Monday, April 13, 2015


Henry Rollins, Toronto, April 2, 1988

HENRY ROLLINS WAS IN TOWN WITH HIS NEW BAND and I was in the little abandoned bar at the Silver Dollar again, setting up my studio-in-a-bag. This was the beginning of Rollins' second act after the breakup of Black Flag, touring with the Rollins Band or as a spoken word performer. I didn't have a client who assigned me to do this shoot, but I assumed that I'd be able to sell shots later down the line, so I asked Elliott Lefko, the promoter, to let me do something during soundcheck. Considering how much I shot in similar circumstances back then, I owe Elliott a big thank you.

Henry arrived just as I was setting up, so I made small talk with him while I put together my light. I told him that I'd shot Lydia Lunch in the same spot just a few months previous, knowing that they had been something of an item at one point, appearing together in a Richard Kern film.

"Here?" Henry asked, obviously interested.

Yeah, just over there I said, pointing to the stool I'd placed in front of my painter's drop cloth, a bit of furniture that seemed to live in the room, and which I'd come to rely on being there.

"She sat on this stool?" he asked.

Yeah, I said.

Henry walked over and picked up the stool, lifted it to his nose and took a deep, noisy sniff at the seat.


Henry Rollins, Toronto, April 2, 1988

After the steep learning curve of 1987, I was intent on closing in on something like a recognizable style in my portraits, and with the looming presence of Penn in my head (as ever) I'd been paring away at my shots, getting rid of detail and anything more than a basic background and a well-placed light. That was, really, all I was working with; any attempt at a concept or colour or eliciting a performance from my subjects was just beyond my competence at the time and would have to wait.

The biggest challenge was overcoming my own wariness of my subjects, especially when they were performers yoked to their persona. It was easy enough to let them just do their party piece for the camera; it was a lot harder to calm them (and myself) down to the point where we could work together towards something unique, a record of a moment. It was - and remains - the hardest thing about portraiture. Many years later I would find myself without the energy or confidence to keep at it.

Henry Rollins, Toronto, April 2, 1988

Within the admittedly modest expectations I'd set myself, I thought I was quite successful with my Henry Rollins shoot. The frame at the top of this post ended up on my business card and in my portfolio for as long as I showed it; at the beginning of spring in 1988 I was satisfied that I'd reached a milestone of sorts, and that I might allow myself to become a bit more ambitious.

As for Henry Rollins, he'd turn out to be a bit more ambitious as well. The band and the books eventually led to movie roles, but I'm not exactly sure when he transformed into the Dick Cavett of Generation X, interviewing writers, artists and celebrities on quality cable. In my circle of bitter ex-punks he's something of a punchline, so I suppose these portraits are from the last moment when he had the whole of his underground credibility intact.


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