Photos: Inside the angst and ecstasy of LA’s 1980s punk scene

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"This was at Mi Casita in Torrance in 1983. Black Flag headlined the gig as a fundraiser for some of their legal issues. I do love this picture because it really shows Henry Rollins’ intensity. The guy giving the finger is icing on the cake." Photo by Kevin Salk.

Today I’m a 54-year-old guy working at the investment banking company Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. But back in the day, I was a teenage punk. After going to many shows, I decided to bring a camera along, documenting my favorite bands.  

Never in my wildest dreams did I think these photos would be important. 

But public interest has recently swelled around my work. It’s been featured in a West L.A. gallery, as well as newspapers, magazines, books, and documentaries. 


"This picture of Henry Rollins has the American flag and the Marlboro man with the sign saying 'Come to where the flavor is.' I think this is also one of my best pictures." Photo by Kevin Salk.

Rewind to the 1980s, however, I was just an alienated and angry kid in Manhattan Beach. I was Jewish and from a broken family -- my parents divorced when I was 9 or 10 years old. I didn’t fit in with the mostly lilly white Christian community. The town was religious, but not too many families were celebrating Hanukkah.  

Then punk rock came along when I was about 15. I loved everything about it. The music and shows were violent. Violent to the point of “am I going to get the shit beaten out of me?” I saw full-on riots with police. The fights were frightening, and I saw lots of blood. 


"This show was at Bob’s Place on the corner of 61st and Broadway in the middle of Watts. That was gangbanger turf. I thought we would all die that night. Mixing gangbangers and punk rockers is a very bad idea…VERY BAD." Photo by Kevin Salk. 
 

My friend Mike Theodore and I listened to Black Flag, The Misfits, Minor Threat, The Dead Kennedys, The Circle Jerks, TSOL, China White, The Germs, and so on. 

I also dyed my hair blue black. I was all in, except that I didn’t go full punk rock with the motorcycle boots and chains when I went to high school because I did not want the jocks to beat me up. They were assholes.


"Black Flag. One of my favorite pictures. You can see the Veterans cemetery in the background, the 1980s cars along Wilshire Blvd. There is a palm tree in the background that is still there today, just a bit taller." Photo by Kevin Salk.

"Black Flag. This was a legalize weed show at the Federal Building in Westwood. Go figure -- a punk rock show (Black Flag) at the building that houses the FBI and other federal agencies." Photo by Kevin Salk.

Mike and I went to shows at the Whiskey a Go Go, the Starwood, the Vex, the Cuckoo's Nest, and many others. It was intoxicating and scary at the same time.

I brought my camera to the concerts. My decision to take pictures is a bit of a mystery to me. I started in 1982 with a point-and-shoot, then moved to a 35mm Minolta camera.

I took a photography class in high school, then created a dark room in my bathroom to develop my pictures. I really enjoyed the process, and it fit my OCD mentality.  

I knew I had taken some really cool pictures. I was able to get good access to the stage because I became “friends” with Black Flag. They gave me the credibility to BS my way onstage. Getting backstage and onstage at the Misfits at The Goleta Community Center was a highlight.  


"This picture of Jerry Only of the Misfits is at the Goleta Community Center. This negative is still in perfect condition after all these years. The Misfits were an awesome band to see." Photo by Kevin Salk.

"This was at the Misfits show at the Goleta Community Center in 1983. I was backstage, and I went up to him and sheepishly asked him, “Could I take a picture of your tattoo?”  He is 6’3” and about 230 pounds of pure muscle." Photo by Kevin Salk.

I had NO IDEA that my pictures would be “relevant” as they are now. I did create a website and sold some pictures to random collectors. There was a guy in Australia who purchased six pictures and made skateboards for his buddies. He called it “The Kevin Salk 1983 Collection.” 

Last year, I was contacted by Frank Corio from Fathom Gallery about my pictures. A few days later, I had two pictures in an art show at Fathom. They loved my work, as did many high profile photographers. I told them I was just a teenager with a camera. I was blown away by all this -- and still am!

I am currently working on the first draft of my book, and we are planning the next steps for my photos. It’s all because of these past photos that now my future is going to be very exciting.


"Chuck and Dez. I love this picture because there are buildings still there. The medical building to the right is exactly the same." Photo by Kevin Salk.

"Greg Ginn could shred the guitar. His sound was fast and raw. He looked like a teacher who played in a punk rock band." Photo by Kevin Salk.