Justine DeMetrick interview: The Director’s Cut!!

June 19th, 2012 by

Here’s the complete interview with photographer Justine DeMetrick. The edited version ran in the recent photo issue (MRR #350). If you haven’t picked it up yet, I suggest you do.

The first time I had ever knowingly seen Justine DeMetrick’s work was in Inward Monitor #3. I’m the type of person who does read the photo credits in magazines, and if their work is good, their name sticks with me. Justine’s work really captures the excitement and energy of hardcore punk. I remember looking at the first issue of her zine, Intermission, a year or two later, and being blown away. All the bands that mattered and some that may have never left their home town scene were featured in the pages of that publication, not to mention giving one the sense that the East Coast really had it going on in terms of hardcore shows and scene. If you ever get the opportunity to obtain any of the three issues of Intermission, I highly urge you to get them. Her photos have appeared in a lot of records, from Rorschach, Born Against, Mouthpiece, Better Than A Thousand, and more. Then there’s the countless zines her photos appeared in. If you are truly into hardcore punk you have definitely seen her work. A little background; Justine had spent time working in the darkroom since age 4, but started taking photos at shows around 1987/88. Some of the early photos were of Verbal Assault, Agnostic Front, SNFU, Underdog, Scream, Youth Of Today. Slap Shot, Wrecking Crew, Murphy’s Law, and more. She went to the School of Visual Arts, International Center of Photography, and School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and majored in photography. All this experience comes through in her work. This interview was conducted somewhere in the middle of a four hour conversation.

Interview by Matt Average. Photos by Justine DeMetrick. 

Citizen’s Arrest final show at ABC No Rio. (photo by Justine DeMetrick)

MRR: So why did you pick up the camera instead of starting a fanzine, or something more glamorous like a band?
I’m completely tone deaf. I have a terrible voice. I’ve been told I’m the whitest person that my friends have ever met because I can’t keep a beat to save my life. Also, I don’t like being the center of attention. I have no confidence. So to be up in front of people, I would never have enough guts to do that. By that point the camera was an extension of my being anyway

MRR: When you were photographing bands, were you just documenting, or was it like, “I like these bands, so I shoot these bands only”?
No. I wonder about that. I guess what we were involved in was a movement. The same way the whole ’60s Hippie thing, or the Beat thing was a movement. But you don’t realize you’re in a defined “movement” until you’re a lot of older. So it never occurred to me to document what was around me. It just was. I wish I took more pictures of things going on. I never thought of it being any more important because this is what I did. This is what I ate, slept, this is my friends. Everything I did had something to do with the community of punk and hardcore. My camera was there, and I just photographed whatever band was on stage. A lot of times, if I really really really like a band… I saw Bad Brains many times, when they were good, I never photographed them. So many bands out there that I loved… I could have shot the Circle Jerks a bunch of times, but I didn’t. Like TSOL. All these bands; they were like my favorite bands. I’m not going to stand behind the camera, I want to be in the pit, I want to be wherever and hanging out with my friends. Since you have the camera in your hand you’re on stage. You can’t hear music, you can’t hear the vocals. You don’t really hear the music. It’s a totally different experience.

MRR: My experience with photographing bands is I’m not really paying attention to the music anymore. I’m just watching the movement.
Totally. I kept doing it. It became a habit, I didn’t know what else to do. Other than now, here I am at 42 years old, if I go see the Subhumans play, I have no interest in photographing them. I can finally be in the crowd and be okay being on the side of the crowd. Back then, to not have a camera in my hand I might as well be amputated. I didn’t know what to do with my hands.

When you’re shooting, you’re paying attention to the composition, what people are doing, and you’re trying to get the best shot you can. So that is where your interest and emphasis lies. Not necessarily in the sound. When I would photograph bands I always had two eyes open while I photographed. I would compose the shot, of say the bass player is in the forefront, drummer in the background, at some point the music when the change in the music occurs he’s going to jump – I want the shot of him over the drummer. While waiting for this to happen, I’d keep an eye on the vocalist and the others knowing “Okay during this part of the song, the guitar player always goes nuts during this mosh part”. So what I would do is compose my shot on the right, and I would watch the guy across the stage, I would wait for the change, when it was about to happen, I’d twist to snap that image then snap back into position for my bass player over the drummer shot. I was always listening to changes in the music, and seeing how each musician would act during different songs. So it’s hard listening to music, but that’s what I would end up listening to without actually listening to it for a point of enjoyment.

MRR: I would watch the crowd too.
All the time. When I ended up with a bigger camera system Nikon F4 I had to be careful because the chord that connected to the flash was $50, and in 1991 that was pretty expensive. So if a kid hit my camera I’m out a lot of money. So where the flash arm attached to the camera had a spike would come off, and I could hit somebody with the spike. I had really weak arms, but I had strong legs. So I spent a lot of time kicking people off as I’m shooting. Actually, Pat West has sent me more than my desired share of photos of me kicking some kid in the head with an angry face! Pretty embarrassing! [laughter] That’s Pat’s specialty. He goes out of his way to take pictures of you when you look your worst. When shows were in the later part of the 90s, I could care less about most of the bands. A lot of people, all they wanted to do was be on stage. So there was certain bands, like when Ray Cappo did Better Than A Thousand. They had me shoot their first show at the Safari Club. I actually had to say, “I will shoot this, but you need somebody to keep people off of me”. Because there was just no way. It was getting so crazy and so hectic. I was getting older and I couldn’t physically keep people off me at that point. I was shooting with a Nikon F4 system, and that was a couple thousand dollars. I couldn’t loose the camera. That camera cost me a fortune that I didn’t have. So I would have to have people for a number of years, like Geoff D’Agostino and Dan Hornecker, they were fantastic. They knew enough how to stay out of my way and out of the shots, and they were great. If people started crowding me they could clear people off with just one stroke. That made it easier.

MRR: Were there any photographers around that you consider an influence? 
I didn’t know any other photographers. In Rhode Island there was one girl, I never heard her speak, but she sat there in front of every single band. She always had a plaid shirt on, and I remember her all through the ’80s. She just had a simple point-and-shoot, and she photographed everybody. I have no idea who she was. I don’t know if her stuff ever got published. But she just sat there and photographed everything. She has to be in her 50s at this point. I have no idea who she was, and I never saw her work.

Other photographers… Murray Bowles shot everything, but his work didn’t inspire me. The stuff that inspired me were people like Cornell Capa, and Cartier-Bresson, Mary Ellen Mark. There’s a lot of real photographers that inspired me. I think that one of the most influential photos that made me think of bands, and that inspired me, and one was a picture (photographed Stanley J. Forman), that Infest used on their seven inch, of the Boston Riots, where the guy picks up the American flag and is about the stab the black guy in the suit. It captured that moment. I saw the footage on PBS a number of years ago, and the live footage does not nearly have the impact as that photograph. The other one was Cornell Capa. During the Spanish-American War, there’s a photograph of this soldier on top of the hill the moment he was killed. He’s wearing a white shirt, the khakis, and he’s sort of flailing backwards, and the rifle’s falling out of his hand, and you can see part of his skull popping off. It’s a really gruff brutal image. The negative is a mess. It’s slightly blurry… The ability to just capture that moment and say it all in that moment, that to me was a bigger influence than a band photographer.

Do you feel like you captured that moment in your shots?
I can’t think of any at the moment, off hand. I’m sure if I think of it, I’ll get it. There was two images. One was that band Full Speed Ahead, from New Jersey. Their last show in New Brunswick, was one of my favorite shows to shoot. It was amazing! They started destroying their instruments, there was some kid wearing a Ronald Reagan mask, and the energy… They were a band that just kicked ass. They were just amazing. They were a bunch of old school guys that got together and started doing this band. It was amazing, and the energy and everything. I got it. There are certain photos over the years, definitely. But the other one that I really liked that I shot was of Rollins. It was at Maxwell’s. It was actually when I finally realized there were certain techniques that I picked up alone, over the years, that it didn’t seem like anybody else ever did. There was a show at Maxwell’s, and Rollins, when he sings he sings with what I think is his left hand, and he turns his entire body to the right, so if you’re on the left side of him, if you’re facing the stage, and you’re on the right, so you’re looking at his left side, you’re not going to get any other photos but the side of his head and his biceps. So every picture looks the same, it sucks. So that’s when I learned to find out if the singer is left handed or right handed [laughter]. So anyway, the only good shot I got that night, was at some point in the show the lights were low and he’s just lying on the ground just completely drained. That was actually the back cover on one of my zines (Intermission). That totally summed up what early Rollins shows were like.

MRR: I’m looking at the photo right now, and it’s Intermission #1, he’s near the drum kit, and the mic is out of his hand. 
After seeing him a few times that (photo) totally captured what he looked like when he was on it. The way he was in spoken word and live were two different things. He definitely looked like, whether it was for effect, what was real, or bullshit, I don’t know. But he definitely put in an enormous amount of mental energy into whatever he was doing.There were shots of (Nation of) Ulysses that I really liked. They were a great band to shoot because they were so physically active, and each member had their own persona. There were a lot of bands from the 90s that I liked shooting. Not all of them I liked musically, but were fun to shoot.

Who was your favorite to shoot? 
Well, I don’t know. Off hand, I do not know. It depends. The second half of the 90s I could give two shits about ninety percent of the music coming out. At that point it was just a game; let me see how many combinations of shots can I get, how many good ones can I get on one roll of film. For me, it was just a pure challenge of what I can get compositionally, what I can I do, what can I push my self to do? At some point I had my own issues with severe depression, so I didn’t really give a shit what anybody said or thought. Which gave me a little more confidence to be where the hell I want, to get what I want out of it, and to get the shot that I want. Then at that point it wasn’t a particular band, but there were certain types of bands that were fun to shoot. Especially when the revival of these people trying to do earlier style hardcore, like 97A, or one of those bands. They had an enormous amount of energy. Resurrection, 108; Rob Fish’s bands were really fun to shoot.

What was it about the late 90s band that you didn’t care about? Was it the time period, or the style of music?
A lot of the music seemed a little more forced. None of these bands sang about anything that really mean anything to me. It didn’t have the same rawness. A lot of it seemed a little more manufactured. It started getting really cliquey again. I didn’t like that. I didn’t like all the ass kissing; “Oh you talk to this person. You don’t wear the right sneakers”. All this sort of horse shit. It was also being a lot older than a lot of the people. I think if you live in a immediate city like New York, or San Francisco, there’s a lot of people within your age range. But once you get into the suburbs there’s not a lot of people in your age range anymore. But yeah, I don’t think the music was good. People weren’t taking chances, it lost its rawness, it spread out. It was just weak! [laughter]

What was the first published photo of yours? 
It was either in an issue of Constant Change fanzine, a fanzine that Jon Reed did, Inward Monitor, maybe. But I think it was Constant Change, or it would be the Underdog or Upper Cut record. That happened because Brian Simmons, who was my roommate at the time in Newport (RI), he was sending people pictures and not telling me. [laughter] I was absolutely furious! In the long run it was the nicest thing anybody could do.

MRR: When you saw your photo in the Underdog record, were you actually stoked to see your work published?
I think I was really scared and embarrassed [laughter]. That Underdog demo and that seven inch was amazing! It was one of my favorite seven inches. They were awesome live. I loved seeing them. So part me thought it was so awesome, but then part of me felt really weird because now my name is in print. Not that anybody ever reads it, because who gives a shit. It was just my own depression and fear coming out. My own self-confidence issues.

Cro-Mags (photo by Justine DeMetrick)

MRR: If you weren’t depressed would you have even gravitated towards punk rock? I feel like people who are not depressed or angry, punk rock should have no appeal to them whatsoever. 
Well, the depression I’ve had since I was a child. If anything, punk and hardcore saved my life. For the first time in my life I met people who were similar to me. What was wonderful, especially in Rhode Island, is so many people that were involved in the scene were involved in some form of the arts. I met a lot of people that were musicians, and writers, and artists, and intellectuals, and that sort of stuff. I remember going to a show early on and looking around, it was a Circle Jerks show, and where most people would be kind of freaked out, I felt like I was at home. I was ecstatic, like, “Oh my god, I’m not the only one!” [laughter]. It was awesome! So in a lot of ways it allowed me to actually have friends, people didn’t think I was weird. People, for the first time, actually liked me. They thought it was cool that I was artistic. I dressed weird on my own, I didn’t need punk to do that! [laughter] Like, “Hey mom, can you make me a plastic skirt?” Most kids don’t say that. [laughter]

MRR: What was your first exposure to punk? 
I would hear it on the radio, but I didn’t know what I was listening to. I loved, like, Missing Persons, and Devo, and Joy Divsion, New Order… New Wave stuff, Kraftwerk. I loved all that sort of stuff, late elementary school, junior high. But there were two radio stations, Uconn in Connecticut, and one that, I think, was Dartmouth out of Massachusetts. They would have these shows, and I didn’t know what I was listening to, all I know is that on Sundays and another day, this music would come on and I liked it. I would hold up a cassette recorder and I would tape the songs. If I liked the song I kept it going. If I didn’t like it I would rewind it and wait for the next song and hit record. I had no idea exactly what I was listening to until I got older and met other people who knew what it was. Actually, when I was at Rocky Hill there were these two kids, one that always had a New Model Army shirt on, and we became friends, and that’s how I ended up finding about other bands. Then I had a neighbor I hadn’t seen in years. I had part of my head shaved, and he had a mohawk and he had an older sister, and was allowed to go to shows. So my mom said, “Yeah, whatever band is coming up you can go to a show with Dan and Daphne.” That allowed me greater access. I was transferred to a private school from a public school, and meeting other kids who were skaters and punk helped.

MRR: Going back to photography, what was the best venue to shoot at, in your opinion?
That’s a hard one. I did always like shooting at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey. That was really good. I can tell you what sucks. That would be the Wetlands in New York City, and CBGB’s can totally suck, because of the layout. Lupos in Providence was really good. The Rat in Boston, that was a good one to shoot at. The smaller the club was, it was usually easier to shoot because everybody was sort of on top of one another, and packed with energy. I would shoot with a 24mm, as opposed to a fish eye, or a 28mm. It keeps the proportions, it’s pretty close to what a normal eye sees, and it’s just wide enough to get full bodies of people in without distortion. You increase your ability to get a wider range of shots with it. The bigger the stage the worst the images would look. I started shooting more, and would shoot at places like the Roseland in New York I really started to hate band photography and I didn’t want to go to the next level. I began to realize why all those pictures in Creem magazine, or Rolling Stone sucked. All the band members are twenty-five feet apart, and you have to use a telephoto lens. So every shot is a portrait style with a limited depth of field, and you get the waist on up, and that’s it.

MRR: What are the elements required for a great photo? 

MRR: What about lighting? I was always told lighting is everything.
They say lighting is everything because from a technical aspect photography is all about light. The whole concept of lighting goes out the freakin’ window when you’re shooting at a club. You have no control over the lighting, whatsoever. When you’re shooting black and white it’s a little bit easier than shooting color. With color you have to worry about all the color lenses they put on the lights and everything. But you have no control. The lights are going to go out, there might be only one beam on the band, the ceilings are black and you can’t bounce your flash off of anything. You have to start using that poor lighting as your tool and build that into your composition.

MRR: Someone told me that you used slaves. That you would set slaves up on stage to get better lighting. Is that true? 
Wow! Who the hell said that? Are you kidding? Those slaves would be stolen! That would be a pain in the ass. I just tried to pay attention to what was happening. The only thing I ever requested, in the late ’90s when all these bands started getting “deeper”, so there were a couple bands that insisted on playing in the dark. They didn’t want any lights on. I would have some zine or magazine say, “Hey, I want to pay you to shoot this band.” I would go up (to the band) going, “Listen, can you keep the lights on?” “No, we don’t sacrifice our art!” I’m like, okay great, “I’ve been asked to photograph you guys, somebody’s paying me, and if you’re in pitch black, I can’t shoot you. Quite frankly, people like to look at pictures more than they like to read, and my pictures help sell your band.” You sort of have to work around it. I never set up slaves. I always had one flash. Usually my set up was this; I used to have, years ago, a flash on top of my camera. I used the same camera, a Canon EF. It’s fallen down hills, it’s like a war camera. It could go through anything, and it had a flash on top of it. On tour in California I shot 40 something rolls of film during the week. When I came back home, when I looked at the negatives, they were all blurry. There was a lot of drag. It turned out the flash wasn’t in synch with the camera, which is how I got these “blur and drag” photos. I was going, “Oh shit, this sucks!” Then they turn out to be amazing. At the time nobody else was doing that, at all. Later I upgraded to the Nikon F4, and I had a flash fully off the camera. So I had better quality. Because I could pull the flash away from the camera I was able to hold the flash at other angles to light certain areas. But I never had a slave or anything like that. I had a Quantum battery pack, and about twenty-four batteries floating in the pockets of my shorts.

MRR: So, you’re the person I can lay the blame at for all the blur photos of the late 90s, early 2000s?

MRR: I felt like mediocre photographers really abuse the shit out of that. 
Oh yes they do! Yes, yes, yes they do! Some kids would keep asking me, “How do you do it?” I was like, “What do you mean? I don’t know how I do it.” It would just happen because my camera wasn’t working well. When I figured out what was happening and it looked so good… What happened is if a was shooting a band that sucked, and never moved, and it was boring, I would set my camera to bulb, giving me control over the shutter speed and I put the flash on like 400 or 800 ASA, and so when I shot it and the moved slightly it looked like they were moving. I could now take a really boring band that stands there and make it look like they’re going nuts. Whenever they would move I would focus the camera on their face and pull with them, so you still get the features of the band, but their instruments are dragged a bit. So I started using that because it was fun to use. But I never overused it. It never occurred to me to not be free with my information and techniques. So a bunch of people started asking me about it, then I started getting people going, “Look at my band pictures!” I would look at them and they were a pile of blur. There was nothing there. It was a cheap excuse to make an interesting photo. They weren’t using the blur as a technique or to enhance the composition, they were just making blur. A photo of the old sleeping dog in the backyard would have just as much excitement in it. I despise it! Absolutely despise it. It’s weak, and it’s cheating.

Go! at ABC No Rio. (photo by Justine DeMetrick)

MRR: I remember seeing photos of bands during that era, and I wasn’t even looking at the band, I was looking at the blur line. The blurred drumstick. I think blur can be used to emphasize stuff, but it became lazy for “photographers”. 
The advantage I had was having a formal background in photography & the arts. The one of the things they always taught you was to edit in the camera. This is why I can’t even watch people photographing bands now. There was some show I just had to walk out, I couldn’t watch these kids photographing bands anymore. I think I blew up Al Quint’s ear with a rant at a Rorschach reunion show! [laughter] You learn how to edit your photos in the camera, which was really important when you’re shooting film. Because film is expensive, and the processing, and it takes time. You’re building a composition in the camera. There’s no cropping afterwards or any of that shit. So you’re really learning composition, you learn you got x amount of photos you’re able to shoot. You don’t want to miss a moment, and you really pay attention to what you’re shooting, what’s going on, and the composition is all of that. That’s what allowed you to get a good quality shot. If you were super rich and had all the film to go out and shoot a million photos, and after about five hundred photos you would probably have some great photos. So, in doing that I tried not to use the blur heavily, and it would just become a tool, which also coincided around the same time the bands were boring me. So it gave me something to do while I was watching the bands. That’s when my concentration became more on really making an image that please me and not necessarily having anything to do with the music at that point.

MRR: I remember Al Flipside telling me once, this was before digital took over, that when you have a roll of film get your shots early, the shots you really want, then spend the rest of your time experimenting. 
It makes sense because if you need to get x amount of each member, and this combination, like I need one with the singer with each member of the band, a full band shot, whatever your combinations are. Most people are, I guess you’re saying, that’s my job and I need to get these shots of the band for the next issue of Flipside. That could be his way of prioritizing. I just did it all in between everything while I was doing it. Certain bands lose steam after a while. So you generally get your best shots when they first go on stage, and whatever song is their favorite, or the most popular song when everybody goes nuts. As a musician you feed off the crowd, so usually the best reaction and the best stuff you’re going to get of the band is when they’re doing their most popular song.

MRR: When I look at the digital photographers at shows, and there’s more photographers now than there used to be, I’m not really seeing a lot of thought put into how they take their shots. I feel like they, even with their professional quality cameras, I feel like they have a glorified point and shoot. 
Yeah, that’s what it is. The problem with digital is, I have an antique shop and this girl comes in is a photo major at RISD and she comes in and buys old cameras. We’re talking about school and she likes using the old cameras, but most of the classes now are taught in digital. That explained to me why the images that we see everywhere suck now. I watch these kids shooting digital, they shoot a picture and immediately review what they just shot. Meanwhile, the band is going nuts, somebody is moving, this guy is jumping, and they just missed everything. The best thing you can do – if I was a photo teacher I would never allow students to have the backs of their cameras on-at all. You do your editing afterwards. Concentrate on the image/scene at hand. Unfortunately, they’re most likely missing all the best one, they’re missing their connection with the band, or the band’s connection with the audience and their responsibility to document it. They’re not getting it, they’re not doing their “job.” Meaning, that whether they’re just shooting for themselves, shooting for publication, or their friend’s band’s seven inch, or fanzine. They’re not doing it. They’re wasting their time and space by not concentrating on that. I watch them; they take a picture, they look at the back of their camera, and they immediately delete it. The problem there is, you can’t see how good or bad, or where your mistakes are. Used to be, when you shoot your film you would get a contact sheet. You look at the contact sheet, you pick out which images are good. You might see two images that one looks awesome, but the one next to it looks identical, but why doesn’t that one work? That’s when you realize, “Well, the camera tilted at this angle doesn’t quite work as good as this.” So, you never see how your images are on the whole. You might just think you’re a great photographer [laughter] when you’re missing the best shots, you’re missing the ability to edit your own, and make yourself better, and make the images better. Now that everybody can use digital, and program it to be perfect, doesn’t mean they’re good at it. Just because you have a hammer doesn’t mean you can build a house. Same thing with graphic design. When I worked graphic design in Manhattan at this crappy newspaper, I worked with Chris Boarts of Slug & Lettuce, you had to have an artistic skill. All of us came from the School of Visual Arts. You had to know how to cut things out. You had to know how to understand color and composition. The only thing we did on a computer was print out the text and then glue it all down, cut the rubylith, and all this stuff. You actually had to have an artistic hand/eye coordination to do something. Once computers came out anybody could take something stick it in Photoshop, put it in Illustrator, put it through InDesign or Quark. Doesn’t mean you have to be good at, it just means you know how to use a computer.

Born Against at ABC No Rio. (photo by Justine DeMetrick)

MRR: I see that too with a lot of so-called graphic design these days. You can tell the guy knows the computer program inside and out, but they do not have the “eye.” You can’t buy that. Either you have it or you don’t. 
When I was up at Brimfield (antique show,) the other week I ended up purchasing a bunch of artwork from a guy who was from the Chicago Institute. His work from over the course of 1940 to 2006, when he died, like 2,000 paintings, prints, watercolors, oils, drawings, lithos; outstanding! You look at them and go, “Wow, this is a Paul Klee, this is a Miro, this is a Matisse, this is a Diego Rivera.” When you look at them, you think this guy is pretty good. And then you think, well no, he’s really good at being skilled, not necessarily being creative. Great images, but at the same time they’re not fully his language. They’re not what he’s thinking and expressing. It’s the same thing that happens with all these people with digital cameras and computers. I’m not saying they’re wrong it’s just that the resulting quality of what’s coming out is weaker.

MRR: If you have a digital camera, and so many people are shooting all the time, and “practice makes perfect.” There is some truth in that. 
There is. How will you know if you’re perfect or not if you never get to see what your work looks like without seeing the good and the bad in front of you?

MRR: I still shoot film. When I get my proof sheets back it eats me up, I get really depressed when I see the shots that I missed. It bums me the fuck out for days. But I process that information thinking about how can I avoid that next time around. As much as you want to burn that proof sheet and negatives, you can turn it around and see it as a learning lesson. 
Oh yeah! Also, you figure out who you are and what you see. You learn more about yourself. But if you’re shooting with a digital and firing off a million photos, and editing in the camera, there’s this band in front of you, and there’s all this energy going on, and you’re basically sitting there “filming” it almost. What’s the quality coming out? It’s like being hungry and filling yourself up with Wendy’s or McDonald’s. Yeah, you filled yourself, but there’s no quality in there, you’re not going to grow out of it. In some ways it’s making you worse because you’re getting lazier. Your expectations of yourself aren’t as high. One of the best exhibits I ever saw at a museum was a retrospective that the Met had on Diane Arbus’ work. Her daughters gave them permission to recreate her darkroom, and part of her studio. They had all her journals laid out, but they also had all her contact sheets laid out. There were x’s here, and things circled here, and notes there. She has iconic images. So when people see the images, like “Wow, here’s the triplets on the bed”. That sort of thing, and then you realize she shot two rolls of them in all these different combinations. You find out why this one image that is iconic work more than the others. That was something that came up as I started more of the band photography. Dave Koenig and Brett Beach said I should start charging for it. Which pissed a lot of people off, even though I was cheap as hell. People would go, “Why should we pay you when so-and-so’s girlfriend can do it for free?” I said, “Well, yeah she can. She’s going to shoot about nine rolls of film and you’re going to get, maybe, five decent photos. If I shoot you, you’re paying for my education and my abilities. I’ll give you two rolls of film. You’ll have at least four or five that are album quality. You’re going to have this many that you could use for this, and one or two that I guarantee you will be excellent. Exactly spot on.” That’s what you got because I spent a life time working in art, in photography and caring about it.

MRR: I’m going to sound like a crotchety old man I don’t see kids sitting in the libraries or book stores setting up shop in the photography section and pouring over those books. It helps to do that. 
There’s too much of people copying everybody else. All those apps on the iPhone that allows everything to look like a Diana. Photography over film is infinitely more powerful. It maybe sounds corny, but I think the role of a photographer is extremely important. 9/11, you watch all the footage of 9/11. I remember sitting on my brother’s couch and watching that second plane hit, and being like “Holy shit!” and watching the antenna go down and being like “Oh my god!” You have all those emotions. It wasn’t until a week later when I saw all those still pictures. The still images hit harder. When you’re staring a photograph of something you’re forced to make the entire story and scene. You’re forced to think back in your experiences, things you heard, experienced, met, read, whatever. The photographer gave you the image and you as the viewer have to do the rest of the work, recreating the moment in your own way. When something is filmed it’s making up the next step for you. You don’t have to do anything. You just watch it happen, taking whatever is being seen and delivered to you, so the comprehension isn’t necessarily as deep. The same thing with reading, where they say you remember more of what you read than what you hear. I think that leads into another way, or issue, of the problem I have with people shooting bands now, or anything else.

MRR: I feel that your job as a photographer, especially if you’re shooting something like punk bands, you want to portray the personality of that band, whatever it is that makes that band exciting. 
You want to show the energy. Even though musically Mouthpiece isn’t a band that does much for me, the guys in that band are great, and seeing their shows was always fantastic. It was that relationship they had with the crowd was fantastic. The crowd loved them, they loved being on stage, they loved their crowd. So photographing them was always a lot of fun, you really got it, and you had a lot to work with. So no matter what you did you you could easily get an image that expressed that high point. It was the same thing with a band like Avail. If you’re going to shoot a band like Lungfish you don’t get that same connection between band and audience. Nation of Ulysses is another band. Nation of Ulysses on stage is theater. They’re pure theater. It’s not necessarily a band that’s interactive with their audience so you’re not going to get that same reaction, so you’re going to focus more on them as though you’re photographing a theater performance in a way.

Chain of Strength. (photo by Justine DeMetrick)

MRR: What about shooting a band like Jawbox?
A lot of those emo bands, and the DC type bands were very similar. You’re dealing with an audience, some of those audiences were very against anybody moving and showing reaction. So that was limited, and the bands didn’t necessarily go crazy on stage. Some of it might have been age! [laughter] Or the music was more complicated. That’s a band I would try to use more motion on to show them looking more active.

MRR: In Intermission #3 it says “This page is as dull as Jawbox live”. I find it funny. [laughter]
What does it say?

MRR: On one of the pages it’s pictures of Lungfish, World’s Collide, and Jawbox. At the bottom you wrote “This page is as dull as Jawbox live”. [laughter]
The thing is, that first Jawbox seven inch I fucking loved!

MRR: Well, they started off good. 
They were great. But live they were boring. A lot of those bands, they just stood there. It was boring as hell. It had nothing to do with me wanting action to photograph. I’m somebody who came out of this music for the love of the music and the environment. I wanted to see something that, you can be band that stands there, I mean, Lungfish is not an active band on stage. But when you watch Dan Higgs you can see him feeling every vowel that comes out of his mouth, and that is awesome. That is fantastic to see that. His energy is there, he’s just not necessarily active on stage. There’s different things, like Man Is The Bastard live. They didn’t necessarily go nuts, but when you watched Eric and those guys, and here they are with these sounds that nobody else is making, and these crazy instruments they built, this is their pure art form from them. You watch them play, and you can see them getting into their music like a jazz musician got into it.

MRR: How many issues of Intermission did you end up doing? 
Just three. I have one copy of each, and that’s it.

MRR: I was under the impression that they did pretty well. 
They sold out really quick. I didn’t think anybody would care. I would think, “Why am I printing this thing? Why am I doing this?” People would say, “You should do a zine”, and I’m thinking, “Why? I don’t really write anything. And if I write anything it will probably offend people.” Or have to deal with the aftermath, which I had no interest in doing. I said, “Alright, I’ll do this.” Originally the first one was supposed to be 12 x 12 inches. It was supposed to be the same size as an LP so it would fit in with somebody’s LP collection. It was completely laid out by hand. Everybody used to go to this place in Flushing, New York. In Queens, this Chinese printing place. I brought it out there, and to print something that size and have it cut down was something like $2,000! [laughter] It was insane! A LOT of work! Not only were you photographing pictures, you weren’t scanning them. You would have to take as many of your images that had similar tonal range, put them all up on a sheet and have somebody turn them into halftones. Then you would have to cut them out, and pray you don’t put a razor through one because it cost a fortune. So, they (the printer) ended up shrinking the zine down to whatever size it is 8″x8″?

MRR: Did you ever get any sort of reactions from the bands that were in the zine? Like Jawbox? [laughter]
Not really. People liked it. People would come up like, “Wow, you’re Justine DeMetrick. Wow, holy shit! Love your zine!” — that sort of stuff. The only reaction I got was, Charles (DiMaggio) and all those guys bust my balls because there was a show at Skate Hut in Providence and there was this band, I don’t remember what they’re called, all I know is they had weird make-up, they trashed a television on stage… They were terrible. I don’t know who they were or anything, and they did a couple songs as an opening band. I put pictures of them in the zine, and they (Charles and the rest) were like, “Why did you put this band in here? Oh my god, they were ridiculous!” I was like, “I don’t know, they played. I felt like it was my duty to publish the fact that they existed on this night!” [laughter] I would get people asking my why put this band in, well I saw the band. I guess the thought wasn’t as planned and fluid as maybe it had ought to have been in hindsight, as far as how I went about the zine.

MRR: When you were shooting at shows were there a lot of photographers at the shows, or was it just you, and maybe a couple others? 
There was one or two girls that used to photograph bands in Boston. A lot of people like Al Quint would have a camera and shoot bands for Suburban Voice. There were a handful of kids on and off in Boston. In the early days there was maybe one other person. In Rhode Island it was usually either me or Jodi (Vigneau) Buonanno she’s married to Ted Leo. She, and our friend Brian Simmons, who did Constant Change fanzine and the Alone In The Crowd seven inch. The three of us were photographers, and we’d all go around together photographing stuff. We all used my darkroom at my parent’s house. Those were the people that photographed. New York and New Jersey, when I moved down there there were a lot of other photographers. I didn’t really know any of them, and for the most part, nobody ever talked to me. The only one I ever really got to know was Carl Gunhouse and Chris(tine) Boarts. Most of the others; I don’t know, I would say hi, and hoped to talk to somebody, but I don’t know. They didn’t have any interest in talking to me. [laughter]

Nation of Ulyssess. (photo by Justine DeMetrick)

MRR: What was the last show that you shot? 
I was wondering about that. Some of the last couple bands that I shot was, it might have been Kill Your Idols. Towards the end it might have been 97A, Full Speed Ahead, and then there was these two bands, they were from California, and I cannot remember the names of them. They showed up, and they had this total Venice style.

MRR: What Happens Next and Life’s Halt.
They came on stage, and at this point I could give two shits about hardcore, and I’m like, “Where did these guys come from? I need to see more of this!” I’ve got a feeling, for the only time ever, that my contact sheets are mislabeled because I don’t know which is which band.

MRR: Why did you stop shooting band photos? Did you just burn out and move on to other things?
I was sort of burn out. I was living in New Jersey at that point, I had left Manhattan. I didn’t know where I wanted to go, or what I wanted to do. I had my own issues with depression. I remember Rancid playing down at the Stone Pony, and some other band. I went to go see them and hang out with them, but I couldn’t because they had all these handlers. The concept of what they meant with this big league bullshit was happening. I remember standing there thinking, “Okay, I can’t go say hi to those guys. That kind of sucks. They don’t know I’m here because nobody can talk to anybody.” I’m standing next to a guy shooting for the Trentonian, I thought that was fucking weird. Talking to him, and he just shot the week before the Barbara Streisand’s reunion show at Radio City Music Hall. It was him and like three hundred photographers from around the world, and they had sixty seconds to photograph her. That’s it! All those photographers. Basically, she walks out on stage, she waves, and the second that hand hits the mic all photography has to stop. And I said, “What’s the point? Do I really want to do that?” I already started hated shooting at these big places because the stages are high, and I can’t see over the stage without standing on a equipment case, you have to have permission to use a flash, then all of a sudden a body guard comes out and says “No flash” and tries to take the flash off your camera. If you don’t take it off in time they proceed to snap it. There’s all this other bullshit that goes on; you can only shoot the first three songs, and I was just miserable. I was miserable in every aspect of my life. At that point digital cameras, for anything decent, were obscenely priced. Along with all the accoutrements that go with it. I couldn’t do that. I made a decision to move back to Rhode Island, and there’s no way I could shoot here. So basically, all in one shot I stopped photographing. For years I was documenting cemeteries and how people would deal with death. When I moved up here even that stopped.

MRR: Some of the most interesting cemeteries are in Rhode Island, that I’ve seen.
What was amazing about a lot of New York and New Jersey is that you has so many ethnic backgrounds. How each culture dealt with death is a little bit different. You would go to a cemetery in New Jersey and you would have a section that was Korean, or a section that was all Puerto Rican, a Dominican section, Chinese, all those dealt with death differently. You may have an old plot and you see the names change within the families over the years, becoming more Americanized. I had been shooting cemeteries for years, ever since I was a kid. My dad would take me to look at headstones and that sort of stuff. I had all these friends that kept OD’ing, murdered, suicide. I missed the funeral of a friend who was shot in the head in a drug deal. So I missed the funeral and everything, I went to the cemetery and was looking at what was left behind. So, for whatever reason, I just shot Mike Sadd’s grave. I continued to walk around the cemetery when I found a plot for someone whose baby had died, and it must have died about three years earlier, and the grave was covered in toys and stuff. As time went on I would keep going back to the cemetery, there would be a birthday cake, pictures of family doing things on vacation. Then after about five years there was a lot less left, until the last images of them was with new children. So they sort of moved on. I needed to deal with my own issues of death, depression, people around me, and it stemmed out of that. I started photographing really what people left behind. After awhile I tried to not show the names on the stone on the chance I might offend the family. It really wasn’t about the individual who passed but about us a culture. It really became a study of how people lived and how their families functioned in response.

Swiz at Lizmar Lounge, NYC. (photo by Justine DeMetrick)

MRR: Interesting…
That’s pretty cheery right? [laughter] We’re one culture that does not discuss death. Nobody likes to. We’re so sanitized from it. A lot of us don’t deal with it until it’s too late and we’re not ready. It’s always a shock, even if you know somebody dying, or has been sick for a really long time. Nobody discusses it. It was often hard because when I would get back and I would look at the photographs I had taken, and going, “This is a absolutely beautiful photograph,” and it would conflict with what I was shooting.

MRR: My brother was a grave digger for a while. I thought it would be depressing, but he said he liked the silence and solitude. 
I’ve heard that from other people who have worked at places like that. I haven’t gone to a cemetery in so long, but there is a certain peace that is there. It can’t be very peaceful, but it’s peaceful on a very different level. Very different than sitting in the woods, or your house with nobody home, or if there’s a hurricane and you don’t have power for two days. It’s a very different type. They are spooky. One thing I think is most interesting is the amount of crows, and they follow you. They hang out on the stones, and they just sort of follow you and watch you, but tend to keep a distance. I always thought of them as the souls that were protecting the dead. They aren’t too spooky unless you’re going to shoot cemeteries on Staten Island and around Brooklyn, and then it’s fucking freaky! There’s just dudes that hang out at cemeteries that have nothing to do with anybody dead there! [laughter] They’re freaky. I was in Jersey City shooting once, and there’s packs of wild dogs, kind of like the stories you hear about dogs roaming Detroit. Think “The Walking Dead”.

Mouthpiece (photo by Justine DeMetrick)

MRR: When you look back on the time that you were shooting, what do you remember most about that period? 
What do I remember most? I can come from certain angles. I loved being up there and photographing, being part of the music, and being part of the environment. Being part of the cycle of things. Everybody had a role. You had a fan who eventually becomes members of bands, somebody puts out a record, or somebody has to take pictures, somebody has to record it, somebody has to write a review of it, so somebody has to have a fanzine. Just being a cog in that wheel of something that was incredibly important to me growing up was really really neat. It took me a long time to warm up to that. When I was part of that cog was really cool. The bummer part was it was hard to enjoy a lot of the bands because you can’t hear the music. People were nicer then too! [laughter]

MRR: Before we started the interview, we were talking about how some people, as they grow older they tend to shed their values and kind of conform more and turn their back on their ideals. Whatever value system you had in place, how much of that do you still hang on to?
I hang on to quite a bit of it. The world is a lot grayer, but I definitely hold onto a lot of the politics. My political beliefs are still hardcore. I’m still extremely liberal. I still do not trust governments, police, authorities, corporations. I try to do as little business as possible with major corporations. I try to keep things to small businesses. I’m an antiques dealer, which is something I’ve been involved in with to some degree my entire life. So I like the fact that I’m involved in a career that, although it satisfies me as an artistic bent, the fact that I have to travel and not be stuck in one place, but I’m also that I’m recycling. I find things with new uses. I’m not producing anything, I’m not wasting resources to produce something. It’s already in existence. I like being part of that. I’m just trying to get people, like, “Hey, listen, you can have a great looking environment. You don’t have to be as boring as everybody else.” A lot of that I still hold dear.

One response to “Justine DeMetrick interview: The Director’s Cut!!”

26 06 2012
Chuckie Hardcore (23:49:27) :

Very good interview, I can truly to some of the issues/stuff she speaks about as a photographer. Good pointers to, like being of the right side of the stage, or paying attention to which hand the singer holds the mic with (never really thought like that when taking photos). Wish she would do a book of her photos.
Great MRR, thanx!

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