Old Vancouver punks die, but they do not fade away.
“They lived hard lives,” photographer Dina Goldstein says. “They faced addictions. Some of them aren’t around any longer.”
And some are. Goldstein, with her ongoing project and current exhibition OG Punk, is documenting the survivors and still-thrivers from the city’s punk scene of the late 1970s and 80s. The Vancouver photographer’s portraits of the now middle-aged punks are showing at Toronto’s Abbozzo Gallery during this month’s Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival.
The subjects are almost all in their leathers, some with stiffly spiked hair that poses danger to balloons and low-flying birds. The regalia is real, not retro.
“You see them walking down the street like this,” Goldstein says. “They rebel against the concept of costume. It’s who they are.”
Raven Slander, 60, is also known as Bonnie Henry. In 1979, she moved from Montreal to Vancouver, where she discovered local, DIY punk bands at the Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret, a punk-rock hub on East Hastings. Asked by Goldstein about her best punk memory, Slander told her she didn’t think it had happened yet.
“I think she looks sad,” Goldstein says. “But she’s living her authentic life. She’s been here since the beginning.”
It is historically accepted that Vancouver’s first proper punk concert took place at the Japanese Hall on July 30, 1977. The Dishrags, an all-female teenage trio from Victoria, opened for the Furies. Punks by definition are outsiders, but the Vancouver punks, living in a relatively docile town and separated geographically (and otherwise) from scene cities like London, New York, Los Angeles and even Toronto, seem even more marginalized than most.
“That feeling of isolation is very prevalent,” Goldstein says.
Goldstein specializes in large-scale, highly detailed and socially commentative works, such as her recent series The 10 Commandments, in which she posed 10 people as U.S. presidents and placed them into elaborate tableaus. “It’s a very filmic process,” she explains. “They’re labour-intensive projects that take years to complete.”
Her OG Punk portraits, however, are simpler, intimate and documentative – similar to her Trackrecord series from 20 years ago that captured the gambling culture and the colourful characters of Vancouver’s Hastings Racecourse. “I’m drawn to movements and hobbies and people expressing themselves fully and freely,” Goldstein says. “I think it’s very brave.”
OG Punk photo subject Chris N was spotted by Goldstein at a bus stop. “Chris doesn’t live in our realm,” she says of the pointy-haired punk prototype. “He’s very British, with a cockney accent. He says he played in the band Death Sentence, but I think a lot of people did.”
One of the younger subjects is 56-year-old Douglass, a.k.a. Doug Donut. He’s a rocker with a classic vibe of defiance, and he’s a friend of Vancouver hardcore punk icon Joe Keithley of the band D.O.A. He told Goldstein that punk is about being “untamable and resourceful,” and that he regards Marlon Brando, Joe Strummer and the band Bad Brains as true punks. “When he was younger, there was a lot of physical violence Doug participated in, but I think he was on the right side of that violence,” Goldstein says.
Goldstein resists the notion that punks believe in anarchy. Rather, she sees them as leathered Tom Joads who favour loud, fast music and who treat oppression roughly. “Punk is an ideology or a mentality toward a fairer society,” she says. “They’re not anarchists – they’re more like defenders.”
OG Punk shows at Toronto’s Abbozzo Gallery, as part of the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival, through May 28.