Outside My Comfort Zone
More Than Just a Gift
I’m beginning this new photo journal with something from my beginning as an artist. When I graduated high school in June of 1986 I was given a Canon T50 35mm film SLR, a FDn 50mm f/1.8 lens and a cheap flash. Little did I realize just what I was being gifted with. Steel and industrial manufacturing was life itself in western PA at that time. Generations of my family spent their lives working in “The Mill." Just as I graduated the Pittsburgh steel industry collapsed and everything changed.
My Very First Camera
I don’t want to bog this down with a million details, explanations, or embellishments as to how I ended up a crazed teenage punker. To that end let's just say I was a product of the times. The ever present hand of nuclear war, the mass consumption of the “yuppy” lifestyle, and the seeming dissolvement of society and family acted as backdrop to my angsty teenage self. Personal circumstances diverted me from the life I had thought I was meant to lead. I honestly felt we were all headed towards a post-apocalyptic Hell anyway, so may as well go out “swinging.” But just like so many teenagers I just swung at “whatever” but mainly hit myself.
A Wild Child
A combination of youthful over-exuberance, artistic intent, angsty-rage & defiance met with the explosive late-80’s hardcore punk society and the hard partying that came with it. I lived way north of Pittsburgh in “BFE.” Home was in the hills near Butler, PA, also called “Butt-town” by those who didn’t love it. A buddy said I was so far out in the sticks it was, “Butt-F**ked Egypt.” That name stuck and I constantly heard jokes about me living out in “BFE” where folks shot each other’s mailboxes for fun. They did BTW. Being “different” wasn’t always easy when you lived in an area also called “Pennsyltucky.”
Anyway, I started carrying that camera everywhere. I’ve a nice, nostalgic collection of post-high school life with friends and family. Those images bear personal value and while they are very important to me, it was by taking photos of punk shows in Pittsburgh that I began to change as an artist.
RIP Jimmy Lawless - My Partner in Anarchy
Half Life @ The Electric Banana
~ Photos by Ron Lutz II
The Electric Banana clung to a steep embankment along Bigelow Blvd in Pittsburgh. I and a small band of wild kids would rove south into the “BIG City” to see various hardcore punk shows. It was a chaotic and troubled time for me as a youth, and the venue played to my more self destructive aspects. That period also gave life to some of my more vibrant and motivated personality traits. From the ashes and all that.
Black Flag @ Shady Skates outside of Pittsburgh, PA - 1986
But this post isn’t about personal battles with myself, it’s about how taking a camera into a “F*ck YOU!” society changed me. Going to these chaotic shows was an adventure into madness for myself. Without going into details there were plenty of times I’d wake up the next day somewhere unexpected, alone and smelling of sweat, booze, cigarettes and hairspray. Occasionally there’d be blood on my clothes from brawls I'd gotten myself into and then out of. Being an outsider in a scene made up of outsiders could get rough at times, especially when you mix in the booze and wild partying.
Corrosion of Conformity - Kent State, OH - 1986
~ Photos by Ron Lutz II
While I have left behind what had drawn me into being “punk," I kept one important trait. That was how to talk to people and getting them to open up to me and my camera use. When I first began taking it to shows I would feel anxious, I expected problems. I can recall acting out anticipated scenarios of resistance in my head as I drove south into the city. Hostile encounters did of course happen, I mean it’s PUNK, and folks were often lit. In the end though, it gave me a chance to discover in myself how to approach people I didn’t know. I learned how to ask them to do something they aren’t inclined to feel comfortable with. It’s not about “tricking” them into doing it, it’s about making a genuine connection and being authentic. It’s about being real. It opened up opportunities to talk to people.
PUNKS NOT DEAD!!
Unidentified hardcore punkers pose for a photo outside some club in Kent State, OH. 1986 ~ Photo by Ron Lutz II
It's a skill that began in during a time of personal turmoil. A tiny point of traction to cling to as I slid down the garbage chute that was where I thought my life was headed back then. I taught my still-developing-brain to talk to people about having their picture taken in settings I found to be chaotic and somewhat intimidating by nature. Of course the "partying" helped loosen me up. Learning to separate those aspects, and leave the partying behind has taken time and patience, not to mention a million diversions.
Being given a 35mm film SLR camera saved my soul. It gave me an excuse to talk to be. It made me leave my own personal comfort zone and risk getting bashed in the face, or worse my camera smashed. I got my first taste of being known for my photos as well. There's nothing an artist likes more than when people pay attention to their work.