Poison Ivy of The Cramps, Boston, 1980 by Michael Grecco
This spring we are delighted to welcome Michael Grecco to our archive. Michael is an internationally acclaimed photographer and director based in Los Angeles, who has been capturing images in fine art, music, commercial, and editorial photography for almost 45 years.
His extensive body of work includes an extraordinary collection of images that documented the club scene in places like Boston and New York during the late 1970s and early 1980s, as punk rock morphed into the post-punk and new wave movements. These images captured the raw energy, sweat, and antics that characterised the alternative music of the time. They include shots of Sex Pistols, Buzzocks, Talking Heads, The Cramps, Elvis Costello, The Ramones, as well as many others, and are now available from Rockarchive as a range of limited edition prints.
We asked Michael a few questions to find out more about his work, inspiration, and plans for the future.
When did you first start taking photos? I learned photography in summer camp at 13 years old. I was a geek and hung out around the "science shack.” They had a darkroom where I first learned to develop film and print. After that, I got a camera and started taking pictures round the pool. It certainly was not high art!
Devo, Boston, 1978 by Michael Grecco
What was the first band you ever photographed? It was Devo, in 1978. I loved that band. I got very involved in the local Boston Music scene at that time. I stepped into the Rat (Rathskeller) in Kenmore Square in Boston and was blow away by a band named La Peste. It got me listening to the very first punk radio show in the world, the “Late Risers Club” on MIT’s freeform station WMBR and connected me with my good friend Oedipus, who was the program director of the legendary FM station WBCN. Boston was the first stop of every record company tour at the time, and it probably still is. That shoot was Devo’s first concert after signing their record deal.
Pete Shelley, Buzzcocks, Boston, 1980 by Michael Grecco
Which band did you most enjoy working with & why? I have to say it’s a toss-up between The Buzzcocks and Adam and the Ants. With the Buzzcocks, I got to spend the day with them during their PR tour, going from radio station to radio station and shooting them in front of the great buildings at MIT and the WMBR studios. They played the Bradford Ball room, and I was onstage shooting motion with one of the very first video cameras on the market. Then, there was a house party where the Buzzcock’s Pete Shelley kept giving me his phone number and address for the better part of the night, inviting me to England. It took the naive me 20 years to figure out he was hitting on me. LOL
Adam Ant, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1981 by Michael Grecco
With Adam it was much of the same, PR tour all day, next, shooting their show from the stage, and then a house party with the two drummers at my place, spinning vinyl all night long and drinking vodka. You really get to know a band that way. That access does not exist when shooting music anymore, especially for outsiders.
Billy Idol, Boston, 1982 by Michael Grecco
Do you have a favorite image of a musician that you have taken & why? I really love my portraits, in particular my portrait of Billy Idol at the Paradise club in Boston. I was always a big lover of the classic photography masters, like Avedon and Irving Penn. That image is fashioned after the corner that Penn built in his New York studio for doing his portraits. I like referencing things from history and culture in my work. As my career has developed, the storytelling aspect of that picture has become more clear through my celebrity portrait series, much of it for People magazine.
Debbie Harry, New York, 1978 by Martyn Goddard
Which is your favorite photo on Rockarchive.com? I am in love with any photograph of Blondie because I have always had the biggest thing for Debbie Harry. I think she is ridiculously sexy and beautiful. As a kid in high school and college I used to see her in my head before I was shooting. It’s one of my career regrets to not hame photographed Debbie in her heyday.
How would you describe your work? Do you have a particular style? Yes, my style is dramatic, dark and moody. As my work continued, it became conceptual also, with a sense of black humor. I have written two best-selling books on lighting, especially more sophisticated lighting, which later on became my signature. For the most part, I do not like bright and iary images, I like work that has “meat on it.” Work where the lighting and drama focus the viewer on the face and eyes of the subject.
Kid Congo Power of The Cramps, Boston, 1980 by Michael Grecco
Who or what inspires you? Other photographers, music, art in general. Since I was a kid, I was taking weekly visits to Manhattan from the northern burbs, Hartsdale. I would go see jazz, go to the Museum of Modern Art regularly, and also the International Center of Photography when it opened in uptown, Spanish Harlem, in New York City. Visuals and sounds inspire me, that’s why I like directing so much.
What makes a great music photo? The subject matter, the light, the moment, all the same things that make any good photograph. For me, my Days of Punk project is a document of an era, with both performance shots, and backstage images and behind-the-scenes images. That’s why the book is titled: “Punk, Post Punk, New Wave: Onstage, Backstage, In Your Face.” Every one of those images has to work as good photography, and not just be “a music” photograph. Music photography should meet the same artistic standards as any great work of art. If it does, it’s magic.
The Ramones, Boston, 1981 by Michael Grecco
Has the industry changed and do you have any advice for an aspiring rock photographer? Sorry to say, the industry is almost non-existent. Magazines are gone. Everyone is able to take pictures with their phones, so few people value high quality professional photography anymore. To add insult to injury, the talent these days want to own everything you shoot because they give you access. I think it’s a very hard business now, and anyone committed to it really needs to persevere. They need to want it bad.
What are your career plans for the future? Right now, we are setting up museum shows for the multimedia Days of Punk exhibitions worldwide. I am trying to bring awareness to the project and the body of work as an artistic project. I am also making these short “art films” under the brand What is Punk, and we are including them as part of the museum shows. I shot my first new band while in Spain for the Days of Punk opening in Malaga at La Termica. I am planning on doing one every few months, and having a collection of them as we grow the museum profile for the project. I hope the audience lets me know what they think.