HARD + FAST
Photographs Documenting the L.A. Punk Scene: 1977-1980
(Feb 1, 2022)
One of the first important rock‘n’roll records of 2022 won’t be an LP at all, it will be the book, Melanie Nissen’s HARD + FAST - Photographs Documenting the L.A. Punk Scene: 1977-1980.
Alongside her artist friend, Steve Samiof, Melanie Nissen documented the LA punk scene for their infamous Slash fanzine. They published Slash during a very intense three year spell from 77-80, capturing everyone that mattered in LA and beyond.
As the co-publisher of Slash and immersed in the punk scene made it easier for Melanie to capture the brilliant candid images of the bands. Many of them after all were friends and acquaintances. “There’s a big difference between shooting live performances and photographing people in their daily lives, and because of Slash, I was able to shoot people outside the concert hall. I could be more intimate with my subjects, and had a lot of access to really interesting people.”
She had studied photography at the ArtCenter College of Design before costs and having a young child at home made her change direction. She took a job at Palos Verde bookstore soon after met Steve Samiof at a party in Hancock park.
In April 1977, she and Steve saw the Damned on their first US tour, which she recalls as electrifying. Backstage at the Starwood after the show, Melanie captured some images of Dave Vanian, just a month later, the image appeared on the cover of the first Slash magazine and a photography career was born.
Melanie recalls the early punk scene as being inclusive and egalitarian. “The early years were special,” Melanie says. “There was a real sense of camaraderie and everyone was generous with their work.” The mix of people in her pictures is astonishing. Senior citizens, people of every race, children, swells in fancy clothes, people in rags – everyone was welcome in those early days.
Revisiting the settings for many of the photographs would find them very much altered now, Los Angeles never rests whether we like it or not. “The Tropicana Motel, bars and cocktail lounges, newsstands, nightclubs, the street life on Hollywood Boulevard, boutiques run by and for punks, burger stands, phone booths – these things are gone today, and they represent an aspect of L.A. history that shouldn’t be forgotten. The entire city had the familiarity of a neighborhood then, and that’s no longer the case. L.A. is my home, though, and I’ll always remain loyal to it; I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”
HARD + FAST is drawn from Melanie’s incredible archive, well a cardboard box of images she had in the loft… featuring the likes of Screamers, Germs, X, Go-Go’s, Black Randy, Weirdos, Fear along with local legends Russ Meyer, Penelope Spheeris, and out of towners like The Nuns, Avengers, Dead Kennedys, Pere Ubu, Magazine, Devo, Damned, Cramps, Dead Boys, Peter Tosh, Ramones and Sex Pistols, this is a fantastic document of an era, with many previously unpublished images. Its synesthesia is inevitable of course, to see Belinda Carlisle and Jane Wiedlin again, in black and white, in the Go Go’s, is to hear them once more as important musicians. Yet Melanie sees the published collection in some respects as being akin to a yearbook, or an old family album or simply images of old friends and it is probably this unadorned approach that makes a book like HARD + FAST so great.
HARD + FAST - Photographs Documenting the L.A. Punk Scene: 1977-1980
Available from Blank Industries, February 1, 2022 (More info here)