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Many books have been written, and documentaries produced, about the early days of punk in Washington, D.C. and the bands that shaped the sound of hardcore in the eighties. A new book, though, compiles photos of the D.C. region’s punk scene from the late nineties to today. “Frame of Mind: Punk Photos and Essays from Washington, D.C., and Beyond, 1997-2017” includes photos of local bands like Priests, Coup Sauvage and the Snips and Ex Hex, as well as national ones like Babes in Toyland, Melvins and L7. The book also features writings by women who played in bands, produced shows, and opened up venues around the District.
We talk to the author of the book, photographer Antonia Tricarico, and two its contributors, Natalie Avery and Lely Constantinople, about punk and photography, the importance of visually documenting local arts and music movements, and the roles of women in D.C.’s punk scenes.
Check out the playlist below featuring punk by D.C. women, and scroll down to see photos by Antonia Tricarico and other local punk photographers.
Produced by Mark Gunnery
- Antonia Tricarico Photographer, author of "Frame of Mind: Punk Photos and Essays from Washington, D.C. and Beyond, 19971-2017"
- Natalie Avery Musician and community builder; Co-founder of Radio CPR and former member of the bands Fire Party, Scaramouche and The Stigmatics
- Lely Constantinople Photographer
A Photographic Look Back At Women In D.C. Punk
Rebel Girls: D.C. Women In Punk
Cool Schmool: Spotify Playlist
MICHAEL SCHAEFFERThat was "One Thing," by the local punk band Bad Moves. So, a lot of ink has been spilled writing about the early days of D.C.'s legendary punk scene, when bands like Minor Threat and Bad Brains shaped the sound of hardcore in the '80s. A new book and gallery show, though, compiles photos of D.C.'s punk scene from the late '90s to today, and features essays by women who played in local and national bands put on shows and opened up venues around the District.
MICHAEL SCHAEFFERJoining us to discuss this book, the history of women in the D.C. punk scene and the role that photography has played in local music is Antonia Tricarico. She's a photographer, she's the author of "Frame of Mind: Punk Photos and Essays from Washington, D.C. and Beyond, 1997-2017," on Akashic Books. Welcome to the show. Thank you for being here.
ANTONIA TRICARICOThank you for inviting me.
SCHAEFFERWe're also talking to Natalie Avery. She's a musician, the co-founder of Radio CPR and a former member of the bands Fire Party, Scaramouche and the Stigmatics. And Lely Constantinople, she's a photographer. Welcome to the show.
LELY CONSTANTINOPLEThank you so much.
NATALIE AVERYThank you.
SCHAEFFERSo, Antonia, your book, "Frame of Mind," covers 20 years of punk history in the District but you got your start in a small town in the south of Italy. You write about it in the book. It's a great essay.
SCHAEFFERHow did you make it from a small town in Southern Italy to D.C.? It involved Rome and squatting, as I recall.
TRICARICOWell, it's a long story, so I don't think we have time to talk about all of it. But from my little town south of Italy, I went to Rome for college, and it was in Rome that I had my first -- I was in charge of squat for, let's say, for consent, some of the activities. And ,actually, before that, I was working in a music production, so I met so many musicians. And that's another connection that I have with musicians and music scene, especially underground music scene.
TRICARICOSo, in Rome -- after that, in Rome, you know, it was a big political change in Italy in the late '70s, '78, '79. So, basically, two of the response to (unintelligible) of repression in that moment where punk music and squatting. So, squatting has been popular in Europe for, you know, since 1968, but was mostly done for housing. Then 10 years after that, punks, they started to squat places, not for housing, but for create activities, all kinds of activities and concerts, you know. There were concerts, there were, you know, coffee shops, restaurants, auditorium.
TRICARICOAnd I want to say something about squats, that to squat doesn't mean that you take over private properties. To squat means that you are taking over public abandoned buildings, like old public schools or office buildings that are there, sitting in the city without any purpose. And sometimes they wait to be destroyed or they will have a different purpose. But it takes so long. It takes years and years. So, that's why punks, they start to squat those places and make their own spaces, and create something that was different for the city.
SCHAEFFERSo, a lot of what you are articulating is this sort of do-it-yourself, put on your own culture ethos. And that must've felt awfully familiar in D.C.
TRICARICOWell, the connection that I had -- so, in 1995, I was working for a show in Rome in this big squat, (unintelligible). And I was working for (unintelligible). So, I met my significant one. And after a couple of years, I decide to give a try to come to D.C. So, I knew that squatting wasn't, you know, popular in United States, but in D.C., I found that the community, the underground music community had so much in common with the beliefs, the squatting beliefs. There were, you know, two in particular, self-production and self-determination. So, I felt that I had a lot in common with this scene. And I felt that I was at home.
SCHAEFFERSo, what was the first picture you remember taking at a D.C. show?
TRICARICOWell, yes, was for Reno (sounds like). Branch manager Ann Fugazi (sounds like). I like a lot the Fugazi show -- okay, during the show, people were actually on the stage, a lot of people. And I found that very unusual and very inspiring, because it's rare that you see such a participation from the crowd that usually is in front of the stage, and not on the stage. So, that was Fugazi photo and branch manager, was 1997. So...
SCHAEFFERSo, I was thinking, in looking at your book, in some ways, it's kind of a throwback. Like, we're at this moment where everyone with a phone in their pocket can document a scene going on in front of them. How is it different for someone like yourself, who's a working photographer?
TRICARICOI don't have anything against phones and pictures taken, but actually, some of them look great, really. But my concern is about what you are going to do with these pictures. Because with the social media, those pictures can go anywhere, and you are unaware of that. That will scare me. It's not about, you know, the quality of the picture or can you have an exhibition with, you know, pictures taken by phone. That's not the point. The point is where, really, where those pictures are going. And that's scary.
SCHAEFFERAnd there's also like an old tradition of photographers who spent years photographing a particular musician or a particular group of musicians or a particular community. Will you talk to us a little bit about that relationship and what it means for your work?
TRICARICOWorking with the musicians, I was taking pictures?
SCHAEFFERAnd these are people you've photographed over years and decades.
TRICARICOYeah, I think I have a few musicians that I really -- I bond with those musicians. I can tell that Allison Wolf (sounds like) is one of them, because she's so natural and she's a great performance. But also, she knows where she's going, and she doesn't really care about to have followers. So, this is valid, also, for another musician like (unintelligible). And I think they have this in common. They're really -- I appreciate musicians. But I have a long list of musicians that really are just great. And for one reason or another, they are just fantastic.
SCHAEFFERI'm Michael Schaeffer from Washingtonian, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. I'm talking with Antonia Tricarico, who is a photographer behind a new book called "Frame of Mind" which is photographs from D.C.'s punk scene from 1997 to 2017. I'm also talking with Natalie Avery. She's a musician. And you've played with bands like Fire Party, Scaramouche, Stigmatics, and you've been on the other side of her lens. What's that like?
AVERYWell, it's funny when you were talking about the difference between now and then in terms of those bands that I was playing in, there weren't phones then. So, sometimes when I go to shows, and I just see the sea of phones, I feel like it kind of breaks that relationship with the audience.
AVERYBut my biggest experience with Antonia, being on the other side of Antonia's lens is in my family and at my wedding, she was in the room taking pictures before the wedding. And it was, like, just it really makes me understand how a photographer can just blend in and make you feel so comfortable. And they're like the most intimate, awesome photographs of this day that usually can have sort of like plastic-y photos, that have this real sort of authenticity. And I think she brings that sort of intimacy to the photos of musicians and performances, too.
SCHAEFFERLely Constantinople, you're another photographer, and you wrote the afterword to this book. You've known Antonia for years. How did you guys meet?
CONSTANTINOPLEWe met when Antonia came to D.C. And I hope you don't take this the wrong way, Antonia, but your English was fairly minimal at that point. (laugh) And we really communicated through images. And I'll never forget just having a real deep connection right away with her, because of this other language that we spoke together.
CONSTANTINOPLEAnd I was on the periphery of the punk scene. You know, I wasn't a musician. I didn't photograph at shows. That wasn't my interest. I did absolutely love going to the shows and participating, but I couldn't ever imagine stepping out of the music to photograph it. And so that was never my interest, and I always was so envious of photographers who could do that and did do that. And Antonia was one of them.
SCHAEFFERHow important were photos and flyers and other sort of documentary artifacts?
CONSTANTINOPLESure. So, again, I'm going to speak from someone who wasn't inside the punk scene in that way. I'm just going to be very straight up about that in terms of being in bands and things like that. But as a photographer and artist and someone who really responded to a lot of the early shows by seeing the way that the visual culture was going at that time -- which I can see now a direct link to the way Instagram kind of functions -- is are these really small flyers that would be -- like I remember Ian (word?) was actually handing out some for the Cold Ray Shows (sounds like) and the Famous Monsters parties and all these really small, small, small-scale parties and kind of happenings.
CONSTANTINOPLEAnd the flyers were the thing that connected you to the person who was telling you about the event. And, you know, my future husband, Alec Mackaye -- a shout out to you, Alec -- has just boxes and boxes of these flyers, because they really are so just -- they're pivotal to the way in which you respond to, you know, the shows themselves and motivating you to get there and go.
SCHAEFFERSo, you also helped put together a book of punk photos from D.C. called "Heart Art D.C. 1979." This is a few years ago, and featured the work of Washington Post photographer Lucent Perkins. Kojo did a show about Perkins and about the book. What jumped out at you when you were looking at the book about the early D.C. punk scene, from looking at those pictures?
CONSTANTINOPLEOh, those pictures are some of the most astonishing pictures, really, of anything. Not even -- I mean, yes, they're a record of those early D.C. shows, but they're -- I mean, talk about intimacy. They are the epitome of that. Lucent was an outsider, so I don't think -- I think that's what makes them so effective, is that he was looking at the punk scene then as this strange being that was happening, and the energy of it was so intense. And so those early Bad Brains shows at Valley Green Housing Project in the Southeast to some of the Teen Idol shows and just those really very, I would say, private shows in a way that were just the very kind of beginnings of something.
CONSTANTINOPLEWhen you're there, doing that, I was sitting in his basement for two years looking at negatives, by myself. That allows you to have the time to look frame-by-frame at something going on. And so that was an easy dig through that history to pick out, you know, visually stimulating pictures that just leap out at you. I mean, they're really energetic.
SCHAEFFEROne difference between that book and Antonia's is a lot more dudes in his book. (laugh) Antonia, all the essays in your book "Frame of Mind" are written by women. Why did you make that choice?
TRICARICOWell, yes. While I was editing the pictures, there was something there that didn't -- I felt that something was unfinished. I mean, I also thought that the pictures weren't good enough, but in the same time, I thought that the women in the pictures were trying to say something to me, and something that was, you know, about music, about themselves. And I thought it didn't quite come out from the picture itself. So, I asked them, I wanted to give a voice to these women, and also because I don't think there are so many books out there where you can easily read about women in music.
TRICARICOWe have tons of books about dudes, that's true. And that's okay. It's not a problem, but it becomes a little bit -- you now, in time, it becomes a little bit, you can say maybe boring and discriminatory, in a certain way. So, there was, you know, one of the main reason why I asked them to do it.
SCHAEFFERSo, Natalie Avery, your band from the late '80s was made up of you and three other omen. This is, like, 30 years ago. What was it like playing in D.C. and touring in Europe at a time when an all-woman band was much rarer than it is now?
AVERYWell, for one thing, when we started, we didn't think of ourselves so much as this huge exception. I mean, there were women musicians in D.C. that we looked up to. But, yeah, it was definitely more unusual than it was then. And one of the things that we were really adamant about being like, don't treat us like we're exceptions to the rule. We want to be part of this community. We want to contribute to it. We want to be recognized in our own right as bands and musicians. And that was just -- that was a different -- it was a different time, but it was -- I mean, in terms of there not being -- we had -- well, I'll tell one story.
AVERYWe had a lot of people asking us what it was like to be women in a band. (laugh) And so, I'm like struggling a little right now. (laugh)
SCHAEFFERWhat did you say?
AVERYYou know, we would get mad. We would be, like, why are you asking us that question? And we never really had like a -- we would just get really frustrated by it.
SCHAEFFERDo you think women playing in bands now get the same question?
AVERYProbably. And, you know, I also look at it and think that, in some ways, it may not have served us so well to be so adamant about not talking about -- not wanting to talk about with each other and with other people about what it was like to play music as women. I mean, we also had -- the other thing that once happened is we had this interview where this guy was like, you know, you guys are really -- most women bands like, either they're not very good or people only like them because they're good-looking.
AVERYAnd they're like, and you're sort of -- you know, you're actually an exception to the rule, because you're really good, and you're really not very good-looking (laugh) We're like, what? So, it's like stuff like that. We were like, would any guy band have that kind of thing thrown at them? But we didn't -- you know, there wasn't much of an opportunity to -- we probably lost out by not talking about it more.
SCHAEFFERSo, the photos from Antonia Tricarico's book, some of them are available on the WAMU website. And you can also look at them in the July Washingtonian. And, Natalie, speaking of commemorating or documenting things, you're doing a walking tour on what, August 11th? Is that right?
AVERYI’m contributing to -- I'm actually not going to be here, but I am contributing to a walking tour of Mount Pleasant. And also, there's a vision of it being sort of a web-based tour, too, to be able to, like, stop at each site and be able to see photos and hear stories about different sites in Mount Pleasant that are really related to the social power of music and sort of some of the struggles and convergences around music and local culture that really were manifested around that time.
SCHAEFFER(overlapping) This is the D.C. neighborhood where people who played music concentrated 20, 30 years ago. It's now a pretty tough place to afford to live if you're a working artist. But, you know, it makes me wonder, looking at old pictures and doing the stuff to document a community that was here, I sometimes feel like we're like Vienna. You know, you go there, and it's like Mozart, Mozart, Mozart. But there is less attention to whatever is happening right now. Do you feel like it's anyone's obligation to pay attention to that?
CONSTANTINOPLEWhat do you mean, like, pay attention to that? Pay attention to the current culture that's being produced instead of looking back at the culture that was?
SCHAEFFERYes, and documenting it in a less ephemeral way than the social media that Antonia was talking about.
CONSTANTINOPLERight. I think that's happening. I really do. I see that happening with artists that are at shows and doing stuff. And I actually get entirely inspired by folks that are doing it in ways that I probably have no idea what they're doing with it. So, that is what makes me, you know, like the -- Lucent's book, in particular, and his images, the anti-nostalgia. I have no nostalgia for that time, because the time is continuing. And that energy is still very much alive. So, I don't really feel like that's not happening, because I do think it is. I just think we may not know what that generation's doing with their own images and how they're documenting their scene.
SCHAEFFERI'd imagine it's a lot harder for them to afford living in Washington than it was for you.
CONSTANTINOPLEOh, most certainly. That's the -- could we have a whole show about that? Could you invite us back (laugh) to talk about that? Because that's something I'd really like to get into the weeds with you about. But, yes, that's, I think, the biggest struggle right now for people like me and Antonia and Natalie, is how are we going to stay here?
SCHAEFFERLely Constantinople is a photographer in D.C. Natalie Avery's a musician and co-founder of Radio CPR and a former member of bands like Fire Party. And Antonia Tricarico is a photographer and the author of the book "Frame of Mind: Punk Photos and Essays From Washington, D.C. and Beyond, 1997-2017."
SCHAEFFERThis conversation about documenting the history of punk was produced by Mark Gunnery, and our update on public housing the District was produced by Mona Kashfi. Coming up tomorrow, there will be some trash talk on The Kojo Nnamdi Show. Is waste incineration really clean energy? We'll ask environmentalists, lawmakers and business owners in Maryland who are grappling with that question, and hear about everything from composting to waste-reduction efforts across the region. Until next time, I'm Michael Schaeffer, sitting in for Kojo.
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