Days of Punk | BOOK GALLERY
January 29, 2021
In Your Face! Michael Grecco Discusses New Book of Classic Punk, Post-Punk & New Wave Music Photos - Digital Photo Pro
I often wonder what it would’ve been like to see some of my favorite punk rock bands of the late 1970s in their prime. Since groups like the Ramones, Sex Pistols and the Clash were all a little bit before my time, much of my experience watching these bands play in the cramped, grimy clubs where they first started out consists of viewing grainy old footage on YouTube.
Fortunately, there are photographers like Michael Grecco who shot many of the punk rock, post punk and new wave bands of the 70s and 80s that I can live vicariously through. Grecco’s iconic photos of this classic music era have just been released in a new book titled “Punk, Post Punk, New Wave: Onstage, Backstage, In Your Face, 1977-1991.” Today a successful commercial and celebrity portrait photographer, Grecco shot these never-before-seen photos while documenting the club scene in Boston and New York. Some of the bands he captured with his lens would go on to be huge stars including the Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, Joan Jett, David Bowie and many others.
I recently caught up with Grecco to discuss the images, the stories behind them, and what it was like to capture this unforgettable era in music history both during live concerts and backstage after the show.
Q: How did you get the idea of putting out this book of your photographs covering the punk, post-punk and new wave music years from the late 70s to the early 90s?
Michael Grecco: Well, my longtime archivist Mykle Parker kept pulling images out of my files and saying, ‘dude, you have to do something with all these.’ After a while, it sunk in that the pictures were strong, and the time was right. I had never shown them in a portfolio or put them out for syndication, because when I moved to L.A. to do celebrity portraiture, I wanted to leave my more photojournalist past behind. So there the images sat, in my file cabinets for 40 years.
Q: You describe yourself in the introduction as growing up in an “old-world Italian household in suburban New York” where “tradition and rules” marked your childhood. Seeing some of these bands must’ve really blown your mind. Why did you decide to start photographing them and how did you gain access?
MG: I was a jazz listener as a kid growing up in New York. My mother, before she got married, was a jazz singer and I guess that influenced my taste. In high school, I also loved Bowie, The Velvet Underground, Patti Smith, and Roxy Music. But then I landed at the Rat in Kenmore Square to see the Boston Battle of the Bands and La Peste was playing. It totally blew my mind. The punk scene back then was a group of people that were self-expressed, and I wanted to learn how to be self-expressed. It takes a long time to recover from being Catholic, you know.
Q: Most of these photographs have never been seen before and, I imagine, you probably haven’t looked at some of them in a long while. What was the process like for choosing images that made the book? Did you feel like you were reliving some of these moments while making selections?
MG: I totally felt like I was, and still am, reliving those times. I am in awe of what I did, who I hung out with, the whole scene.
It was about a five-year process from the time I decided to make the book and create the project to the book coming out. My archivist started pulling images for the first round. Then I brought in a photo editor friend to pull more. That editor worked with my archivist to go through all the files and make sure they had looked at everything. Then, while finalizing the press proofs, we came across the Boston Rock magazines for which many of the images were shot. The mags had better images we wanted to include, and better images than some we picked. At the last minute, we were doing rush drum scans trying to make our printing deadline. It was kind of wild.