Interviews

Photographer Kevin Salk Discusses His Upcoming L.A. Gallery Show on ‘80s Punk Rock

On January 11, 2020, the place to be for Los Angeles area readers of No Echo will be Fathom Gallery in Brentwood for their exhibit/show, Punk Rock: Photos from a Fan’s Perspective. The event will celebrate the early '80s punk era via the lens of photographer Kevin Salk, a native Los Angeles who was a teenager during the time when bands like Black Flag, Descendents, and Circle Jerks were playing locally on a regular basis.

Kevin might not have truly understood it at the time, but having his camera with him at these gigs would be an important key to help document an important period in punk music. I spoke with him in advance of his photo show to get a bit of a backstory on his life and how punk helped shape it.

Tell me a bit about your musical upbringing. Did you have an older mentor to show the ropes, so to speak?

My parents were into jazz and classical. My mom could play any stringed instrument. I regret not taking guitar lessons. My first concert was Aerosmith at the Forum. As a 12-year-old I went from Hendrix to KISS to Aerosmith to punk rock. My friends from kindergarten and I got into punk rock at the same time in the South Bay. I was a bit of the family black sheep. I did like to piss of my parents which was probably related to my parents divorce. I was rather angry at the world.

Photo: Kevin Salk/Fathom Gallery

When did you start shooting and who were the photographers you looked up to during the early stages? Did you get any formal training?

I think my first show I took really shitty pictures was at Alpine Village. Minor Threat headlined. I took a class in photography at Mira Costa HS. I started to develop my own photos. This was in late 1982. I had zero training and was not a photographer, per say. I just loved punk rock and I thought taking pictures was really fun. It also got me great access on stage. I really can’t say exactly why this all came about but the photography class was a big start. I was aware of Glen E. Friedman and Ed Colver from punk rock fanzines.

Minor Threat (Photo: Kevin Salk/Fathom Gallery)

Who were some of the earliest bands you shot? 

I went to Washington DC to hang with Minor Threat and see bands. I took some pictures back then but developed them at Guild Drug Store in Hermosa Beach. I then started shooting bands that shows I went to. Where I got some good ones was at Goleta Community Center for the Misfits.  I only took pictures for a handful of shows. I wish I did more. I was a junior/senior in high school. I had no formal training at all. After I graduated from High School, I never went to another punk rock show until Pennywise a few years ago at the Paliadium. I started to listen to Guns N' Roses and AC/DC and other hard rock/metal bands. I never took pictures on shows again. I became a “normal” student at Arizona State University.

Misfits (Photo: Kevin Salk/Fathom Gallery)

Did you form close bonds with bands like Black Flag and Circle Jerks from shooting them? In other words, did they appreciate what you were doing at the time?

I was able to get close to Black Flag because their HQ was in Redondo Beach and I lived in Manhattan Beach. I think Henry Rollins either thought I was an obsessed fan but he took pity on me [laughs]. I was very intimated. I was somewhat close to Milo and Bill from the Descendents because they both went to my high school. They were a couple years ahead me.

Descedents (Photo: Kevin Salk/Fathom Gallery)

When would you say were your busiest years in terms of shooting punk shows/bands?

I never really had a busy season because I just took my camera to shows. It was mid-'82 and '83. Again, I was 16/17-years-old and just loved everything about punk rock. Music has always been an important part of my life…probably more so now at age 54.

Circle Jerks (Photo: Kevin Salk/Fathom Gallery)

Tell me about this gallery show you have coming up. 

My gallery show is at Fathom Gallery in West Los Angeles. On July 22, I was contacted by Frank Coiro of Fathom out of the blue because he saw my pictures on my website. I have been trying to sell pictures on Photoshelter. I signed my contract with them on the 23rd, they had my negatives on the 24th and I has two pictures features in a show there on the 25th. I was a whirlwind and I was freaking out!

My show will feature 20 prints of my best stuff. There will be pictures of Black Flag, Misfits, Circle Jerks, and Descendents. My best pictures are of Black Flag and the Misfits. I owe all of this new fun to Frank at Fathom. It is very very exciting and there are some really big plans for the future with this. I think it will some longevity. 

Misfits (Photo: Kevin Salk/Fathom Gallery)

Of the punk-related photos you've taken through the years, which one would you say best encapsulates the spirit of the music?

This picture of Henry Rollins says it all:

Black Flag (Photo: Kevin Salk/Fathom Gallery)

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 Get more info on the Fathom Gallery website.

Tagged: black flag, circle jerks, descendents, henry rollins, photos

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