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Jim Jocoy, Order of Appearance
Woman reclining on car, 1977Courtesy of Casemore Kirkeby Gallery, San Francisco

Chaotic photos of San Francisco’s punk explosion

Jim Jocoy’s never-before-seen, in-the-moment photographs distil the chaos and creativity that burst out of California’s punk scene in the late-70s

When punk hit San Francisco in the late 70s, it spawned a vibrant underground movement that embraced the Do-It-Yourself ethos of the era. Local bands like the Mutants, the Avengers, the Germs, the Sleepers, and the Cramps made their way on the scene alongside bigger bands from New York, London, and Los Angeles, attracting a fresh crop of rebels, artists, and creatures of the night.

Jim Jocoy was a student at UC Santa Cruz when punk came to town. He dropped out of school, got a job at a copy store, and hit the clubs at night with camera in hand. From 1977 to 1980, he created a body of work that was only shown twice at the time: once at San Francisco State University and later at William S. Burroughs’s 70th birthday party. His photos were kept in deep storage for decades until Thurston Moore brought the work to the public eye with the publication of We’re Desperate (powerHouse Books, 2002), a celebration of the style of the times.

Fifteen years later, Jocoy returns with his second book, Order of Appearance (TBW Books), a sumptuous monograph featuring 44 never-before-seen photos. The book unfolds as a film would, with kids getting ready then heading out, hitting the sweat-drenched clubs and stumbling through after hours until they’re back on the street and the sun comes up.

Ahead of the book release, we speak to Jocoy about his memories of the scene.

How did you get into photography?

Jim Jocoy: Our family always had a Polaroid camera in the house. I became the designated family photographer. I'm a self-taught photographer. At times, photography is kind of like a primal activity of sorts – especially back when you had to wait to have the film processed.

What was your process shooting the punk scene?

Jim Jocoy: I would go out over the weekend and take photos. And like a hunter-gatherer, who digs through his net, I searched through my developed colour slides and looked for something nice. I had a very affordable way to make primitive photo prints. I worked at a copy shop and they had a color Xerox machine. I made colour prints from 35mm colour slides on it.

What was the first show you went to?

Jim Jocoy: The first punk band I saw was the Ramones in 1976 at the Savoy Tivoli. Soon afterwards, a Filipino dinner club called the Mabuhay Gardens opened. It became ground zero for the first wave of the SF punk scene. Up the hill was the San Francisco Art Institute. Much talent, energy, art, and some bands were created from the students from SFAI.

It seems like such a small, cozy scene. Did everyone know everyone?

Jim Jocoy: I think there were groups of friends who also knew people in other groups. Groups formed around things people were interested in: forming bands, making fanzines, organising benefits, and other activities.

I didn't know Pearl E. Gates married Paul Simenon from The Clash! What a catch. What was it like when out of town legends came through? Everyone seems so accessible.

Jim Jocoy: Yes, especially if you hung out in the women’s bathroom area at the Mabuhay Gardens. The photo of Pearl E. Gates was taken there. I remember talking to a girl drummer from Baltimore in that bathroom. She said she was finishing her tour with the Edith Massey Band, the singer from the John Waters films. Her name was Gina Shock and she was on her way to LA. She joined the Go-Go's and then they had the number one song in the country that summer.

What is one of your favorite memories of the scene?

Jim Jocoy: The Deaf Club was one of my favorite clubs. It was in the Mission District and normally catered to older deaf men. There was a nice vibe to the place; very loud, colourful, young punks mixing well with the older signing men sitting at the bar. There was this variety of body types and ages. A mixture of scary and sexy faces. Fellini's film Satyricon comes to mind.

The book has a sense of darkness impending. Did you feel this at the time?

Jim Jocoy: I didn't know how dark and horrible the years to come would be. Uncaring or ignorant people in power who let the Aids virus get out of control that cut short too many lives. The SF Mutants had a song out then called “The New Dark Ages” that captured some of that feeling.

It's amazing that none of these photographs have been published before. What’s it like to have a book come out now?

Jim Jocoy: I love seeing the beautiful faces from so many years ago. They all look so young and fresh. I'm very happy I was able to capture some it on film. When I look at these images, I think about what I told myself back then. I said that if the photos look good for me now, they should look good in a week, a month, or years from now. It's 40 years later and I still feel good about what I see.

Order of Appearance officially launches at Printed Matter’s LA Art Book Fair, February 24-26, 2017