A Photographer Is Resurfacing Her Trove of Photos of L.A.’s ’80s Punk Scene

Linda Aronow’s immense archive captures a bygone moment in the city’s music scene—and she’s only scratched the surface
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Linda Aronow was a Culver City teenager when she saw her first punk show—Black Flag at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in 1981-ish—and from there she was hooked. As she went to more shows, she started bringing her camera and, when she could, squeezing her way to the front of the room to get shots.

“It seemed like there was a little bit of a weird chivalry when I would be up there with my camera,” she recalls during a phone interview. “Sometimes people would help me out and keep people from knocking into me. It was more like a family scene at first, at some of the smaller clubs, and that helped.”

Over the years Aronow turned her lens on local and touring artists—among them Black Flag, Minor Threat, Christian Death, GBH, Social Distortion, and Bad Religion—at venues across greater Los Angeles. Some of her photos would appear in magazines or be used by the bands themselves. But it wasn’t until last year that Aronow’s deep archive began to publicly resurface.

In 2019 Aronow had her first exhibition, “A Punk Rock Primer: L.A. 1982-1992” at Gallery 30 South in Pasadena. This April brought the sequel, “The Punk Photography of Linda Aronow.” While statewide social distancing measures curtailed in-person viewing, the show is available online.

Aronow’s work digs into the grit and energy of a time when punk was mutating, spawning offshoots like hardcore and death rock. Her collection also captures venues that have long since disappeared from the city’s musical landscape. And while some of the bands in her work have become iconic, other acts are lesser known.

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Minor Threat’s Ian Mackay, right, and a fan

Linda Aronow courtesy Gallery 30 South

Early on in her burgeoning career, Aronow met Edward Colver, famed for his photographs of the L.A. punk scene. “He let me come to his darkroom and print some photos when I was a teenager. Just that one lesson in darkroom printing—it changed everything,” she says. “My prints were really dull and gray before I saw his high-contrast printing, and it really changed my whole aesthetic. He was superkind to take the time out back then to give me any advice. I’ll always be grateful to him.”

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Greg Graffin and Jay Bentley of Bad Religion

Linda Aronow courtesy Gallery 30 South

Just getting the shots was often a tricky feat. “I think some of it is patience, and some of it is luck,” Aranow says. “Some of it is learning to anticipate what’s going to happen, when somebody is going to be jumping.” In a follow-up email, Aronow adds that there was a thrill that comes from using film (which she still prefers). “Part of the excitement of shooting film is not knowing until later what shots you actually got. And it’s so rewarding to actually get your film developed and see what you were able to capture,” she explains.

“It’s a fan’s perspective that’s shot like a professional,” Matt Kennedy, owner of Gallery 30 South and curator of the “Punk Photography” show, says of Aronow’s work.

Kennedy and Aronow go way back. In the early 1990s, when Soap Plant/Wacko was located on the Melrose Avenue retail strip, Aronow was Wacko’s manager and Kennedy was a Soap Plant employee. They reconnected through a mutual friend and former coworker when Aronow was looking for advice on showing her work. “I went over and did a quick studio visit in her apartment and realized immediately that I was looking at gold,” Kennedy says.

In addition to the work presented on Gallery 30 South’s website, Aronow has been posting pieces on Instagram. She says that she’s still going through her photos with the intent of putting together a book in the future.

“It is incredibly rare to find a treasure trove of stuff from a scene that was fairly well documented, and then you realize there’s all this new iconic stuff that we’ve never seen before,” Kennedy says. “We’ve only scratched the surface of her archive.”


RELATED: How L.A. Punks of the ’80s and ’90s Kept Neo-Nazis Out of Their Scene


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