When Michael Grecco walked into punk clubs in Boston and New York in the ’70s he felt right at home amidst the raw energy and intensity of the music. He loved it so much that he became a self described “club kid” and a regular in the local punk scene.
But he was also a photographer, so he pointed his lens at the scene he saw emerging. He captured candid images of future icons like Billy Idol, The Clash, Dead Kennedys, Talking Heads, Sex Pistols, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Wendy O. Williams of the Plasmatics and others.
Many of those pictures are now staples in Grecco’s traveling “Days of Punk” exhibition, which is making its West Coast debut at the MOAH:CEDAR Art Gallery at the Cedar Center for the Arts in Lancaster Feb. 4-March 19.
“I want to show people a time and a culture that had historic significance, and I want people to be inspired by the work,” said the 64-year-old-photographer during a phone interview from his Santa Monica home.
The Clash in Boston in 1981 shot by photographer Michael Grecco. The picture is part of the “Days of Punk” exhibition, which is making its West Coast debut at the MOAH:CEDAR Art Gallery at the Cedar Center for the Arts in Lancaster Feb. 4-March 19. (Courtesy Michael Grecco Productions)
Musician Billy Idol poses for a portrait back stage one month after his debut solo album release of ‘Billy Idol’ in Boston, Massachusetts on August 01, 1982. The image was shot by photographer Michael Grecco. The picture is part of the “Days of Punk” exhibition, which is making its West Coast debut at the MOAH:CEDAR Art Gallery at the Cedar Center for the Arts in Lancaster Feb. 4-March 19. (Courtesy Michael Grecco Productions)
About 100 photographs, dating back to the late ‘70s through the early ‘90s, are featured in the exhibition, which started in 2021 in London. The pictures were originally part of Grecco’s 2020 book “Punk, Post Punk, New Wave: Onstage Backstage, In Your Face, 1978-1991.”
In addition to the photographs, the exhibition also includes ambient music created exclusively for “Days of Punk” by Roger Miller and Peter Prescott of the band Mission of Burma, and a video component that includes archival footage shot by Grecco during that punk rock era.
“We’re trying to put the patron who comes to see the show into that environment and to get a feel for the craziness and the music,” Grecco said.
The New York native began his professional career shooting for the Associated Press. Just before that, he was attending college in Boston and studying photojournalism when he found himself one night at a club called The Rathskeller, an intimate venue known to locals as The Rat.
“It was the CBGB of Boston, and I wandered in and just decided that I really loved this music, loved the whole acceptance of the culture, the energy of the music,” he said.
“So I had this parallel life, during the day I was an Associated Press freelancer and at night I was a club kid working for Boston Rock magazine and WBCN radio and always carrying a camera for access if I could and I just sort of shot the scene.”
The pictures he took included portraits of artists like a young Adam Ant in a black coat, sporting skull rings on each of his fingers and raising his fists toward the camera.
Another portrait, which is one of Grecco’s favorites from that time, is of Billy Idol, wearing a leather vest with no shirt and fingerless gloves, kneeling in a corner of a room in 1982 and posing for a portrait backstage, just a month after his debut solo album release.
“He was so young, we all were,” Grecco said. “I love his engagement, I love the way he’s dressed.”
The exhibition also includes action shots Grecco took during shows like an image of a shirtless Jello Biafra of Dead Kennedys crowd surfing on his back holding the mic up to his mouth as he sang at a Boston club in 1981.
Grecco pointed out that he had lost the negative of the original picture and a few years ago, someone on social media contacted him saying they had bought the picture at a yard sale.
“I convinced the guy to send it to my lab so we could scan the print,” he said.
The book, and later the exhibition, came together after Grecco pulled hundreds of pictures out of storage. With the help of an editor, they went through his collection, scanning about 650 images.
“I’m thrilled to have my work shown in a museum and a museum setting. It’s incredibly satisfying,” he said.
Days of Punk
When: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday and 11 a.m.- 8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday Feb. 4-March 19
Where: MOAH:CEDAR Art Gallery, 44857 Cedar Ave., Lancaster
Tickets: Free admission; For more information, call 661-723-6250 or go to moahcedar.org.