FRIENDS OF LITA | Q&A WITH PHOTOGRAPHER PAT BLASHILL

1986-calgary-bloody-self-portrait_web*Self Portrait, Calgary, 1986. © Pat Blashill 2014

One of the real treats when working on our reissues is the search for archival ephemera, imagery, and photographs related to an album or artist. It can sometimes take months or even years to track down these essential pieces and along the way we have the pleasure of meeting and working with those that had the foresight to not only record/capture life around them (as photographs) but also to hold on to them. One such person is photographer Pat Blashill. We first heard about his work from Tim Kerr (of Big Boys) when working on our short doc Looking Back It’s Just Reflections on the band that coincided with our release of Where’s My Towel / Industry Standard. Pat, along with photographer Bill Daniel, was in the early 80s Austin music scene and documented his friends’ bands and those that came through town on tour. It’s a rare look at an isolated scene that was bursting with creative energy. For our new reissues of the two final Big Boys albums, we reached out to Pat to license some of his unpublished photographs. The cache of negatives he sent over was mind blowing.

As part of our Friends of LITA series, we spoke to Pat Blashill about his work. You can see more of Pat’s music photographs at patblashill.com photo or his Tumblr.

- Patrick McCarthy

1. Tell us about your background and how you started working in photography. What type of cameras and film stock were you using?

Well, in high school, I was like Jimmy Olsen, cub reporter for the school yearbook. By the time I got to college, I’d discovered photographers like Walker Evans and Robert Frank, and I learned from them that sharp focus and “beautiful” light don’t matter as much as expressing a feeling with pictures. Someone once told me that photography is a system for organizing information within the four lines of a frame. That sounds a little clinical, but it’s completely true.

I’ve always used Canon SLR cameras—I started with a TX and an A-1, and now I have an EOS Rebel XS digital SLR. For a lot of the punk rock photos, I used a Vivitar 283 flash—that was a powerful and rugged light to throw at skinheads and Butthole Surfers. At that time, I shot Kodak Tri-X black and white film and developed it myself. I preferred high contrast negatives and prints, with lots of grain and harsh shadows.

2. On your website, a lot of your work is photographs of bands both live and just hanging out. What led you to start photographing bands?

Along with my interest in photography, I’d always loved rock music. I started with ZZ Top and Led Zeppelin, then graduated to the hard stuff. Just before my freshman year at the University of Texas, in 1979, and just as I was getting curious about this “punk” music I’d been reading about, I made friends with a guy named Steve Collier. We were ushers at a movie theatre in Austin, and on our breaks, we’d sit in his Camaro and listen to Devo and the Cars. One day, Steve invited me to come see him play the drums with his band at this punk bar across from the UT campus. That Friday night, when I got to the club, Steve and the rest of the (male) band were wearing dresses and make-up. The singer introduced the band as Kaye Mart and the Shoppers, but their real name was the Big Boys.

After that, I started hanging out at the club, which was called Raul’s. I got to know other bands and people in the scene. That became my nightlife. Around the same time, one of my photography professors told me that people should photograph their own lives. So I did that by making pictures of my friends in bands. I was in the right place at the right time. As a documentary photographer, I can’t imagine a subject more colorful than Biscuit (Big Boys singer) or David Yow (singer of Scratch Acid and The Jesus Lizard later on..

David-Yow-portrait-@-Muffy's_web*David Yow, Austin, early 1980s. © Pat Blashill 2014

3. A lot of these bands were pretty obscure at the time, but are now celebrated, so it’s really insightful to see them at such an early point. I mean, Sonic Youth, pixies, My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr., Replacements – the list goes on…and they were just kids. How did these meetings come about?

I’d like to say I was able to photograph these bands because I was very clever and had really good taste. But the truth is, both in Austin and later when I moved to New York City, a lot of my friends were also super excited about Sonic Youth and the Replacements and My Bloody Valentine. I thought this was singular and almost unprecedented music. So I just became a pest, and I bugged the bands (or their publicists) until they let me do a picture of them.

I was also writing about the music, and taking pictures for zines like Forced Exposure or fancy papers like Melody Maker and Spin, so that helped. Understand this was all before Nevermind broke, so the bands were more accessible. If I got a dinky assignment from Option magazine, a publicist would say, ‘Okay, you can have two minutes with Ice Cube after his press conference today.’

If all else failed, I’d bring my camera to the club or the concert. Nobody cared, and sometimes I was the only one taking pictures at the show.

20_MBV-with-screaming-faces_web *My Bloody Valentine, Austin, early 1980s. © Pat Blashill 2014

4. Tell us about the scene in Austin in the early 80s. You photographed all the bands in the scene, and two of your photographs are used in our new reissues of the last two Big Boys albums. Any memories of these shows and hanging out? You photographed the last Big Boys show, where Samhain was opening for them. In the photograph of that night, you can see Danzig in the back with fist raised in air.

The scene in Austin was wide open, very diverse, and maybe more queer than that of some other towns—I can think of at least four of our bands with openly gay singers. I loved Scratch Acid and the Butthole Surfers, but everyone loved the Big Boys. Biscuit was worshipped as a local deity. One group I did not photograph enough was the Dicks, who recorded one of the best punk records ever (the Dicks/Big Boys Live at Raul’s split LP.)

55_Gary-Dick-points_web_v2*The Dicks, Austin, early 1980s. © Pat Blashill 2014

The photographs on your reissues are from two Big Boys shows. One was the show the band played in Dallas during the protests at the 1984 Republican National Convention, when that asshole Ronnie Reagan was selected as President for the second time. It was in a small sweatbox club at the height of summer, and in some of the photos, you can see the other great Austin punk photographer, Bill Daniel, snapping away in the middle of the stage diving.

The other photo is from the last Big Boys show, but none of us knew it would be their last at the time. Danzig was a BB fan and friend—like everyone from the Bad Brains to Fugazi, Danzig would always hang with the Big Boys’ Tim Kerr when he came to town. That show was a bit tense—you can see it in Biscuit’s face– but eventually every Big Boys show became a party with, like, a hundred people on the stage singing “Hollywood Swingin’.”

Biscuit-raging-2_web*Big Boys, Dallas,1984. © Pat Blashill 2014

5. Do you have a favorite photograph from this era? Or one that has the best associated memories?

One of my favorite photos is of the Offenders, who were fusing metal and punk before anybody in Austin (and maybe anyone in the US.) In the picture, you can only see about half of JJ, the singer, but his stance—his arms, the way his lips pull back from his teeth—says it all. The Offenders didn’t become so infamous outside of Austin, but they should have.

6_Offenders_Voltaires_web_3*The Offenders, Austin, early 1980s. © Pat Blashill 2014

6. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today, Pat. Before we let you go, what are you working on these days?

I live in a strange, faraway place called Austria, but I still take a lot of pictures and listen to the Dicks. I shoot digital, and mostly photograph the night streets and train stations in Vienna. These are much lonelier pictures. I have only just recently launched poison, a website for my music pictures, and I hope to show them in more galleries and turn them into a book some day soon. I’ve got a Tumblr of music pictures and ephemera, and that’s at poison303.tumblr.com. I also teach at a small refugee organization here, and I’m still trying to learn German. Other than that, I’ve been pretty lazy….

Pick up a copy of Big Boys’ No Matter How Long The Line At The Cafeteria, There’s Always A Seat and Lullabies Help The Brain Grow from lightintheattic.net!