ACHOF Featured Artist Portfolio – Photographer Edward Colver

ACHOF Featured Album Cover Artist Portfolio – Photographer Edward Colver

This Featured Artist Portfolio was a long time in coming.

I was first exposed to Edward Colver’s work on a grand scale in late 2009 while visiting the “Who Shot Rock & Roll” photo exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in New York, during which I found myself staring at Colver’s photo of Black Flag singer Henry Rollins who, seemingly, had just punched a mirror and bloodied his fist in doing so. As a die-hard rock/fusion jazz music fan since the late 60s, I’d always thought of the punk scene as just a way for young people with not much going on in their lives to release some steam (and blood) within the confines of clubs located in industrial neighborhoods and the urban wasteland of suburbia, so besides getting a kick out of the antics of The Ramones and the Sex Pistols, I’d never truly considered punk as anything serious – at least, not until I’d seen Colver’s shots of sweating, flying, bleeding, sneering, energetic and downright serious bands and their fans.

When I first made contact with Edward Colver back in early February, 2010 via the efforts of one of the contacts I had made via my old art gallery (thanks for trying, Robert B.!) to see if he’d be up for an interview, I had been pre-warned that the photographer had maintained much of his disaffected punk spirit (“we were drunken morons and geniuses co-mingling all of the time”, he said in a recent interview), the result of having attended well over a thousand punk concerts – often, five per week – and, having stated publicly that he hasn’t watched television since 1979 (and, therefore, never having watched any of my much-praised work on the trend-setting interactive TV shows I helped produce for the Fuse music TV network) or actively promoted his career in any traditional sense, I figured that he might be less-than-eager to work with me in an article for my slightly-less-than-anarchic album art site.

My instincts were correct, although I must say that it might have been that he was both quite busy and much more used to doing interviews either in-person or over the phone, whereas I like to begin the process via email questionnaires I send so that both Interviewer/Interviewee can take the time to craft questions and answers that best-represent what we want to share with each other (and what I ultimately want to share with you, the readers). As the years went by and I pinged Colver to see if he was ready to answer the questions I’d emailed years earlier, I’d gotten used to not hearing back from him. The situation turned quite positive, though, late last year when Robert B. told me that a publicist by the name of Kate Gammell – who was now working with Edward – had been informed that I had tried unsuccessfully to do a feature on Colver’s work and was hoping to re-connect with me to see what we might do together. As fate would have it, since I started publishing “Featured Artist Portfolio” articles a year or so ago, I now had the right format via which I could share some of his album cover work, as well as the stories behind the images, and with Kate working her magic and Edward providing all of the details, I am now happy to share this new feature with you.

Ice Cube – Greatest Hits CD Cover

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About this image – “Just after NWA broke up, I was asked to shoot Ice Cube signing his new contract with Priority Records. At the time, instead of using an on-camera flash for such work, I was using a small portable strobe pack & a single light with a umbrella and that’s what I brought for this session. As I photographed Ice Cube sitting at a desk signing the contract with the Priority “suits” standing behind him, I was struck by how intense his eyes were. As soon as we were done and the suits had left, I asked Ice Cube if I could also shoot a portrait and he said “sure”. I had him sit on the arm of a couch to get a clean wall behind him, pulled my lights over and told him to put his chin down because that helps bring out someone’s eyes. I shot two Polaroids and then, without waiting for them to develop, I shot ten black & white frames using ASA 120 film and I was done, with the entire process taking about one minute.

A friend, Dino Paredes, was an art director a Priority at the time. I had printed a narrow strip of photographic paper just showing Ice Cube’s eyes and gave it to Dino, and he taped it onto the top of his computer. A week later he called and said they wanted to use it for a billboard. A number of years later, I was at a party in the “art” complex where I had my studio and, quite inadvertently, I met a new art director for Priority Records. She knew my work and asked if I could bring in my portfolio for her to review. I told her that I’d never put together a portfolio “but I’ve got a stack of photographs upstairs in my studio I could bring down if you’d care to look now” and she said “sure!”. Amongst the prints was my quick Ice Cube portrait and she asked, “you shot this?” and then told me “I’m glad to know this because we want to use it as the cover of our new ‘Ice Cube’s Greatest Hits‘ package and I had no idea who had shot it – it’s the definitive Ice Cube photograph”.

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To be clear, though – I did not crop the Ice Cube photograph as it was ultimately used on his “Greatest Hits” CD (see above) and did not like it being cropped as I believe the photograph is way stronger as I shot it. I don’t have any idea if Ice Cube liked the photograph since I haven’t seen or spoken to him since the photograph was taken. I would assume he liked it, otherwise it would not have been used. Since then, the photograph has been used for Ice Cube’s CD cover, twice on a billboard, on the cover of his greatest videos DVD package, as well as on a T-shirt and a bus bench ad.

Black Flag – Damaged – LP cover

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About this image – I started shooting photographs of the underground LA Punk scene in late 1978. After having done record cover photography work for the Circle Jerks’ Group Sex, TSOL’s first 12″ EP, Black Flag’s “Louie Louie” single & others, Black Flag then asked me to shoot their new front man Henry Rollins for the cover of their first LP. They shared their concept with me – picture of Henry breaking a mirror – and gave me the record’s title (“Damaged”) and then I came up with the details of how to best make it happen.

The photography session took place at an old 1920’s wood-framed house in Hollywood called “The Oxford House”. I believe that was the name of the street the house was located on. I brought both color and black & white film to the shoot, along with a bottle of red India ink from my art supplies. The mirror I used was found at the house. I covered the back of the mirror with duct tape, turned it over, cleaned it and then struck the mirror once in the center with a hammer, breaking it. Next, I re-cleaned the mirror and then I took the red India ink I’d brought into the kitchen and started experimenting with stuff there to make what would be the “blood”. For the final product, I ended up mixing together some liquid dish washing soap (for consistency), some powdered instant coffee (for color & consistency) and some red India ink (to enhance the color).
I applied the “blood” to Henry’s right hand and set up to take the photograph over his right shoulder into the broken mirror.

I did two set-ups of the “Damaged” photograph: The first was outside with a blue background, which went unused, and the second done indoors, which was the one used for the cover. In a few of the indoor photographs, Henry’s eyes reflected my flash and were glowing red. I loved those photographs, but the guys in Black Flag did not, saying it was “too demented”. None of those were ever used or published.

I’m really happy with how iconic the Black Flag’s Damaged cover shot has become, however I do not approve of or condone the garbage that’s been done with my work used on the reissues. Over the years, SST Records has reissued Damaged several times without ever contacting me. I think that they totally messed with my original photograph, one time turning it into a really-bad, washed-out black and white image and, another time, into a really screwed-up, very pale color version. Both of those reissues are terrible and cheap-looking and I had nothing to do with them. On yet another Damaged reissue, somehow they actually changed the photography credit to someone else’s name, giving me no credit at all.

A few years ago, during the run of the “Who Shot Rock & Roll” music photography exhibition at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles, I was one of eight photographers chosen out of over 100 included in the exhibition to be specially-featured – the black & white version of my “Damaged” photograph was used to entirely cover the entryway doors into the museum for the exhibit.

45 Grave – Sleep in Safety LP cover

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Original album cover photo for Sleep in Safety 

About this image – I’d known the members of Vox Pop/45 Grave since 1979. They asked me to shoot their first LP cover for them and had a concept which would feature their singer Mary Sims Rosa lying in a bed. From there, I came up with the concept of putting the bed in an alleyway and then chose the perfect location – it was a few blocks from Al’s Bar in downtown Los Angeles in what’s known as the “arts district” when, in fact, it was an urban wasteland at the time.

I set up the photograph with Mary in the bed and wanted Paul Cutler – the group’s guitar player – in the photograph, too. I never used a light meter and had no Polaroid back for my first medium format camera, but a Polaroid would not have helped because of the difference in the reciprocity break-down between film and that of a Polaroid’s in a long exposure shot. For the photo session, I brought Kodak 120-400ASA color film and also brought along one roll of Kodak Tri-X 400 black & white film, a 120 film developing reel & tank, developer, stop bath & fixer and, lastly, a blanket.

I proceeded by loading the B&W film and bracketed (different exposures) through the 10 frames, making notes of the length of each exposure. I then got under the blanket – where it had be dark, so as to not expose the light-sensitive film – loaded the film onto the reel and placed it into the developing canister, got out from under the blanket and finally processed the film with the chemicals I’d brought right in the alleyway. When that step was done, I removed the film and proceeded to ascertain the proper length of exposure I would need to shoot at the F-stop I was using. It was then that I loaded the color film and proceeded with the shoot.

I did quite a few different photographs, with the one we finally used showing Paul, shrouded in black, standing behind Mary on the bed. On that particular frame, I had covered my mini-Mag light with a red theatrical gel and handed it to Paul, telling him to point it towards the camera and switch it on and off in front of each of his eyes during the exposure. He did it perfectly – hence, the glowing red eyes. The exposures were long enough that I was able to walk out into the frame during the exposure – I was wearing dark clothes and my movements would not register on the film. For example, during some of the frames, I went behind the headboard and lit the stream shooting and burning upwards from a can of hairspray.

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The original photograph is an example of one of my earliest, non-35mm work, with a 2-1/4″ x 2-1/4″ negative. I also went on to shoot the photographs for 45 Grave’s Schools Out/Partytime & Autopsy records.

TSOL – 12″ EP cover photo

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About this photo – I shot this photograph at the Cuckoo’s Nest in Costa Mesa, Orange County, California. circa 1980-1. Jerry Roach, the former owner of the club, is an old friend. I’ve no idea if the building is still standing (see Editor’s Note, below). There was a Cowboy bar next door called Zubies, and the Punks and the Cowboys were always getting into it in the parking lot between the two buildings. If you know the original Vandals, they wrote the song “I Want to be a Cowboy” about Zubies and another one of their songs, “Pat Brown, he tried to run the cop down”, was written about another incident that occurred in the parking lot, when a friend of ours was trying to get the Hell out of there after some trouble and just about hit a cop with his car…

I created the cover art for the TSOL 12″ EP by using a photo I’d taken and then turning it into a high-contrast print to scale, finishing the image by touching it up with both White-Out and a black Sharpie and then applying the band’s name “TSOL” using 3-inch white vinyl letters.

I also shot photographs at the Cuckoo’s Nest of Black Flag’s first show with Henry Rollins fronting the band in 1981. They played this show with both The Stains from L.A. and The Stains that were from Austin, Texas, that soon afterwards changed their name to MDC (“Millions of Dead Cops”).

Editor’s Note – the Cuckoo’s Nest was an Orange County, CA punk club notably featured in the 1981 film Urban Struggle which focused on the long-standing battle between the club’s owner, the nearby  cowboy bar Zubie’s (which shared a parking lot) and the local authorities who were unhappy with the frequent (and sometimes violent) battles between the two clubs’ patrons. Many well-known and upcoming punk and “new wave” bands played at the club before it was closed and torn down (to be replace by a plumbing supply store), the venue was best-known as the place where the “slam pit” (the dance area near the stage) originated. Another documentary about the club’s influence on the So. California music scene and its battles to stay alive – titled We Were Feared – The Story of the Cuckoo’s Nest – was released in 2012.

Circle Jerk’s Group Sex LP Shoot

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About this cover – I knew the Circle Jerks from going to many of their early shows where I shot photographs. I gave them prints of some of the live photographs I had shot at the Whisky A Go Go in L.A. They liked them and wanted to use them on their upcoming first album. As a result of this interaction, they asked me to shoot the Group Sex Cover. They asked me to come shoot pictures at a fake “wedding” with Germs drummer Rob Henley and local punk regular Michelle “Gerber” Bell while the band was playing a show called “Help the Marina Del Rey Skate Park*”. Some of the other bands that played that event were the Adolescents, Venus and Unit 3, the Stingers and, from what I can recall, Dead Hippie.

In order to get a good perspective for the photograph, I stood on top of ladder next to the punch bowl. It was rather scary up on the ladder due to the drunken teenage punks running amok all around the ladder. We gathered the punks down into the punch bowl and I started shooting photographs. While I was shooting, I ran out of film and had to get some out of my car. I was sitting m my car with my door open, my feet on the ground and loading a roll of film and, all of sudden, I heard someone screaming “Watch out!” This drunken guy named Reno was backing van out of a parking place and was coming straight towards me. If it were not for the person who screamed, I could have had my legs crushed. Escaping injury, I returned back to the shoot and took some more photographs. Following this, bands set up and played and I watched the show while taking photographs and just hanging out with my friends.

I took the processed film to Lisa Fancher of Frontier Records who had an office in Greg Shaw’s Bomp Records on San Fernando Road, north of Downtown L.A. The graphic designer that worked with Bomp and Frontier Records, Diane Zincavage, took my color photograph and turned it into black and white, made a stat print out of it and then put a color overlay on top of it. I remember the first time I saw the cover – l was impressed with the way it came out, although I registered quite bit of disappointment when I turned the record over to see my credit and found it wasn’t there. Instead, it was printed on the inside of the liner notes.

I am very happy to have started a career doing this cover for that great record. It has become an iconic image and has definitely stood the test of time.

* A skateboard park located in the Dogtown area near the beaches at Venice and Santa Monica. It was the home of Extreme Skateboarding during the period from the Fall of 1978 until it closed in the Fall of 1981. The punk rock band Devo filmed one of their early music videos – “Freedom of Choice” – there.

One final note – while doing the research for this article and the photographer’s bio, I found examples of something that made me want to publish this even more – those being several incidents over the years where Edward’s work had been used (and, on occasion, abused) without his permission or without giving him proper credit for his work. In an age where people seem to find it permissible to “borrow” (it sounds so much better than “steal” or “plagiarize”) an artist’s/writer’s/photographer’s work to help them promote and sell their own products, folks that create art have been forced to police the media (and, in particular, web sites) to do what they can to either stop this unauthorized use or, at least, receive credit for the work they’ve done. Colver, along with many others working in the music/editorial/fine art business, has been forced to do that, and I think that it’s disgusting to see. It’s HIS well-honed talent and it was HIS decision to earn a living in this fashion, so give credit where credit is due and plan on paying a rightful sum if you want to feature the best imagery in your projects. What’s right is right, period.

About the Featured Artist, Edward Colver –

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Notable album cover credits include – 58 – Diet For A New America; D.I. – On The Western Front; Black Flag – Damaged; Circle Jerks –Group Sex and Wild In The Streets; Bad Religion – 80-85 and How Could Hell Be Any Worse?; Bangles – All Over The Place; Alice Cooper – A Fistful Of Alice; Freakhouse – Beautiful Misery; Ice Cube – Greatest Hits; Snoop Doggy Dogg –The Doggfather; The Used – Art Work; CH3 – Fear Of Life; Dancing Hoods –Hallelujah Anyway; The Gun Club – Fire Of Love

(b. June , 1949, in Pomona CA.) Named after an ancestor who came to America from Cornwall, England in 1635, Edward Curtiss Colver is the son of a father (Charles) who was a wounded WW2 vet and a forest ranger for 43 years, in charge of a 17,000 acre experimental forest called Tanbark Flats that was located in the San Gabriel foothills near San Dimas, CA. The family lived there early on, moving later to Edward’s grandparents’ farmhouse in Covina. Upon his retirement from the Forest Service, Edward’s father – a proud Republican – was presented with the “Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Award” by President George H. W. Bush at the White House and, subsequently, the tallest peak southwest of Mount Baldy was named after him by the U.S. Forest Service (Colver Peak, elev. 5512 ft.).

Possessed with a passion for the Arts, Edward was impressed early on by Dadaist and Surrealist imagery – particularly the works of So. CA. native Edward Kienholz – and the music of innovative and controversial composers such as John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Edgar Varese. Mostly self-taught as a photographer, he did enroll briefly in night classes on the subject at UCLA, where he studied beginning photography with a young Eileen Cowin. His teachers were impressed with his talents and so he took that as a sign that he should begin to work professionally and, briefly thereafter, an image of his was published in BAM magazine.

Drawn into the burgeoning L.A. punk music scene beginning in 1978, Colver became a fixture at the clubs there and, nightly for nearly five years, the 6’4″ Colver and his camera were there to document the acts, the fans and their raw energy, taking photos (according to his site biography) “with black and white Kodak Tri-X film, a 35mm camera with a 50mm lens and ‘no fucking auto-focus.’ ” With his friend and fellow photographer Robert Hill, the pair had great fun snapping photos and then retreating to a dark room Colver had set up, spending days developing their film and making prints. In total, Edward photographed more than 1,000 area punk shows and capturing the essence of the cultural extremes that existed at the time in So. CA but, by early 1984, when thrash bands emerged on to the music scene, Colver quickly lost interest. He liked the “fun” that was part and parcel to the hardcore punk scene but, with that now gone, he quit covering the punk scene and took on other freelance photo jobs, including one with his friend Carlos Grasso, who was the art director for the MTV series titled I.R.S. Records Presets The Cutting Edge, where he’d shoot still photos of the happenings on the show’s set.

Since then, selections from his huge archive of photos from the era have been featured in hundreds of publications, including many books on the history of punk rock, in films such as American Hardcore and in a broad range of music packages. Keeping busy solely on the strength of his talent and industry connections (“he has never advertised, he does not solicit work and his phone number has always been unpublished”, according to his site), Colver’s work has been included in a number of exhibitions in galleries and museums around the world, most recently in shows such as “ROCK/FIGHT: A Photographic Exhibit” at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in Los Angeles (2013); “Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die” at the Subliminal Projects Gallery in Los Angeles (2011); “The Eye of the LA Punk Scene” at the Hibbleton Gallery in Fullerton, CA (2010) and “Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present”, a touring exhibition that opened at the Brooklyn Art Museum in October, 2009.

A book titled Blight at the End of the Funnel (published in 2006 by Last Gasp) serves both as catalog to Colver’s 25-year retrospective show at the Grand Central Art Center Gallery at Cal State Fullerton, and as an impressive compendium to his career. Today, he lives with his wife Karin Swinney (and a small collection of pets) in a 1911 Craftsman House in Los Angeles, where he sculpts objects made of found materials that, to him,  illustrate “the demise of the American dream”. Edward began collecting pottery, art, and furniture in the Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau styles as a young man (which are featured prominently throughout his house) and has amassed a collection of vinyl records that today numbers in the many thousands.

More information on this artist is available at his website – http://edwardcolver.com/

You can watch a 2012 interview with Edward that was created by the students of the Film & TV Conservatory  of the Orange County School of the Arts for their Contact Print series.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1ldOwRkSmU

Again, special thanks goes out to Edward’s publicist Kate Gammell for all her work in gathering all of these materials for this article – couldn’t have done this without you!

All images featured in this story are Copyright 1982 – 2015 Edward Colver Photography  – All rights reserved – and are used by the artist’s permission. Except as noted, all other text Copyright 2015 – Mike Goldstein, AlbumCoverHallofFame.com (www.albumcoverhalloffame.com) & RockPoP Productions – All rights reserved.

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One response to “ACHOF Featured Artist Portfolio – Photographer Edward Colver

  1. Pingback: Album Cover News Recap – June, 2015 | Album Cover Hall of Fame.com