No Age: David Ensminger’s “Confessions of a Punk Eye”

Published  July 2014


ou might remember Houstonian David Ensminger from his flier art show at Trouser House Gallery on St. Claude in 2011. Sparrowhawk and Nervous Juvenile played on a foliage-encircled stage in the backyard. Inside the gallery, punk fliers mostly from the 1980s hardcore era lined the walls. If you stayed until the end, you were invited to tear down the fliers you liked the most and take them home with you. They were only xerox copies, after all. That event was to promote his book Visual Vitriol: The Street Art and Subcultures of the Punk and Hardcore Generation. Last year, Ensminger published Left of the Dial: Conversations with Punk Icons on PM Press. Now, Ensminger is back with original black and white photographs he’s taken over the years of bands like UK Subs, Vibrators, Against Me!, DOA, Agent Orange, Youth Brigade, Jonathan Richman, MDC, Mydolls, Adolescents, and many more. Historicizing punk rock is a popular activity these days within the scene, and we’ve seen the release of a number of punk photo books over the past few years that celebrate punk’s past. In this interview, I ask Ensminger to explain what sets his photos apart from all the rest.


When did you start taking pictures?

David Ensminger: In high school during the late 1980s, which was built by prison architects and featured no classrooms with windows exposing the outside, I took an industrial arts  class with several friends, so we were exposed to a variety of DIY activities  that only strengthened our punk outlook, like making buttons and T-shirts, using the typeset machine, and using the darkroom to print our own photographs, which also sometimes became the visual component of my fanzine No Deposit No Return. Then, I also worked at the local mall a short  time at a one-hour photo service shop, so I began snapping pics at shows and printing them off-hours, like Life Sentence, SNFU, Swiz, and local bands; though I completely regret not doing it earlier or more often.




Between your books and your various blogs, it’s safe to say that  you are a fervent punk archivist. Is that what punk photography is about for you?

Of course, it’s about recovering the actual moment, not just documenting, but being a part of the process of a gig unfolding, an ingrained part of the sweat, adrenaline, convulsions, blurry eyed enthusiasm, rattled consciousness, and atavistic spirit. I found out that if I don’t snap the pic, the moment becomes forever dim and dimmer, ethereal, reduced to traces, faint glimpses of another night as amplifiers rattled, like my experience with Black Flag. Having the camera  does distance you for a second as you focus and attempt to steady a shot, but it also allows your art to meet the art of the band half way, a merging and colliding of worlds.


Are you planning on making  “Confessions of a Punk Eye” into  a book?

I tried the DIY route a few times, and right as I began to build the project,  sort, select, and edit the photos, I drew back, thinking I should wait. So I am currently finishing my fifth book, this time covering political punk sensibilities as well as cultural concerns, like the links between punk and deaf communities, and the punk and the pornography community, too. So when that is complete, hopefully at the end of summer, I will rededicate myself to the photo book concept.


Cerebral Ballsy

Cerebral Ballsy

What makes your punk photography unique, or what side of punk do you think you’re showing that other recently published punk photo books did not? Get Shot, We Got Power, etc.

Well, let me only discuss Get Shot, because I am a huge admirer of Martin  Sorrondeguy, who I discuss in my book Visual Vitriol, and I did spend time with him last year when he debuted the book in Houston and hung his show. His emphasis tended to be on the underground punk linked to his own music, Los Crudos and Limp Wrist, or to Chicago itself, a huge cauldron of multicultural talent. Though I saw Los Crudos in the mid-1990s in Chicago opening for Unwound at a bowling alley, that is his community lens. Plus, he tours, so Get Shot features some rather intriguing views of global punk and geographies. Mine is often, but not solely, centered on an older set of “heroes,” like TSOL, Mydolls, DOA, Agent Orange, and Adolescents, who I think have aged gracefully and stuck to their worldviews and ethos. Sometimes, editors will tell me something ageist, like “Send us the photos of the young versions of the band!” To me, that’s pointless and rehashed, a reification and fetishism of youth. That doesn’t indicate the long haul or vision of punk, to me. My photos, like of Charlie Harper of the UK Subs, now in his mid-60s, proves punk embodies a legacy of commitment, permanence, and resilience. I shoot young bands, too— for instance Talk Sick Brats or Youth Code—that, for me, echo the other  bands I grew up with and led me on this journey for the last four decades.


David Ensminger will be exhibiting his photos “Confessions of a Punk Eye” at the Mudlark Theater, 1200 Port Street, on Friday, July 11th at 7 PM. TV-MA, Room 101, and Children open. The show is a benefit for Community Kitchen.


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