Masao Nakagami of Target Earth Records just recently had an exhibit of his rock and roll photography. I translated his blog post about it and took some serious creative license, and I picked pictures of my favorite bands from back in the day but there are just too many good ones, so go and have a look at his Flickr page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/goro_memo/
Record Shop Base is celebrating its 20th anniversary and owner Iijima gave me an opportunity to hold an exhibition of my photographs. I’d never thought about it before, but it sounded like a cool idea. I knew there’d be some challenges, like choosing which pictures and how to present them and so on. And then the costs. I thought, if I’m going to spend money, shouldn’t I put out one of my friends’ bands’ records? But Iijima was persuasive and the exhibition happened.
There were big
photos and small photos and, to be honest, I like the smaller ones better. Size is no reflection of importance!
There’s always been a kind of debate among rock photographers as to whether we’re artists creating works of art, or whether we’re just documenting a certain event at a certain point of time. If you’re a rock photographer who considers yourself an artist, it must be tough. In magazines, nobody really cares who took the picture, just who the picture is of.
But if you’re a documenter, now you’ve got smartphones to content with. Anybody can take pictures at shows now, and some of the photos I’ve seen on Instagram were pretty incredible in terms of composition and really capturing something cool. So, who needs to take photos for documentation anymore?
I started taking photos at shows before there were smartphones and I guess I leaned toward the documentation side. I never really considered myself much of an artist. I just tried to stay out of people’s way and get a good shot here and there.
I just want people to see my photos and enjoy them. None of this “I’m an artist” crap for me. I want to take the pictures I want to see. Any “artistic” considerations like contrast or composition were decided purely by my own tastes.
I started taking pictures at shows for a now-defunct punk rock magazine called Doll. This was maybe around 1988, when I was twenty or so. They were looking for a photographer and I submitted some samples. I’d never taken pictures at a rock show before, so I just sent them the candid street shots I was doing them. I must’ve chosen the right stuff to send, because they hired me.
Shintaro (First Alert)
Working at Doll was a real education for me. The writers and editors were all older than me, in their 20s, and they were really cool to me. It’s obvious now, but at the time, I really learned that this thing called “punk” is more varied and diverse than you realize. I felt a little like a pro, being around people whose records I’d heard or who I’d read about in magazines.
One band I got to know pretty well was the Tokyo Skunks. Miyo and Charlie from the Skunks worked at Doll and I took a lot of pictures of them. It was through them that I discovered there was this sort of “scene” with like-minded bands. It was a psychobilly scene and it was the first time I’d been around that.
The Evil Hoodoo
I was also working part-time at Disk Union at this time and I learned a lot from the people I worked with there too. This was in the early 90s and garage rock was starting to happen. It was a worldwide thing, including Japan. Working at the record store, I got a chance to order stuff I was interested in and also hear new stuff that was coming out.
All of this long back story is leading to a momentous thing in my life, and the real core of my photo exhibition –Teengenerate. That was a big deal. Teengenerate were one of those bands that, everywhere they went, they fired everybody up to do their own DIY thing or to see how they could get involved in the DIY music scene. They were Johnny Appleseeds of the DIY spirit. I was infected with that crazy feeling too, and it led to pretty much everything I’ve done since then, not to mention a slew of great bands including Firestarter, Tweezers and Raydios.
Anyway, I contacted Teengenerate because I was doing a shitty fanzine. And through my association with them and their scene, I started going to shows more to take pictures outside of Doll assignments. I started getting to know lots of bands, label people, promoters and other people, and I started writing, running my label, and bringing bands from overseas. That’s also when I met Base Records’ Iijima, who organized this exhibition.
Really, I think I’m into music first and from that, photography. I went to shows to see bands, but also take pictures when I could. Sometimes I’d get into watching a band and forget to take pictures, or just take pictures during some part of the night and not others, plus there’s the costs involved buying film and developing prints. I mean, if you’re taking pictures for a magazine, you’ve got to do a good job and deliver. But I was really just doing my thing and taking pictures when I could.
I guess I just took pictures to document what I could, to leave something behind. I never thought of it as a way to earn money (but I don’t turn it down!).
Thanks a bunch to Iijima for giving me the chance to do this and I hope you enjoy the pics.
For more: https://www.flickr.com/photos/goro_memo/