Photographer Michael Lavine’s new book Grunge is a collection of photographs taken during the grunge movement of the late ’80s/early ’90s (with introduction by Thurston Moore). The book is a fresh look at the “grunge” scene from an insider who was there, documenting the scene. Earplugging had the pleasure of talking to Michale Lavine about his new book, what grunge means to him, and why “success ruined everything.”
Earplugging: How did you get into photography?
ML: I remember someone just said to me the other day, “You’re the only person that I know from high school that actually knew what they wanted to do when they were in high school.” I knew right then that I liked it, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it. I remember even my last year in college thinking, “How am I going to turn photography into a career?” And it literally just kind of happened by accident.
Earplugging: How was it an accident?
ML: I was shooting groups of people out on the street, just doing formal compositions of people, of interesting-looking people in a particular subculture that I was interested in, that I was involved in, that I had friends involved in. I’m not a musician so I wasn’t making music, but I loved music and I had friends who were making music. You’re involved in a community at that age, you’re involved in a scene and you have friends who are in music who are in the bands, and I just happened to be the guy with a camera. I had friends who were in bands who needed pictures of their band and they asked me to do it and one thing led to another.
|Goth Hawk, Seattle, 1983|
Earplugging: Where did it go from there?
ML: I was working in a fashion studio and I didn’t really connect to the fashion world, I’m not a fantasy fashion photographer. This was like 1986, I started in high school taking photographs of people. I was just a natural portrait photographer, one thing led to another. I was friends with Sean (Yseult) from White Zombie and she said, “Hey, why don’t you take a picture of my band?” I said “Okay,” and that was the White Zombie album cover Psycho-Head Blowout, which was my first album cover. And that hit the streets in New York and actually made an impact, believe it or not, because it was an image that was real stark, and at that point no bands had been putting their photographs on their album covers. Everyone kind of took a second look and thought “maybe we should do that.”
Earplugging: You had a studio overlooking CBGB back then, right?
ML: I moved into 2 Bleecker Street for four years, from ’88 to ’92, and I was essentially on the Sub Pop tour stop. I was the resting spot for Sub Pop bands, and they would come by and visit and I would shoot them. I had at that point been working for Sub Pop, essentially. I was like their New York photographer. It was coincidence that the space was across from CB’s at first, then it turned into this perfect thing, you know? I remember at the time thinking that I didn’t fully take advantage of that, because I wasn’t shooting as many bands as I could have because I was across the street. There were so many bands in there, like six bands a night, I could’ve been shooting a lot more bands. But I was just working on the projects that were presented to me and doing as much as I could, and you can only do so much in a day. I moved out of there in 1992, kind of at the end of grunge – or the end of it for me.
|Chris and Katy, Seattle, 1983|
Earplugging: The first half of the book is shots of kids on the streets (in Seattle and Olympia), and the second half is the bands that fell into grunge. How do you see the connection between the first half and the second half of the book?
ML: It’s a pretty powerful juxtaposition between the two bodies of work. They’re two separate bodies of work that are years apart. We originally wanted to run a book of just the street photographs, but the editor was smart enough to make the connection that later work I had done of bands made a statement. You could notice the way the street photographs influenced the rock bands.
A lot of those kids in the street photographs were all in bands, it was the early Seattle scene. I didn’t know that at the time. I didn’t know that until recently, when I showed the book to Mark Arm (of Mudhoney) and he named everybody, every single person in the book – he has a photographic memory for one, and most of them were all from punk bands from the early Seattle days.
Earplugging: So the connection was more than Seattle?
ML: Essentially the connection is that punk rock really was a major influence on grunge. Grunge didn’t even exist – the term didn’t even exist at the time. These kids were punk rockers, all of them. They all were punk rock kids. And then it got labeled late in the game, after it had all been done. Bands like Mudhoney were around for years before they were even called grunge.