Explore Punk Culture In Its Heyday With Legendary Photographer Ed Colver

Punk culture has infiltrated every aspect of popular culture, from fashion aesthetics, attitudes to television and film. While many of us associate the culture with references we simply see perpetuated throughout media, there are there are people like photographer Ed Colver who was there to see it in real-time. 

(Photo: Ed Colver)

Colver is known worldwide as one of the only photographers who can say they shot acts like Black Flag, T.S.O.L and Circle Jerks before anyone knew or cared who they were.

Equipped with a point-and-shoot camera of choice, Colver attended punk rock shows from 1978 up until 1984: "after then it turned to shit," he tells Konbini following a successful photo exhibit at the Sonos Listening Room inside Rough Trade NYC.

While he knew something powerful was taking shape, Colver, who began taking punk photos at the age of 29, didn't foresee the global effect these little hole-in-the-wall shows spread through Los Angeles would later have on culture. He tells Konbini:

"To me it was amazing and vitally important. Like 'this is unbelievable and what's going on is nuts and no one's here to see it.' But I never, ever, ever would have dreamed it would have social, political or cultural impact at all.

I remember thinking 'if I knew how impactful this stuff was going to be I would have been out shooting twice as much."

He can only partially joke about shooting twice as many photos during that era, since he was out 5 to 6 days a week shooting shows. In this window of time, he was able to gain access to performers that many would dream of catching in their prime. 

(Photo: Ed Colver)

"There'd be a Fear show on a Tuesday night and 30 people would be there, and you'd see The Weirdos and The Adolescents the next night and there'd be 50 people in there.

It was kind of this budding, crazy wonderland of energy and creativity. It was nuts. I've kind of likened it to the Beat Generation. Or part of the honest early hippie movement."

Three months after he began taking photos, Ed had his first photo published. It was an image of performance artist Johanna Went featured in Bam magazine.

Since then, he has shot photos for dozens of record labels including EMI, Capitol, and Geffen for artists ranging from Black Flag, to Tom Waits, to George Clinton to Ice Cube and even Linkin Park: "Yeah I actually photographed them. I did pictures in one of their albums about 8 years ago."

His punk pictures have been featured on more than 250 album covers and include some of the most recognizable and iconic covers of the late 20th century, including Black Flag's Damaged and Louie Louie. His work as a rock photographer is well documented in Paul Rachman's cult documentary,  American Hardcore.

(Photo: Courtesy of Ed Colver / Sonos)

As Colver loves to note, he stopped shooting shows in 1984 after the thrash scene began to take hold. "When the thrash scene started up, I was like 'oh you guys lost me; goodbye. I just couldn't get into it. I was like, 'no I hate this stuff. The scene changed and I changed and I just kind of took off and never looked back."

While he's picky with his tastes, Colver knows what he likes and what he's here to support. Believe it or not, Colver hasn't watched television since 1979.

"I can actually remember when I decided that. I remember I heard The Temptations "Heard It Through The Grapevine" being used for the California Raisin Association and I honestly just kind of jumped up and said 'ahh fuck no!'

I'm not even that huge fan of them, but that honestly was a deciding point. It was like 'oh hell no you're not gonna mess with music that I grew up liking and sentimentalities.' I didn't want to hear songs that I grew up liking and think of a damn hamburger.

I'm really, really, really happy that i made that decision. I can say that our home is a sanctuary and no audio commercials ever, for any reason, are ever played in our home. It ain't happening. You do not have a direct pipeline into my home or my subconscious thought."

Honing in on this no nonsense view of media interaction and the normalities of today, Colver calls the photography of the now 'faux-tography,' and our 2000 onward phenomenons of social media, 'so-so media.'

This doesn't mean he's fully out of touch with everything that's taken place in pop culture since '79 onwards, but for the most part, for Colver, all of this shit is for the birds. When asked how media has shaped the state of punk culture, Colver explains:

Well nothing's underground anymore it's all out there on 'so-so media' for Big Brother to see. I don't even know if i can answer that because I haven't even been paying attention. 

As Colver says, however, "Punk's not dead, it just smells that way." While there's some definite truth to this, not everything that's been perpetuated and popularized in punk culture has the scent of rotting flesh. 

One of the major accomplishments of punk culture as a whole is its past and present ability to bring out notions of equality by nature. As Colver notes:

(Photo: Ed Colver)

In the days when I was there, it was very non-judgemental. There was a little bit of clicky junk going on, but every misfit was accepted. People didn't discriminate.

There was gay, bi, weird, freaks and every color in the rainbow of people showing up and nobody was giving them shit. They were accepting. There was a lot of outcasts back then; now it's just regular ol' kids. 

Women were much more accepted in punk originally also because there was a lot more diversity. But then as the hardcore scene developed it became much more kind of out of control and macho and more 'dangerous' for a woman persay maybe. They kind of faded off into the background and it became a lot more male-oriented. 

It's important to pinpoint these facts within the inagural era of punk. How being gay, femme, black or brown didn't mean anything more than you made the pit a colorful place by being there; you were welcomed. 

These ideologies have been difficult to hold onto in the years since, where now more than ever, performers are having to learn to stand up for and defend members of their audiences fallen into the machismo mentalities of the music culture.  

(Photo: Courtesy of Rough Trade / Sonos)

Bringing these concepts back to life through the art of analog photography, Ed Colver took to New York's beloved access point for obscure and mainstream CDs and vinyls, the Sonos Listening Room inside Rough Trade NYC to set up an exhibit of his works in the store's Sonos room. 

The night was curated by Ed down to the soundtrack that set the mood. "I put together a soundtrack and I wanted it to be sort of a cross section of stuff I like and some social political stuff 've loved since i was a kid.

There's only one real punk song in there. The song came out in 1983 by Jocko Macho titled "Peace Corpse." The chorus was, 'while you're, here stage dive, you might get your picture taken by Ed Colver.' Just had to add it in at the last moment."

You can catch more of Ed's work at the Sonos' flagship store in Manhattan from now 'til October 19.