Colorful Photos of 70s Bay Area Punks Partying, Posing, and Passed Out
Photographer Jim Jocoy's newest book shows a brightly colored and seldom-shown side to the punk scene.
Order of Appearance, the new book by photographer Jim Jocoy, showcases a level of personality and intimacy never before seen in his work. It's been 15 years since the release his first book, We're Desperate, which was a massive archive of 70s punk style orchestrated with help from Thurston Moore, Marc Jacobs, and Exene Cervenka. This time around, instead of a collection of static portraits emphasizing what West Coast kids were wearing to shows in the late 70s, Order of Appearance lovingly captures the kids themselves.
For the book, Jocoy pieces together a night of carousing in the Bay Area's burgeoning punk scene, from dressing up to going out to the sobering morning after. Contrary to most punk photography of the era, such as Michael Jang, Edward Colver, or Pennie Smith, this book is full color and almost devoid of any of the bands actually playing shows. Instead, these photos preserve touching moments of his friends dying their hair, stuffing themselves into cars, and passing out in public. Jocoy finds the powerful contrasts of an era in San Francisco sandwiched between sexual liberation and the AIDS epidemic in these vivid photos of his friends who were affected by both.
I caught up with Jocoy just after the book's soft launch at the Los Angeles Art Book Fair to talk about what it was like capturing these intimate and playful portraits of 1970s punk in the Bay Area.
VICE: What was going on in your life when you started making this body of work?
Jim Jocoy: I was a student at UC Santa Cruz when I started taking these photos. When I was at Santa Cruz, they had a major called aesthetics studies, and to this day, I don't really know what it was. I guess that tells you how serious of a student I was back then. After a while, I dropped out. I kind of had a couple of years of working during the daytime and going out at night, taking pictures—doing that versus being a good student and getting a degree. But that's kind of how I got started.
A friend who lived in the same town actually contacted me and said, "Hey, you want to go see this band? They're called the Ramones, and they're playing in San Francisco." That was back in 1976 when they first toured here. After that first show at North Beach, it totally changed the whole scene in San Francisco. Within a matter of weeks, so many bands started here in San Francisco.
Did it feel like there was some significance to what was going on when you started taking these photos?
I guess I had a sense that something was maybe happening here in San Francisco. I remember punk seemed like something that was happening in England and New York and elsewhere, so I just kept my interest in it to see what would unfold in San Francisco. Lo and behold, after all these years, when I thought it was just going to be a season or two at most, it turned into something much more significant than I would ever image it would be. As a place that was kind of the ground zero for the hippie movement, it felt like it would never be able to compete with the cultural impact that a generation of youth had ten years earlier. But now it seems like the punks went right along with the hippies and established a culture that had some legs.
What gave you the impetus to start documenting everything?
I've always been interested in photography. That's something that I think I came onboard with. I don't know if I have this in common with a lot of photographers, but I'm probably more introverted and quiet. So, with the camera, I was able to mix in with people who I thought were doing interesting stuff like forming bands. It was just a way for me to feel like I was participating and producing because it seemed like what was happening was so exciting. This DIY thing that I hear about these days just wasn't the nomenclature at that time. But that's what was happening.
You really use shape and color in an interesting way in these photos. How did you develop the way you took photos of people?
Part of the reason why I was taking color pictures at that time was, at the copy shop that I was working at, they had the first model of the color Xerox machine. It was very, very primitive. They had a 35mm carousel slide projector mounted on a side that projected up to a mirror that reflected on to the glass. You could get these primitive prints made from color slides.
Back then, the traditional photography of punk-rock scenes were typically high-contrast black-and-white images. So to introduce color, I had to be bold and contrasty. The hippie look was kind of soft and fuzzy and out of focus. But then punk is kind of harsh and contrasty and bold. So, instead of soft mellow colors, I really did try to look for strong powerful colors. To use color, I thought I had to play up the same kind of assertive look to make it work. When I look at the people that I photographed back then, they kind of look normal and current now. But back then, it really was pretty striking to dress up the way that a lot of my subjects dressed up.
You have a lot of really intimate photos in the book. What memories do you have of the people you were photographing?
Paul [Schiek] and Lester [Rosso, the publishers at TBW Books] took 500 of my color slides, and in their way of creating the vibe of the book, it turned out that so many of the subjects were actually very close, dear friends of mine. This book is so much more intimate in my experience, whereas We're Desperate was kind of like I was just there asking people to stand up against the wall, and I clicked away. The whole arc of this book is people getting dressed and ready to go out, and then they go out and experience stuff. I would go and hang out with friends, and as we were getting ready, I would be taking pictures, making sure my camera was all ready.
Who were some of your friends in the book?
There's that photo of my friend Jonnie getting her hair cut by my friend Rico. It's funny because at that time it was like you had a different hair color and hairstyle every week. You'd come to the club with this new, more shocking look. What was really interesting was, a lot of the kids in San Francisco would get these free haircuts. Vidal Sasoon had a salon here in San Francisco where the students would give free color jobs. So the punk kids were always game to go get their hair done up. That kind of started this whole thing of making these radical looks. So my friend Jonnie, whose hair is blue in that picture—I think she was blond the next week and then jet black the week after. It was kind of a regular routine.
In the passage at the end, you write, "Things festered and took time to surface back then." How did that set the tone for what you were taking?
That time was pre-MTV, so any kind of cultural movement didn't get co-opted so easily. After MTV, you'd see this scene happening, and then next thing you know, everyone is trying to do something with it. Since there wasn't an immediate explosion out into the masses, it kind of stewed a little longer.
In San Francisco at that time, there were a couple of significant gut punches. The mayor, Harvey Milk, being assassinated. Then, at the same time, the Jonestown tragedy was happening. Then in 1976, the HIV virus came to San Francisco. That was about the time I was taking pictures from this book. So there was something kind of brewing. It was post-sexual liberation, where everything and anything goes, and especially in San Francisco, it was pretty wild back then. Back then, I remember I would walk down through the Castro, and there was a drugstore where someone made this homemade poster inside of the window with Polaroid shots of ulcers and sores. It said something like, "Do you have these on your body? There's a cancer going around." You would see people on the street with sores, especially with Kaposi's Sarcoma. People were dying of these crazy pneumonia and infections that were so bizarre for their age. It had kind of an influence in the punk scene.
It was theatrical in a way when bands would play about how we were in a new dark ages. I feel like a lot of people expressed it in songs and posters and images. With the new Reagan administration coming on, it was a nightmare for people who were free thinkers or progressives. I was kind of the dawning of a dark age in my personal history. I have so many friends, a lot of them in this book, who passed on from AIDS or drugs or whatever.
"That time was pre-MTV, so any kind of cultural movement didn't get co-opted so easily. After MTV, you'd see this scene happening, and then next thing you know everyone is trying to do something with it."
The photographs have this sense of optimism that really seems to contradict what you're describing about the era. Were you seeing things optimistically when you were shooting them?
There was a little bit of duality, but the primary drive for me was to capture youth, energy, and life, and not the darker things hovering off to the side. All of that energy, just to celebrate life when you're a young person—when I look at my photos, that's what I was thinking I was capturing. It's only a little later with context of time that I can see that. Although all of that was happening, there also was this darker vibe that was happening.
How does it feel looking back on this work now?
This might sound lame, but, in a weird way, every time I look at this book, I just go, "God, these people are so beautiful!" It's kind of contradictory in a way where people think that punk is crass and snotty and not beautiful. Beautiful and punk kind of don't mix well. But for me, after all of this, what I'm seeing is it's beauty.
More photos below.
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Order of Appearance by Jim Jocoy is available online and in bookstores.