Photos by Ed Arnaud
Interview by Parisa Eshrati
Ed Arnaud is a music photographer based in Tucson, Arizona. His stunning black-and-white film photographs capture the '80s punk attitude, showcasing both the quintessential bands like Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and The Vandals, as well as the local Arizona hardcore scene. Read below for an interview with Ed Arnaud on show memories, photography techniques, and more, embedded between photo galleries from his punk archive.
Scroll to the bottom or click here for a playlist featuring bands from this photo gallery, so you can listen while you browse!
Tell us about your background in photography. Were you always passionate about concert photography, or was that something that just happened along the way?
When I was nine years old, my grandmother gave me a Kodak Hawkeye pocket instamatic camera. Right around that same time, I started playing the heck out of my older brother’s 45s of The Stones, Beatles and The Turtles. From that point forward, I loved taking photographs and I loved music. I took photo classes in high school and at Pima Community College. A friend at Pima told me he wanted to publish his own local music magazine and asked me to help. Being a concert photographer didn’t even cross my mind because I thought that was a pro’s job, but when I was asked if I wanted to take photos for a music magazine, I was like, “you want me to do what?!?” Right around that same time, 82-83, I started attending and taking photographs at some of the punk shows in town, which were my favorite to photograph by far. So, I’m very lucky to have had these experiences that combined my passion for photography and my love of music.
Who are some of your favorite photographers, concert photography or otherwise?
My favorite concert photographers tend to be the ones who captured the early days of punk, like Roberta Bayley and Jenny Lens. Also a favorite, the iconic photographs of Jim Marshall. It’s insane how much access Jim Marshall had to artists backstage and in the studio. He was backstage at so many huge concerts and even on stage standing behind artists with the stadium crowd in the background, and how many photographers have an image of Johnny Cash flipping them off?
Roberta Bayley took one of my all-time favorite concert photographs on January 1st, 1976 at CBGB’s. It’s of The Ramones. She was able to capture their intense energy and there’s motion blur in the photograph, which adds to that element. I love motion blur in concert photographs and I try to capture it when possible.
Other than concert photography, some of my favorite photographers include Vivian Maier, Daidō Moriyama, the people photographs by Mary Ellen Mark and locally, Kristine Peashock’s photographs.
What I love about your photos is that you can fully experience the Tucson punk scene of the '80s from your work. The sights, the smells, the sounds, the energy, all in a single shot. What were some of your techniques to be able to capture so much momentum in a still image?
The energy at these shows was so great and happening right in front of me, so really, I just had to compose and shoot. I did try my best to be aware of movements and facial expressions of bands so I could try and capture that. The great thing about using a flash in these dark clubs and bars is that everything is visible in the photograph; backgrounds, people, gear and even set lists a couple of times. I was 19 and an amateur, so it wasn’t uncommon for me to miss my focus/composition, but I still post some of my bad photos because of the historical value and for the artists and fans to see.
Do you have any favorite specific memories from any of these shows?
Photographing Black Flag in 1983. I knew I wouldn’t be able to stand in front of the stage without getting knocked around, so I stood on stage to Greg [Ginn]’s right and I was able to stay for the entire set. I thought for sure someone would kick me off. The band pretty much just ignored me. Greg’s guitar sound and Henry [Rollins]’s screaming were unreal.
Some quick favorite random memories: JFA playing Charlie Brown live (only because I liked this cover so much). Stevo Jensen with The Vandals using a funnel to ingest a large amount of beer on stage, and then regurgitating. Henry Rollins stretching outside before the show at Stumble Inn (The Rock). Mike Muir with Suicidal Tendencies falling off the stage at Stumble Inn. At Backstage, where so many bands played, there were often people at the bar that probably had been there all day. It was definitely a neighborhood dive bar. Stumble Inn always had the movie Road Warrior playing on the bar TV screens at every punk show I had gone to there.
Tell us a little bit about the gear you were using at this time. What type of camera, film, lens, etc.?
I used a Nikon FM camera, Nikkor 50mm f1.8 lens, a used Nikkor 135mm f2.8 lens and a Vivitar 285 flash for the majority of my early photos. Big venues always had a no flash policy. I eventually bought a used Nikkor 24mm f2.8 lens. I wore out that camera, but it never failed. I did break the hot shoe on more than one Vivitar flash from being in the pit.
For black and white film, I used Ilford HP5, Kodak Tri-X and Ilford XP1. My favorite was the HP5. I also took color photographs once in a while and that was usually a Kodak 400 print film.
Among your works, do you have a favorite photograph? What makes it stand out the most to you?
My favorite is probably one I took of the Circle Jerks in 1984. Keith [Morris] and Greg [Hetson] are right in front of me and Keith is singing/yelling into the mic and Chuck Biscuits is in the background. The photo reminds me of the fun and craziness of some of these shows.
Do you have any sort of ethos when it comes to concert photography? Do you have a goal for what you want to capture, or do you just go with the flow of your surroundings?
My goal is to capture something that makes the image interesting and holds the viewers attention. That would include capturing facial expressions of the artist or capturing them playing their instrument so it doesn’t look like they’re posing. That’s why I like motion blur.
I do just go with the flow and I’m not always successful in capturing an image I’m satisfied with. I’ll often post an image just because I was there and I want to document something from that show. My friend John Polle calls me an archivist.
What do you think stood out from the Tucson punk scene as opposed to other punk scenes happening in the country? What was unique about our local scene here?
By 1982, the shows in LA were already getting large turnouts. Word got out that Tucson had friendly floors to sleep on and a cool small intimate punk scene. Bands from all over would pass through Tucson on i-10 on their way to or from somewhere and would stop here. It helped being close to Southern California. Shows were fun and people were cool. There were no bouncers or barricades or a police presence. Stumble Inn did have this annoying wood railing in front of their stage, but I think that was there before the punk era.
Bands would stay at the Jonny Sevin house at Broadway & Columbus. Karen from Conflict had D.O.A., Black Flag and Husker Du stay at her apartment when they came through Tucson. She said Henry slept in the van, though, because he was worried their gear would get stolen.
The most active venue, until June 83 when it burned down, was Backstage. The owner didn’t care about what went on there. He just wanted the bar and he let the bands have the door. Husker Du stopped here on their way to record Metal Circus, then stopped here again on their way back. Played to about 40 people. Minor Threat played to about 20 people. Black Flag always had the biggest turn out, but I don’t think it was more than 50 people. Battalion of Saints had maybe a dozen people and the same with Violent Femmes. Nick Johnoff, who played drums for Conflict and Civil Death, worked hard to build the punk scene in Tucson and booked almost all the touring hardcore shows back then.
Looking back on these photos, what stands out to you the most about this era of punk?
The music. Hardcore for me was new and fresh and fast and more aggressive than the punk I started listening to in the late 70’s. There are so many great records by hardcore bands from that era. Also, seeing the DIY part of music for the first time. Bands producing and making their own records and tapes. The music was stripped down, not over produced, it was politically charged and bands even had a great sense of humor.
Have you ever sent your photos to any of the artists you've captured? Aside from the Wooden Tooth Records exhibit we threw a few years ago, have you showcased these photos anywhere?
Alan Bishop saw my photo of JFA with him on bass and emailed me asking for a copy. He let Brian Brannon know about the photo and I ended up sending the photo to both Brian and Alan. Deborah Iyall wanted digital files of my Romeo Void photos, so I sent those to her.
I was very fortunate Wooden Tooth Records asked me to show my photos (thank you, Jake & Kellen). That’s the only time I’ve had my photos in an exhibit. I’ve had my photos on a flyer website, but that site has since been removed. I am slowly adding my photographs to my Squarespace site.
Tell us about any photography projects you've been involved in more currently, or at least, in the pre-Covid shutdown days.
I’ll still attend shows by local bands and some touring bands once in a while, and I almost always have a camera with me. When I don’t take a camera, I think, “damn, I should’ve brought my camera.” I like the small venues because they actually let me walk in with a camera.
I’ve also been into shooting video lately. For me, it’s similar to photography and still allows me to document moments in music. Video has been very challenging, which I like, especially getting the audio so it’s not terrible. I’ve filmed and posted over 150 videos on YouTube and I’ve made music videos for Whispering Wires, Freezing Hands, Anchorbaby and The Gem Show. Also, my talented friend Bryn Heidenreich and I have been filming some of the shows at Wooden Tooth Records and posting them on Wooden Tooth’s YouTube channel. It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve met so many cool people.
Warm Drag live at Wooden Tooth Records in Tucson, AZ (2019).
Filmed by Ed Arnaud and Bryn Heidenreich.
Playlist featuring (most) of the artists in this photo gallery:
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