Edward Colver

Edward Colver

You know Edward Colver. The name might not ring a bell, but you’ve seen his work: a portrait of Ice Cube or Andy Warhol, Henry Rollins thrashing while playing a Black Flag show, maybe grainy photos of a mosh pit. Wherever you’ve seen it, know that there is no one who documented the punk scene of the early 80s more assiduously than Edward Colver. A self-taught photographer who had work published only three months after picking up a camera, Colver’s photos illustrate punk from its earliest beginnings to its entrenchment as a full-fledged genre and scene. Waxing philosophical in his interview with FUN Artists, Colver discusses his personal “death of punk” that came in 1983, the progression of his art from photography to mixed media pieces, and his take on the appearance of some his most notable photos on T-shirts – without his permission. He’ll also tell you why he hasn’t watched TV since 1979; a hint: it has nothing to do with the cancellation of Hawaii Five-O.

FUN Artists: How’d it all start?

Edward Colver: I got a hold of a real cheap 35mm camera and started taking it to shows at the end of 1978, and I got a photo published three months later in Bam Magazine. So that was pretty cool, I got one published three months after I started taking photos, and I thought ‘this is cool.’ I never imagined myself taking photos per se; I was always interested in applied art, but photography seemed to happen.

I shot all that stuff with 35mm camera, 50mm lens, and Tri-X film. Then I had a little cheap PopShot camera. I had been missing stuff – I’d see guys with a paparazzi setup and its like ‘wow, I never bought anything like that,’ but it was like ‘that would sure be sweet to take like five photos in two seconds flat.’ My camera flash was broken; I had duct tape from one side of my camera up over this little mounted flash, because something was broken. Somebody had jumped off stage and hit me or something, and I had duct tape over the top to both sides of the camera. I would take it off carefully in the pit and change the film there, and then get the tape back on with my stupid flash to keep shooting. It was pretty funny.

FUN Artists: Do you still have that camera?

Edward Colver: Yeah, I’ve even got that Yashica one somewhere. I used to think about making a business card out of it by putting a nail through the lens into a board and photograph it, but I didn’t do it.

FUN Artists: The people in your photographs look so comfortable, how were you able to put them at ease like that?

Edward Colver: I guess the people in the photographs I took were comfortable because they knew me. I mean, I was always around. I went to shows for like five nights a week for five years running, so anytime anyone went out they’d see me – I was everywhere shooting pictures. And then, like about the end of ’83, I kind of stopped going to punk shows back then; it was kind of all over. I had done like 80 punk record jackets and stuff and it was time to do something different. So I started working a lot with I.R.S. [I.R.S. Records] and shooting bands like Wall of Voodoo, Lords of the New Church, and R.E.M. and a whole different thing.




FUN Artists: How was the atmosphere back then in the punk scene?

Edward Colver: Oh it wasn’t until later there started being backstage passes and all that crap. It was just like little shows in bars and stuff and everybody hanging out together. Then they started doing that three song thing on the photo pass [most shows/concerts now, photographers/media are only allowed to shoot the first three songs], I only did that a couple times and I was like ‘I’m out of here; forget it.’

FUN Artists: Say you got all these old pictures you wanted to use for a shirt, is anyone ever making it hard for you now by not giving you a model release?

Edward Colver: Nah, I haven’t had any problems. All the T-shirts that I’m doing I’m getting all the proper permission and paying royalties. I don’t want to screw anybody. If I can’t do it legit I won’t do it. There’s a lot of crooks in the T-shirt business; its a joke – my ex-wife looked up on every punk rock clothing website she could find, every single site had my stuff on it. Somebody’s made a lot of money off my stuff. My problem with my photos is everyone remembers them but they don’t know that I took them. I kind of hid out and did other stuff and worked on sculptures for the last 20 years. Now that I got around to doing a book people remember the images but don’t remember that I took them anymore –  it’s kind of a drag.

FUN Artists: How did your Blight at the End of the Funnel book come about?

Edward Colver: A graphic designer friend of mine who used to live in the “art complex” where I did said ‘When are you going to do a book?’ So he helped me mock one up, and I kind of started using that as a portfolio for a while and it was all beat up and taped together. Then Cal State Fullerton got interested. They saw the mock ups and wanted to do it, so it got published with Last Gasp and Cal State Fullerton.

FUN Artists: Is it all inclusive of your work?

Edward Colver: No, on the back page it says “Look for volume 2.” Originally, what I had planned on doing was a four volume box set: one of my punk stuff, one of my, kind of, celebrity portraiture stuff, another one of street photos, and then another one of my “artwork.” And it got consolidated to one book, and it was like ‘I’ll be damned if your just gonna cherry pick all my stuff and put it in the first book. Cause I’ve got so much stuff I have to do anther one and there’s just no way in hell I want it to look like outtakes – you know, here’s the second best stuff’ – I’ve got great stuff that didn’t go in the first book. So eventually …



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FUN Artists: Where are all these original pictures?

Edward Colver: A lot of them are just in a file cabinet in negative form. Most of them I haven’t digitized yet. I did a lot of stuff when I was working on the book and got a lot of that digitized, but there’s like 10 times more stuff than that.

FUN Artists: Since you stopped shooting shows and stuff, do you still do street stuff?

Edward Colver: Hardly, I use my iPhone sometimes nowadays when I see stuff like that. I got so sick and tired of dragging around a 35 and never using it. I mean, for years I drug it around and never took a picture and finally I got tired of it. What’s annoying about being my stature and stuff, and trying to take photos, is I pull a camera out and everybody goes ‘What’s he doing?’ immediately, and its like ‘Really, I cant wander around and shoot pictures without everyone wondering what the hell I’m doing?’

FUN Artists: Can you talk about the quotes around the artwork?

Edward Colver: It’s a very subjective subject matter. It always cracks me up when somebody says ‘I’m an artist’ and I always want to say ‘Who deemed that?” I always say I take pictures and make things, you know, history will tell if you’re a photographer or artist or whatever.

FUN Artists: In regards to the punk stuff, what catches your eye as you’re looking through the lens and tells you this is the moment to take the picture? Is it something technical or instinct?

Edward Colver: Well, I always photographed music and shot to the rhythm of the music kind of – and I was ready for things that were going to be dramatic; I paid attention to what’s going on with the music. So you have to be pretty fast to catch a lot of that action, and might I say, with no autofocus on my old camera.


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FUN Artists: In the punk heyday, how did you become the go-to guy for pictures?

Edward Colver: I was everywhere. People saw my pictures and they knew me, and when they wanted to do something they didn’t look in the yellow pages.

FUN Artists: How did it evolve from hobby to making a livelihood?

Edward Colver: Sort of livelihood. I don’t know; I was just always around the punk scene – like I was saying, I was out five nights a week and I had a little beat up 8 x10 Kodak box that I’d stick photos that I’d printed in and take them to shows. People would see them and like them, maybe wanted to use them, and so they knew because of that. I did the Circle Jerks “Group Sex” album cover and it seemed like everybody else wanted me to do theirs after that.

FUN Artists: A lot of us younger folks weren’t able to experience those days; is there any sentiment you recall that your lens wasn’t able to capture?

Edward Colver: I recently was talking about that. I photographed all those punk shows through a key-hole basically because I was watching through a viewfinder, always ready to take a picture most of the time during live shows and stuff. I watched everything like that. I lost the peripheral and all that kind of stuff, so that was kind of a weird thing.

FUN Artists: You had mentioned that you believed the punk scene to be over in ’83. How did you arrive at that conclusion?

Edward Colver: I think the punk scene arrived at that. I don’t know, the thrash bands started up, all that stuff, I just wasn’t into it. It was all crap. A lot of the early punks, they couldn’t play, but it wasn’t that fast raucous thrash junk – that was like the thing for awhile and I was like, ‘Eh, I’m outta’ here.’

FUN Artists: So then did you stop going to live shows or did you just stop shooting them?

Edward Colver: I went to a lot in the ’60’s, a few in the 70’s, and a whole lot of punk in the punk scene. I go out occasionally and see old punk bands and a few new ones.




FUN Artists: How did it come about that you started shooting rap and non-punk stuff?

Edward Colver: I knew art directors and stuff and got hired to do it cause they liked my stuff. Yeah, it’s pretty funny, I photographed all the guys from N.W.A. separately, and Ice-T, and Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg. I photographed Run-DMC too; I never printed those, and the Watts Prophets actually – they’re like a ’70’s rap group.

FUN Artists: Off all the creative work you’ve done, what are you the most pleased with?

Edward Colver: One of my favorite punk images I created was the Black Flag Damaged album; I like that one a lot, that one’s kind of held up over the years.

FUN Artists: Punk rock has had such a large impact on you; how has it affected you as it has evolved over the years? Did you evolve with it or are you kind of dialed in with that moment you were a part of?

Edward Colver: Yeah, I like that LA hardcore stuff,; that’s kind of primarily … I was there for all that and it’s kind of gone. I like some of the bands that came after that – I just wasn’t hanging out in the scene per se unless I’d go see old friends’ bands and stuff.

FUN Artists: Did something distinctly happen at the end of ’83?

Edward Colver: No, I just thought that I don’t want to do this the rest of my life. I had done so much work it was ridiculous. Been published, done all the major record covers and stuff, and a bunch of other good bands and stuff like that – I started thinking more at the end of the punk scene of making a career out of photography I guess. I never really thought about it or put it into words, but you know, the punk scene wasn’t paying my bills—it’s still not.




FUN Artists: A lot of the photography you did from the punk era felt very documentarian, and after that it feels more … photographic? Like there are different lights used or something.

Edward Colver: I evolved. It was pretty artsy documentarian all that early stuff. I had that “art training” as a background which really helped. I don’t think most photographers are ever trained in art, you know what composition is, etc. Photography is all about manipulating light and composition, and that’s basically what it boils down to in my estimation; composing it properly and getting the light to do what you need it to do to get the exposure. It’s a fun thing playing with light.

FUN Artists: What was the extent of your formal education?

Edward Colver: Never got a degree in anything, I could say that. I think your only limited by your own self doubt, if you think you can’t do something you probably can’t.

FUN Artists: What’s the story behind your famous picture of the kid flipping through the air?

Edward Colver: I shot the, what has become to be known as  “The Wasted Youth Flip Shot,”  at the Perkins Palace in Pasadena Juy 4, 1981. D.O.A., the Adolescents, and Stiff Little Fingers were playing. I’m not sure, I think it was the Adolescents, who were playing at the time I took that. And the guy jumping is a skateboarder named Chuck Burke. He was landing on his feet, the crowd was separating, and he’d land on his feet. It was a pretty chaotic night; there was a guy named Tar that I knew, who grabbed a fire extinguisher from a bouncer and turned it on. There was a balck guy that would go right up to the edge of the stage and right before the bouncers would get him he would do a back flip off. It was a pretty funny night.

FUN Artists: Are there any outtakes from that photo?

Edward Colver: I have another outtake of that photo; I think it was used on the back of that Slam Chops record. Where it’s Chuck just kind of coming into a vertical frame before he’s flipped in the air all the way.


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FUN Artists: When you were working with all these punks, and time went by, and fame took root with many of them, did any of them start becoming divas and difficult to work with or became too cool?

Edward Colver: I can’t think of anybody offhand. I mean, I’ve known these guys since they were teenagers so they have no attitude with me. There’s no reason to – I grew up with them.

FUN Artists: How did you first get involved in the punk scene?

Edward Colver: Actually back when I watched television I saw a news report on Madame Wong’s which was like a new wave club. I went down and checked it out, and the Hong Kong Cafe opened up across the way, and I started going to punk shows. You know there’s a big distinction between the two in my opinion, but they’re always getting lumped together. Ha, you might as well put country & western with punk as putting punk and new wave together.

FUN Artists: How have the technological advances in photography affected you?

Edward Colver: I don’t follow them. I don’t have any new gear; I haven’t changed what I do. I’ll get a digital camera before too long, but only because they’re making it almost impossible to shoot film anymore. They’re phasing out the main Kodak film I’ve used forever and ever – they’re not even going to make it anymore.

FUN Artists: Clearly you’re known for your photography, but how did you start with installation pieces?

Edward Colver: I started making sculptures in the mid ’80’s once I got an “art loft” and had the space and all the stuff around. The first sculpture I made incorporated a bunch of antique things like a monkey skull and stuff that that I had lying around. I had all this stuff that I had been collecting to start drawing from, and I had an art background and all that so I started using it doing assemblages – which wasn’t a household name until the last 5-10 years.


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FUN Artists: How much is your home environment an art project for you?

Edward Colver: My home environment is kind of a huge thing to me; that’s one of the reasons I don’t watch television or listen to the radio. No commercials will come into my home, the only commercials that make it in my door are through the LA Times in the ads and I don’t read them. I stopped watching television years ago and I like to cite the fact that they used that song “Heard it Through the Grapevine” in a commercial and I was like ‘Fuck you, I’m not going to think of some hamburger when I hear some song I grew up liking.’ I just turned my television off and never went back. You know I’m really happy I did that. I talked to one guy, he figured he’d watched 26,000 hours of television in his lifetime and I said, ‘Thats a lifetime.’ Television to me is like people living their lives vicariously, needing to escape and stuff and that’s a sad thing. I like my house, it’s a nice environment. I’ve always sort of created environments where I’ve lived; actually I had a place when I was a teenager that had a half an orange tree in it and all these roots that I had gotten out of the mountains winding across the ceiling; I sort of always build an environment.

FUN Artists: What are some of the favorite items, antiques, decor that you have?

Edward Colver: I don’t know. I collect all kinds of different stuff; I collect stuff that some people consider total trash, a lot of the stuff I collect has got an intrinsic value – it’s basically worthless but I’ve paid a fortune for certain objects just because of what they are. I like to use real objects in the sculptures that I do and it kind of takes them to a different level when you go ‘Look, that’s a real fuckin’ bear trap!’ It makes a piece that much better to have real, tangible objects incorporated into them instead of just some version that you fabricate or some plastic thing. I try not to use any plastic in anything at all that I make.

FUN Artists: Do you ever have friends or family who find something and think it’s obscure and that you’d love it so they give it to you and you feel obligated to put it in your house somewhere?

Edward Colver: No. I’ve had friends give me amazing, really incredible things. One time a friend of mine brought me this rat skeleton that had its head clamped down in a rat trap from underneath the house; I put a dollar bill in its teeth.

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FUN Artists: How did your apparel line come about?

Edward Colver: I think the T-shirts came about because of my desire to do something marketable with my photos, and other people have been selling them for years; why shouldn’t I?

FUN Artists: It would seem like the photographs speak for themselves, but is placement of the photographs on the shirt a big deal to you?

Edward Colver: I started doing the all over prints because I like the way it looks and I didn’t want to do a T-shirt with a ‘Hey, look at my cool photo right here on the chest of my T,’ you know, that’s everywhere. I license my stuff to other companies and I’m not too concerned with what they do with it – that’s their deal – if I use the same picture it’s not going to look like what they are doing and I like that.

FUN Artists: Will there ever be a time that your original photographs will be for sale?

Edward Colver: Well all my pictures are for sale right now if somebody wants to buy a copy. I was just in a show at the Brooklyn Museum of Art that opened up last October called “Who Shot Rock & Roll” and I’m actually going to be in one in Western Germany opening up in October of this year. It’s basically the same thing, I think it’s called “Rock & Roll Photography Since Elvis.” I love the fact that they didn’t include my stuff in the book because the graphic designer thought that it would be too much dark stuff or something. I should have gotten those punks to smile dammit.

FUN Artists: Which of your exploits are you most proud of?

Edward Colver: It was an underground scene when I started going, it wasn’t until probably ’82 or ’83 they started drawing big crowds at the shows and it got larger and larger from that point. I’m real proud of the fact that I did all those bands first album covers. That’s what I like about it, it wasn’t their tenth album or anything like that, I did their first record. You know, like the Chili Peppers first album and all those: Black Flag, T.S.O.L., Social Distortion, Christian Death, Wasted Youth, Bad Religion… I did all those bands first record, I like that; I was paying attention to them when nobody else was.

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FUN Artists: Who else, besides punks have you shot?

Edward Colver: I’ve photographed Timothy Leary and Andy Warhol… I shot pictures of Caesar Chavez that I don’t have that I have been trying to get back for years; a really nice warm tone portrait in a church in South Central LA.

FUN Artists: When you were sitting with Andy Warhol what was he like, did he live up to his own mystique – Warhol as an artist or Warhol as a character?

Edward Colver: Warhol was both. He was just real quiet. I didn’t really talk to him much. I don’t like to bother people a lot of times that people consider celebrities or something. You know, we’re here to do a job, not that I’m strictly professional by any means. I have a famous saying: ‘I’m always late and they can’t start without me.’ That’s pretty bad. My mom said I’d be late to my own funeral and I said that’s fine by me.

FUN Artists: Do you ever have a moment where you choose to put the camera down and not shoot?

Edward Colver: Back then I wasn’t into not shooting. I think the last live photographs I’d taken were of R.E.M. in ’85 and that was the last live stuff. It’s been 25 years since I did any live stuff; it’s kind of a thankless job.

FUN Artists: What does the future hold for you, more shots for labels?

Edward Colver: If they call me. I’ve been doing photography for 33 years. I never advertise, I don’t solicit work, and my phone number is unpublished. If they want to use me they can call me up.




    Oct 28, 2010 - 14:23

    also…the edward colver web site is the BOMB.
    Finally, a gallery and gift shop for the man who documented the birth of a movement.
    He has photo prints and tshirts available as well as the definitive punk photo book “Blight at the End of the Funnel”
    http://edwardcolver.com morgan

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