Perkins went on to document the Bad Brains over the next several years. Valley Green meanwhile was razed in 1991, replaced by single family homes and townhouses—but the legacy of that one single night in Valley Green remains, mythologized on silver gelatin…
The negatives from the Valley Green concert were put away and somewhat forgotten until 1995, when Perkins hired photographer/photo archivist Lely Constantinople. Going through several decades of archives in his basement, Constantinople’s eyes grew wide when she came upon the unmarked negatives from the Valley Green show. She then recognized her boyfriend (now husband), Alec MacKaye, in some of the imagery. MacKaye was just fourteen when he attended the Valley Green concert, His older brother Ian, later of Minor Threat and Fugazi, was there too, with his band, the Teen Idles.
“I knew they were important and I knew I had to show them to Alec,” recalls Constantinople.
“When Lely brought home these contact sheets, I recognized almost everybody in these photos. They were taken at a time when not many took pictures and they captured a time that was pivotal.” says MacKaye.
So I show up at Valley Green apartments and the band is setting up in a parking lot. D.C. was much more segregated back then and the punk scene and the African Americans residents didn’t typically have alot of interaction day to day. Alec Mackaye was 14 at the time and he said going to Valley Green was life changing. So what I thought of as somewhat comical at the time was actually very important. On some levels, it was a real disconnect. But, at the same time, I think it really helped a lot of people understand the world around them a little differently. A lot of the people that lived there didn’t know what to make of it and the music too was so different from what they were used to hearing.
H.R. was a natural showman. He had the stage presence of James Brown or Jimi Hendrix. You couldn’t stop watching him.
The Camera Nerd Out
Nikon FM2 with a direct flash because it was so dark where I was photographing. And I would do a long exposure to pick up as much of the background as I could.
Your photographs from that night at Valley Green are the only ones that exist documenting this historic moment. How does that make you feel as a photographer?
As a photographer, this was a dream. You’ve got two cultures so different from each other just smacked together. And to be able to photograph them together was amazing. The punk scene in D.C. in general was so organic and they were usually right down with the audience. What grew out of this became so important to so many people. It’s quite extraordinary where all of this went.
Over the course of photographing the Bad Brains, you really capture that thing of being immersed in the music and moment, both from an audience perspective and a band’s perspective.
I loved photographing H.R. with the audience and the interaction with the crowd. It was about a year before I showed them the photos. Today with digital, you shoot so much more because you’re not limited with the frames. Also, with digital cameras you can show people their images right away. But when I shot the Bad Brains, it was about a year before I showed them the photos. And it was interesting to see their reaction.
How do you feel looking back on these images after so many years?
One of the big lessons I’ve learned is how important the photographs we take today can be in the future. To see these images over 30 years later, makes you realize how crucial they are for history. It’s important to save all your images. Back then, I never realized that these images would mean so much to so many people. I’m very aware when I take photos today.
Follow Lucian Perkins on Instagram and website. Check out his book Hard Art, DC. The Contact High Project, conceived by Vikki Tobak and published on Mass Appeal, will culminate into a book and exhibition. Check out the Contact High website, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter for more info.