Art & Photography / Culture Talks

Behind the Scenes of San Francisco’s Punk Heyday

American photographer Jim Jocoy discusses his forthcoming photo book, a vibrant and poetic ode to 70s San Francisco subculture

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Photography by Jim Jocoy, Courtesy Casemore Kirkeby Gallery, San Francisco

As a student in early 70s California, American photographer Jim Jocoy was transfixed by subcultures. His best friend at the time was a devout anglophile and Jocoy would spend his days flicking through the New Musical Express, admiring all the icons of glam rock and the early UK punk scene, and wondering, “Am I ever going to experience something like that?” Little did he know that just a few years later he would be at the centre of San Francisco’s punk heyday, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Cosey Fanni Tutti and Joe Strummer, and capturing it all on camera. “It was 1976, when the Ramones came through town, that punk really took off here,” Jocoy tells AnOther over the phone. “Suddenly it was happening: people were forming bands, finding new venues to put on shows, making fanzines.”

Lacking in musical talent himself, Jocoy, a keen “self-taught” photographer, who just happened to be working at a copy shop at the time, soon discovered a way of participating in the burgeoning youth movement. He would head out with his friends at night, documenting the heady parties, the rowdy gigs at the Mabuhay Gardens, the famous faces, and the strung out mornings after with prolific enthusiasm. “My employer was very wonderful in allowing me to make copies after work, so I could print or make colour slides of my pictures without having to worry about the cost – which is why I took so many,” he explains. “I also became a mini publisher. I helped launch a fanzine for my friends called Widows and Orphans which, believe it or not, included submissions by Genesis P-Orridge who was in Throbbing Gristle back then!”

Most of Jocoy’s photographs from the time can be divided loosely into three categories, he says. “I was doing straight, stand-up portraiture, which features in my first book [We’re Desperate, published in 2002 with the support of Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore]. Then I would do all these other pictures of live bands performing – the Ramones, the Clash, whoever was in town – and then I would also take casual shots of my friends getting ready, going out, and miscellaneous things that caught my attention as the night progressed. I did this one weekend after another, for months and several years.” A wonderful edit of these “more informal shots” forms the basis of Jocoy’s new photo book, Order of Appearance, launching later this month.

The book’s images exude all the vivid mayhem of the punk era: a lemon-yellow car teeters upside-down on a roadside, the black wall above a urinal bears loud, capitalised graffiti scratched into its surface, a girl in a short leopard-print dress reclines with cat-like languor across a car boot, her legs draped over the windscreen. But there are also softer, more tender shots – a group of friends piled into to a cramped car, grinning with anticipation of arrival; a pair of bruised knees (Muriel’s, the title tells us) revealed beneath a patterned dress. “I went out in pursuit of beauty in the context of what most people would consider ugly,” Jocoy explains. “The colours, the clothes, the materials really fascinated me, and the people were so photogenic, their faces looked so fresh – I wanted to convey that. I was going out at night like an entomologist trying to capture some exotic, colourful moth.” It is this, along with his shrewd eye for composition, that makes Jocoy’s photographs so mesmerising; he sought to celebrate the poetry in punk, the unique energy at the heart of this subculture that he could call his own.

Order of Appearance is available for pre-order now, published by TBW Books.

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