When D.C. Punks Were Prizefighters
In an exhibit two summers ago at Georgetown's Addison/Ripley Fine Art, a little slice of D.C. music history might have gone over the heads of some gallery-goers.
The history could be found in a series of images by local painter and photographer Dan Treado. His photos, part of a 1987-1988 project called "All My Friends Are Prizefighters," depicted a group of young, scrawny punk kids posed like old-fashioned boxers. Among his numerous subjects were Happy Go Licky members Guy Picciotto, Eddie Janney, and Brendan Canty; Fire Party's Amy Pickering; Ignition members Chris Thomson and Alec MacKaye; and Nation of Ulysses' Ian Svenonius, most of whom would go on to form other bands and leave even larger footprints in D.C.'s then-small punk-rock scene.
A Washington City Paper critic who reviewed the Addison/Ripley show didn't take much from the photos at the time, and anyone who doesn't know the images' subjects might not give them a long look. But Treado's images present a skewed, even funny, take on masculinity and machismo. One day, the artist says, he may put them in a book.
I asked Treado, who lives in Takoma Park and works at the International Spy Museum, to tell me more about how "All My Friends Are Prizefighters" came to be.
I shot the majority of the photos in my studio above DC Space in 1987-88. ...Around that time, I was living with a number of the people that you see in the photos in a couple of punk rock group houses, one on Garfield Street in Northwest, and then one in Arlington—I lived in a closet in that one. Steve Gamboa (Nation of Ulysses, The Make-Up), a close friend, was training and competing in some Golden Gloves matches, and so I photographed him first, and then the others just followed.
I wanted to catalog all my friends, as many as I could, at least, and the boxing portrait was a form that I was attracted to. A lot of us were in bands (I was in a band called Bastro at the time, but I'm no musician), but a lot of the friends I photographed weren't, they were just my friends, some from Georgetown [University], some from high school, some from my job at Second Story Books. My younger brother is among them; he's a skinny 16-year-old.
I went to Georgetown with Guy [Picciotto] when Rites of Spring was together, and we all became friends. I was a DJ at WGTB, Georgetown's radio station, and I invited them to come and hang out, and they came every week, and then we all lived together. It was a small scene back then. We had great dance parties.
The process was new to me, I'm not really a photographer, and I had a cheap camera, a Pentax ME Super with a lousy lens, and some clamp lights for lighting, but over time I got better. I think it helped that I was less than experienced—the combination of my tentative direction and the models' lack of pugilistic agility added up to some good art.
I photographed about 50 different people all told, and the images on my website are some of the best of the lot. I'd like to show more of them, so I think the solution is to put out a book. I have shown some of the photos at Addison/Ripley, and I made a short film that I showed at an art space in New York in 1999 or so, but for the most part, over the years I've only given them to friends or had them up in my studio.
One of the things I really value about the D.C. punk-rock ethos is that liner note that appears over and over again: "Thanks to all our friends, you know who you are."
All photos by Dan Treado courtesy of Addison/Ripley Fine Art