from finland (true) and didn't speak english (false). it would be terrible for the cabbie to all of a sudden stop carrying our luggage if he learned michael was a man! stiv got in, and the cabbie is exchanging real dude eye contact with him: lucky guy... two ladies! ha!

monroe london 85 bed
michael in his red kimono in the bedroom, ravenscourt park

Friday, June 22, 2007

the story behind the photos: the church

mwp portrait
Marty Willson-Piper, 1984
Malibu, CA

I don’t know if it is a good thing, a bad thing, or simply just the way things are – when I am interested in something, I have to immerse myself in it.

tk kilbey roseann nyc 84
me, Steve Kilbey, Roxanne Fontana
NYC, 1984
(photo by Martina Stanek, taken with my camera)

In 1981, I met Roseann Fontana (she now goes by Roxanne because over the years, so many people just called her “Roxanne” by mistake that she simply changed her name. Legally.) She was the friend of a friend, and unbeknownst to both Roseann (and I have always called her by her proper name, so I can’t switch now!) and I dated the same guy in the recent past. That’s how we met.

When she came to Los Angeles, we started to hang out and found we had the same taste in music. We were both listening to a new release by the Australian band called The Church. She was crazy about the single, “The Unguarded Moment,” a jangly Rickenbacker number, dark under its seeming brightness. Because I booked shows at the Whisky, I suggested that we bring them to the States.

It was that simple idea that started a 20-year relationship with the band that bore all the marks of a sibling relationship, with all the love, hate, roses and thorns that come with it.

The portrait of Marty Willson-Piper, above is an enduring artifact of the early, halcyon days of being in world of The Church. Also, a group photo I took from the same day is included in the Rhino Records box set, Children of Nuggets – perhaps an artifact with greater distribution than my portrait of Marty, and one that will keep people asking me, “what did you do with The Church?”

church stage door sydney
The Church at Stage Door Rehearsal Studios in Sydney, Australia, March 2000

stage door parking lot sydney
Stage Door

Twenty years is a long time to cover in just a blog post on a blog that's really meant to highlight the photos. We were like family, all of us, and families know how to push each other's buttons.

kilbey portrait
Steve Kilbey, 1984
Malibu, CA

We lived and worked with each other through several changes of management, record labels and booking agents, investors, friends, lovers, wives, children, deaths, arrests, band break ups, band reunions...we traveled the world together and found great solace, comfort, support in friendship with one another. We bonded over music, art and literature; we debated philosophy and vegetarianism. I learned all their eating idiosyncracies and we all stayed in one another's homes in various parts of the world over 20 years. They thanked me publicly, and I have thanked them. We have also fought publicly.

Just like family.

powles hands
Tim Powles Hands

In 1999/2000, I went to Sydney as the band tried to start recording a new album. Like Dickens wrote, "It was the best of times; it was the worst of time." Sydney was delightful, and there were great times, but I guess that's where the seeds of the immediate near future were sown.

sydney harbor

We're estranged now to say the least. Marty and I did see each other in 2005 however. NYC, he was playing in The Saints, who I booked to play the intimate Ding Dong Lounge. I think we both feared the worst, but it was OK. In an "just like old times" moment, I drove him from 106th Street to St. Mark's Place in between the sound check and the show. There were awkward moments, however, nothing with Marty, though...nothing worth discussing in public, that's for sure!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

the story behind the photos: iggy pop 1977

In 1977, there was only one other person in my dorm at UCLA who was into punk rock, and when Iggy Pop went on tour and David Bowie was in his band, we decided we would see as many shows as we could get to. We drove up to San Francisco from Los Angeles on Interstate 5, the route favored by truck drivers as it is the fastest land route between the two cities.

In 1977, there was nothing but cows and gas stations along most of the route. Take a certain exit, and you'll end up where James Dean wrecked his Porsche… that kind of empty, deserted road… the only other traffic was semi trucks and local good ole boys in pick-up trucks.

Half way up the state, in the literal cow-town of Button Willow, the clutch cable in my roommate's VW Beetle snapped. In a time before the existence and ubiquity of cel phones, we somehow got someone to call a tow truck to our rescue. The tow truck hitched up the car, but then the tow truck broke down before it moved even a foot. Another tow truck was radio'd and saved the day.

How many tow trucks does it take to move The People's Car?

The second tow truck driver gave us a ride to the service station that dispatched him, and there we learned that no mechanic in California's Central Valley really knew how to fix "that Commie car," or even had the parts to do so. But from there, we were able to convince a local good ole boy to give us a ride to a nearby municipal airport where I happily whipped out my Dad's credit card and we hopped on the next tiny plane bound for San Francisco.

At the show, we were both pretty wiped out from our travels and related snafu, but we tried hard to have a good time. Our seats were in the back half of the auditorium, and I was happy that I brought a telephoto lens with me.

iggy bowie

Standing on a folding theatre seat is never a good idea, but standing on a folding theatre seat during an Iggy Pop show and trying to handle a camera is a worse idea. Half way through the show, the focusing ring on my lens just refused to function. Since I couldn't take any more photos, I took it as a sign to enjoy the show.

We had to fly home, so the return trip would be a little faster, meaning we could sleep in. I slept like a rock, then the next morning, still somewhat groggy, with Dad's credit card in hand, I went to buy another telephoto lens. After all, it was my birthday.

iggy pop 77 watermarked

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

the story behind the photos, part 1

billy airport whos who

how i bet all my friends are tired of billy idol these past couple months. i've been hustling (successfully, thank goodness!) a couple of my vintage photos of him in my current process of raising the funds to mount my next exhibit.

idol will actually have a lot of face time in the next exhibit too.

while he's a platinum selling superstar looking for a comeback right now, back in 1978, he was one of the bromly contingent, some rabid punk fans from london's east end who followed the sex pistols. billy's not the only one of them to have forged a successful career in music. siouxsie sioux, budgie and other members of the banshees were among that "contingent."

throughout 1977, pleasant and i made some very good strategic chess type moves (did we know it?) that positioned us to be billy's tour guides and local friends when he finally arrived in los angeles in april 1978 to promote generation x's signing to chrysalis records and release of their second album.

people who've read my blog, are familiar with the story...

my friend, brendan bourke worked at chrysalis, and was in charge of billy during that promotional trip to the USA. because we were trustworthy, and because we did publish lobotomy, giving us street cred... brendan let us tag along with him and billy where ever they went, and also left billy in our care many nights.

in this photo, we all took billy to the airport to say goodbye. you could still accompany passengers all the way to the departure lounge back then. and you could take pictures of anything and everything. you can't do that now.

we were stopped by the mystery woman who pinned a carnation on billy. you can see it in the top buttonhole of his jacket. i don't remember what she had to tell him. she probably didn't know what punk rock was, who billy specifically was... but there's no denying he was someone different and perhaps special.

my favorite thing about this photo is looking at everyone's eyes. billy's looking right at the woman who just pinned a flower on him. pleasant is looking at billy. brendan is looking analytically at the stranger... and no one is looking at the camera.

that's my idea of a successful shot.