Wednesday, June 18, 2014


by Jamie Goodsell
All images © Pat Blashill
website •

I always try and keep up with Light In The Attic Records because they have a "no bullshit" policy when it comes to putting out a release. They've just reissued a couple of Big Boys records, who were Austin's hometown heroes in the early 1980s and I highly suggest giving yourself a heavy dose of this punk/funk/skate-rock! There was a Q&A with a photographer named Pat Blashill on their site recently and they used his images for the Big Boys' reissues. I looked further into Pat's work and I was pretty blown away. For me, it wasn't even just the big names that he had in his portfolio, it was more about his image quality. I don't mean technically, I mean emotionally. His compositions are always super strong, his lighting style is natural and to the point, but most importantly his subjects are comfortable and totally genuine. I could tell by looking at Pat's images that he had a real working knowledge of photography and humanity. He's definitely become one of my new favorites and I hope you enjoy hearing him talk about some of his experiences and ideas. 


Where are you from originally? 
I'm a Texan. I was born and raised in Austin. 

What was it like growing up there? 
I just saw Richard Linklater's new movie Boyhood the other night and I really loved it. It captures a little bit of Texas in that movie. I also think Slacker and Dazed and Confused capture a little bit of what it was like. It's the most progressive city in Texas, probably…I distinctly remember having racist friends and thinking...that it was fucked up. This is, I'm talking third grade here, second grade. By the time I got to junior high, I was listening to mostly hard rock and I fell in with the "hippie/stoner" crowd…from there I started listening to sort of the beginning of new wave and then I met people who were into punk. I didn't really hear punk for a long time, I didn't really hear the Sex Pistols record for a long time. 

I heard Never Mind The Bollocks around '83 or something. I actually think I had heard punk rock but it was by hearing live bands in Austin. By the time I started college, I was going to night clubs and then I saw and heard punk rock but I didn't really know that it was actually more punk than the Sex Pistols. When I finally heard the Sex Pistols, I thought...that's kind of conservative, because I'd seen the Big Boys. 

I was just hanging out and taking some photos of Tim recently, did he hook it up with the LITA releases? 
Tim's an amazing person, you know? Over the years (since the punk rock times…the last thirty years or so), occasionally Tim has gotten in touch with me and helped me to get my pictures placed in certain places. He's done me a few favors, hooking me up with people and this was just another one of those where he got in touch with me and then I got in touch with the label. 

What kind of things are involved with licensing your images with a bigger label?
It's different with each job, label, magazine or whatever but I studied photojournalism in school and that was my intended profession. So I learned a little bit about doing business there but I also learned about taking pictures and taking good pictures. In the years that I've sold pictures to people, it's different with each deal but I would say the best thing is to get a contract where they write down the terms of the deal on paper. Since I am older, I did come out of that pre-internet/pre-download time, I feel like I should be paid for my images. I feel like I should get some money when somebody uses them and certainly in print or on a record. 

The Big Boys project was such a cool thing and, to be honest with you, Tim Kerr is sort of like the punk rock godfather in Austin. If you go to your godfather for a favor he'll grant you a favor but when he asks you to repay the favor, you've gotta do it. You do a favor for your godfather and that's how I see Tim. He was working on this project with Chris Gates…and I thought it was sort of a cool thing to do partly for them. 

What are some other records your photos have been on? 
Sonic Youth has used several of my photos on reissues of their records. A great portrait series that I did of them is inside of their reissue of Daydream Nation. Also, they've used pictures of mine on their reissue of Goo and then there was that recent live album that they did. I think it's on Steve Shelley's label, so it's a smaller release but they used my pictures on the front and the back and some more on the inside of that record. I think back in the day I had pictures on the inside of a Dinosaur Jr. album and a Pussy Galore record, maybe a few other things but those are the big ones that I can think of. 

Did your parent's give you a camera? 
Yeah my dad was kind of an amateur photographer and he made a point to give us boys a camera to use. I think my brothers liked it but I really liked it probably more and my father actually told me once (after I had become a photographer), "I remember seeing your pictures when you were a kid and they were really good." 

Can you tell us a little bit about your education? 
I was kind of self-educated before I went to college. I just started taking pictures when I was a kid, using an Instamatic and a small camera. I just liked it but I didn't really think about it too much. So I was kind of interested in it and when I got to high school I took a photography class where I learned how to work in the darkroom. I was shooting for the high school yearbook and I just liked it, so I kept doing it. I thought at that time that it could be something I could do for a living, so that's why I studied it at the University of Texas. 

But even as soon as high school, I started to look at photo books by photographers and that's really where I think I learned to do the most important stuff. I learned how to compose pictures and how to think about seeing something in an interesting way. I looked at so many pictures, I loved Robert Frank and Man Ray. I looked at so many pictures that I got used to thinking about taking different kinds of pictures. 


It's really amazing how much you can learn by just looking at someone else's work. 
Sure, and asking yourself…"why do I like this picture?" I always tell people that if they're interested in learning about photography, I tell them that's one thing they should do...maybe the most important thing they should do. In school you get a lot of focus on technique and how to do this and that…I just don't think that shit's important. I think there's way too much focus on technical skills and not enough on really trying to do the right thing with a camera.
You know, how to interact with the subject in a responsible and interesting way, be really engaged with them instead of just trying to grab a shot and then leave. 

So what happened after college? 
At the same time I was really learning how to use a camera in a little bit more sophisticated way in terms of the way I shot, I was also getting involved in the music scene and hearing live bands. I hadn't really been to concerts where you could stand in the audience and watch a band ten feet away and then when they were finished, they'd walk off the stage and you could go over and say to them, "Hey that was really cool" and the drummer or the guitar player would say, "thanks." It didn't really happen for me until I went to the night clubs and those clubs were punk clubs, so I learned that bands are real people and that you can actually talk to them. I started to go to one of the first punk clubs in Austin, and actually my best friend was the first drummer for the Big Boys so that's how I saw them first and also how I started going to this club Raul's. It was pretty much the first club in Austin where you could go hear new wave or punk rock. 

Was it named after the owner? 
No, I don't know where Raul came from…the guy that ran the place was named Joseph Gonzalez, he was a Mexican-American fella and he was great. I actually think I found a picture of Joseph which is good because I don't ever remember shooting him but it's good that I have it - kind of psyched about that. Raul's was very important; Duke's Royal Coach was another place…Club Foot was important also. Over the years places would open and close real quickly depending on how many nazi-skinheads showed up and fucked up the show. 

How did you get access to some of those bands back then…how did it start? 
In Austin, I was really photographing my friends and friends of friends. The bands that I would see, I was photographing. Sometimes I would photograph them live and then if they saw me taking pictures of them live, they might wanna see the pictures later. I just kept doing that in Austin and just made friends with people. I really wanted to photograph the people that I thought were interesting, it just happened that a lot of them turned out to be in pretty good bands. I was really in the right place at the right time, but I would just kind of insist on taking their photos. I would say, "Can I come over sometime and take a picture of you at your house?" And then somebody like Tim was nice enough to let me do that even though they had no idea what the pictures were going to be for or if anybody would ever see them again. 

How was your experience with the Butthole Surfers? 
The Butthole Surfers were pretty interesting from the very beginning. I started photographing them and a friend of mine knew Gibby (the singer). I don't know how it happened but he said he wanted to come see some of the pictures I had taken of them. I distinctly remember being really excited to show him my pictures. He came over to where I worked and looked at them and said something like, "these aren't very good" or "these are shitty" or something and I felt terrible. That was my first encounter with him. Eventually, looking back I realized the pictures that I showed him at that first meeting certainly weren't as good as I became. Eventually I took pictures of them that they did like and that I liked quite a bit. He was sort of right, the first pictures I showed him were just ok but not great. 

When you asked these people, did you ever put any pressure on yourself? 
I don't remember ever feeling nervous about it, I had started shooting so much in school and not just music, I was shooting out in the streets, and taking pictures of almost anything that I thought looked cool or interesting. Taking pictures just became very easy for me and I think when I was photographing people, the only thing that I remember about situations like that is that I'm going to someone's house and I should be respectful. You know, try not to get too drunk or knock anything over, and I felt like I was going into somebody's house and into their space so I should just be upstanding and not act like a hillbilly. 

Later on, I started photographing people that I didn't know personally. I photographed lots of bands and got assignments to photograph them or said I had an assignment, even if I didn't really. That was a little different, like photographing somebody like Ice Cube at a press conference. I just kind of bluffed my way into it and I used the same kind of idea…just trying to be respectful. 

What was it like photographing Ice Cube!? 
I literally had like two or three minutes at the most at this press conference he did, so I knew the publicist and asked if I could have a shot of him. It was really just a very quick thing…he's kind of scowling in the pictures but he was very polite and he didn't have any problem with me taking his picture. We didn't have a big conversation but most of the people I photograph are super accommodating. 

Was window light something you used often? 
Almost always. That was my big trick…if I had somebody for only a few minutes in a hotel room or whatever, I'd just move them over close to the window. I never really used a lot of artificial light. In my punk rock days when I was shooting at night in a club, I was usually using a flash and that's a very harsh but simple form of lighting. When I was doing portraits, I tried to get people during the day with natural light. 

Was that an aesthetic choice? 
Not really, it was just the simplest thing. It was the simplest, fastest thing that I knew how to do and I could do it with Tri-X film and it was easy. 

Were there a lot of good photographers on the scene at that time? 
There were a few photographers on the scene that I thought were really good. One of them was Bill Daniel or "Photo Bill." He's got some pictures up on the web now and he's a fantastic photographer. 


One of the things I noticed about your photographs…no matter who's in the image, (whether it's somebody famous or not) you're able to capture emotions and their personalities really well. The compositions are always really strong and I thought, "how is this guy interacting with his subjects?"
First of all, thanks a lot. Thanks for those words, I appreciate that. That's a nice way of looking at my pictures. I think it is hard to describe how you engage with somebody and I don't know if I could really explain it except that I hit on it earlier with just trying to be respectful. I learned early on by going to punk rock clubs that even scary looking people deserve a chance to present themselves and deserve a chance to speak. They deserve to be taken seriously. A lot of the time if a person looks scary, they're not actually a scary person…they might be very rough, they might be somebody that's had a really tough life but if you talk to them, and respect them then they can start to trust you and give you a little respect back. 

When I look at other people's photographs, sometimes a photographer looks like they have a very confrontational or maybe even an exploitive attitude towards their subjects because the subjects don't look comfortable. I think when you see a good photographer's work, the people in the photos not only look comfortable but you get the feeling that the photographer wasn't even completely there. They look so natural, like they could be looking in a mirror. I think that's what I was striving for. 

There are a couple of images on your site that stood out for me and I'd really like to hear about them. The first one is entitled "Karla." 
Karla was kind of the scene queen in Austin. It was taken literally in the stairwell of a co-op or a boarding house where I lived at UT. Karla was just a beautiful girl, you know? We all thought she was just beautiful to look at and she sang for a couple of bands…she's not a big girl, she's kind of a skinny, delicate woman to look at physically but she had this presence that was very intimidating. I photographed a few of the women on the scene but Karla was very tough and very cool. I felt like she was just a beautiful person. I'm glad I have pictures of people that didn't play in bands because now I have more of a complete picture of the Austin scene. 

The other image I wanted to ask you about is entitled, "Cordell Jackson." 
She was an early rockabilly musician and producer, she recorded a few famous people, made a few singles, and it was just a crazy story that this woman was involved in this ultra-hip/rebellious scene. She was interacting with people like Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis, I mean she was of that generation. My friend Dan decided that he wanted to make a video of her because she was gonna release a single again after like 30 years, so he asked me to come along to Memphis. She was quite an energetic person, I think she had found god but she wasn't really proselytizing, she still sort of seemed like a person that judged other people by who they were instead of how they looked. 

How did you get the opportunity to photograph the Ramones? 
I met a couple of people in the music industry in New York and I ended up starting to get assignments with this guy named Simon Reynolds. Simon has done a lot of really cool books about music. He would come over to New York from London and do stories for Melody Maker. He needed a photographer when he came over for these trips for his interviews and I was lucky enough to be introduced to him. He gave me a call and I started doing pictures for him. 

That Ramones photo was for Melody Maker, but not for Simon, because after he started using me for pictures, another guy named Everett True started using me because he'd seen my work. It wasn't a full day, I was maybe with them for an hour or so…I didn't know that much about them really except that Joey and Johnny were like the main guys. I knew the fact that C.J. was with them meant that it wasn't exactly the same group and Dee Dee had been super important. They were cordial to me and I later found out that Johnny and Joey weren't really talking to each other. It was like grunts and from what I've read there was always a lot of animosity between those two and they kind of had different world views. On that day I can only say that they weren't really talking to each other much and in one of the pictures you can see them walking and laughing but they were fairly serious, they didn't goof off too much. 

What band would you say was the most difficult to photograph? 
I saw that question on your list and I honestly can't think of anybody that was difficult. The Pixies were not so hard to photograph but interviewing them was just a nightmare. I tried to interview the Pixies and it was really foolish that I tried to interview them all together. I should have known that was wrong and never did that again. They just didn't wanna say shit. At the time I was taking pictures and also writing...eventually I started to become more of a writer than a photographer. I started to have more success and worked for a fancy magazine and was paid very well to do interviews. I stopped doing the pictures around that time because I couldn't really do both. 

How long were you taking pictures for? 
I would say that I started in Austin around 1980 but I didn't start to get very good until around '82 or '83. I photographed in Austin until I moved to New York in '87. Then I was taking pictures in New York both for assignments and magazines but also just for myself. I continued to photograph people and bands in New York until about '91 or so, and that's when the writing became so much more demanding that I had to put the camera down to focus on raking in the big bucks as a magazine writer. 

I think that was one of my biggest questions, looking at all of these great images and then the guy just stops? I'm glad there was a positive reason. 
I never really stopped taking pictures, I've continued to shoot in the street and of course now that I have a family I take lots of pictures of them. So yeah, I never really stopped taking pictures…I just didn't do the music stuff after about '96. It was also because at that point I wasn't really friends with the bands, I kind of lost that social interaction in that scene and I think that affects the picture. 

What format were you using back then and did it change over time? Did you ever go digital? 
Yeah, I use a digital camera now and I do a lot of grab shots with my iPhone. I think that's a reasonably good camera for quickies. I mostly learned how to use Tri-X film, develop it myself, print it myself, and when I started shooting concert images I would use Fujichrome. I always used very simple equipment too - I used a Canon TX and then an A-1, I used a Vivitar 283 flash. Real simple stuff. 

What was your preferred lens? 
I never really switched out lenses too much. Sometimes I used a 50mm but mostly I used a 35mm. The 50mm was a little too confining, the 35mm to me looks more natural and the way your eye sees type of lens. 28mm is a little wide but it was pretty fun. I still use it except I don't really shoot analog anymore, which is kind of too bad. When I got my DSLR with a wide angle lens it was like I could see again because it's the way I naturally see. 

When people think about the grunge scene, they think of Seattle…was there any of that starting in Austin around the time you were there? 
That's a good question, some people have said that some of those bands (especially Poison 13) were proto-grunge. I just re-read this book called American Hardcore by Steven Blush and it says something in there about Poison 13 being like the first grunge band. Some people look back to them as being pretty important to the guys in Mudhoney and I know that Kurt Cobain was a Scratch Acid fan, so some of those bands did have an affect on the Seattle scene...but I didn't realize that until later. Also in the book, Tim is quoted saying that, "Everybody hated Poison 13," but gosh, I remember a lot of people loving Poison 13. 

It's funny that you mention Seattle because just this morning my daughter (who is eleven) told me that somebody had played her the video from Nirvana Unplugged on MTV. She never heard Nirvana before and she's been singing "Come As You Are" all day today. It's really sweet because for me Nirvana was a great band and those songs still really hold up - It's about a million light years away from my daughter here in Vienna. 

What image that you've taken do you feel is the most iconic? 
All I can say is that one of my favorite photos is not of the most famous band out of Austin. It's the Offenders image which is more a picture of the audience. The singer J.J. is in the top right corner and you can see him looking very intense, masculine, and aggressive in his stance. The frame cuts him off in the middle of his face and you can see that he's really laying it down, then the rest of the photo is the guys in the front row in various states of like either nausea, exhaustion or slamming. Also you can see an anarchy A on the ceiling above them, so for me it's kind of got everything in it. 

How does it feel to have people still asking about your images all these years later?
It's pretty cool, it's amazing you know? My energy is focused on getting all of these images up so that people can see them and a lot of them have never been seen. The two pictures on the Light In The Attic Records had never been printed. The one where you can see Danzig in the background shaking his fist…I never even looked at that really. It's nice that younger people are still interested in these images. There's photographs that I missed the first time around, photographs that I never noticed and I should have. So this whole project of getting the website up has all been kind of another project of discovery for me. 

How did you end up in Austria? 
I fell in love with an Austrian lady. We met in New York, fell in love, got married…started coming over here for vacations and eventually we adopted our first daughter. We just thought we would try Vienna for a year and it just became forever. 

Do you speak German? 
Um…poorly. I'm in the process of renewing my immigration papers and you have to prove that you can speak German at a certain level. When I go into fill out these papers and do it in the office I'm dreading their every question because my German is far from perfect. 

What are you doing now? 
I was teaching photography and film/video which is kind of related to what I did before. Then I taught a little English…but now I've found a job working with refugees and that's what I'm still doing. There's an American organization here based in New York that helps refugees get out of Iran. They all come here first and are all Iranian non-muslims, so they're religious minorities. They come to Vienna to get ready to go to the United States. So they're all going to the U.S. eventually you know, if Obama says it's ok. 

Do you miss doing more photography? 
I do miss it, but in a way I feel like I have this job and at night and on the weekends I work on my website and do more of the creative stuff. I feel like I'm getting a balanced diet. A lot of the more well-known bands that I've photographed are already up on my website or on flickr. But I have some other people that aren't even up there yet, like Bjork and The Sugarcubes, Pussy Galore, there's a lot more Butthole Surfers and Sonic Youth pictures coming as well. It's going to take me a while to get everything up there but that's sort of the intention, to just keep adding new stuff and to make the website kind of an archive. 

Dinosaur Jr. -  "I remember when I photographed them, they didn't seem to be real buddy buddy with each other."

Well thanks so much for giving me some time today Pat! 
Thanks for asking me to do the interview and for taking the time with it! It's fun to talk shop, I like your pictures too…you did some nice stuff. 

Check out more of Pat's images here:

No comments:

Post a Comment