Book Review: Punk, Post Punk, New Wave by Michael Grecco
Michael Grecco grew up in the Boston area during the era of punk and new wave music. In fact, Boston was a center, if not the epicenter, of these movements. But in the 70s and 80s, when Grecco was shooting most of these images, a lot of the people featured in his book were from the yet-to-be-famous set. This was a distinct advantage for Grecco and it shows in this work. The photos here, many of which feature now-famous faces, (Elvis Costello, Joan Jett, Billy Idol, Lou Reed, etc.) are decidedly candid and intimate. Grecco has photographed a lot of famous people in the music industry and he has done so with great skill.
Many photography books have hit the scene in the past few years that roughly fall into this same category – photos of now-famous people from someone who had early access. Time, Susan Sontag claimed, makes even the most mundane photographs interesting. I believe this statement to be true. In this collection, some photos are indeed of interest because of their age but not nearly as many as in many other similar books. There is a lot of great photographs in this collection, photographs that would have been recognized as good photography even situated in their own time. Grecco has eyes and this book proves as much. It also brings his photography to a wholly new, contemporary, and likely broader, audience.
My only nitpick with this collection is that it is a very niche book. I mean, I barely know what punk is, let alone post-punk, for example. Many people will pick up this book and say something along the lines of, “this is a book of photography of musicians from the 80s.” While a true statement, I cannot help but feel that this book – this collection of photographs – is so much more than that to those who were a part of this scene. For Grecco and his contemporaries, this is an intimate portrayal of a highly personal vision. To many, this book is a diary of sorts, but not to me. I am an outsider and, as such, I do struggle a little to gain meaningful access, as a viewer, to this collection.
Along the same lines, the opposite can also be argued – that this book is important because of its niche attraction. In the foreword, Fred Schneider laments about his experience of being a punk rocker in Athens, Georgia, in the 70s. Jerry Ayers was a friend, and he had lived in New York City and been in with Andy, he recalls, “but at the time, there wasn’t much around.” He writes of a relatively small group of kids being interested in the punk and new wave. Similarly, I suppose that today there are kids out there who are interested in the history of this scene, who find kinship with this earlier era and, who cannot find a whole lot around to inform their curiosity in the past. Enter Punk, Post Punk, New Wave by Michael Grecco. This book is a gem not only for those who want to relive their past but also for those who want to learn about a past that has, for them, become legendary – a past that informs their present. Today’s young musicians can pick up Grecco’s book and gawk. Not only will they see great photos of a bygone era in music, but they will see that era in a way that few saw it even at the time.
Punk, Post Punk, New Wave contains a good deal of text. In many photography books, I would be more critical of this amount of text, as I am not a great believer in explaining photographs. Here, in this collection, I think it is needed so as to allow access to the book to a wider audience. In this way, the book also serves as a concise personal history of the time. It is a photography book, yes, but it is also more than that too. It is not your typical monograph. Approaching Grecco’s book in this way, as a photography monograph, can be a disappointing experience. The photos need text and context. They need to be consumed in a way that allows them to remain in situ. Grecco has allowed that here in this collection (again, so long as one enters with some knowledge of the culture).
Michael Grecco’s Punk, Post Punk, New Wave, is a book not so much for the photographer’s library as it is for the musicians. There is some overlap, but it is a small space – the very space that gave birth to artists like Grecco himself. If you are a fan of punk or new wave, I don’t really see how you can pass on this book. For you, it is essential.
Punk, Post Punk, New Wave by Michael Grecco
Hardcover | 240 pp | 8.8 x 1.1 x 10.25 inches
Published by Harry N. Abrams