Growing up in the San Fernando Valley region of Southern California, Alison Braun lived a short drive away from the famed Sunset Strip, and as a massive music fan, that worked out great for her. From her teen years on, Alison shot the best punk, hardcore, and hard rock had to offer on the Strip. Throughout the years, you've probably seen her shots of bands like Bad Brains, Social Distortion, and Black Flag while digging around the Internet.
I'm excited Alison agreed to answer a few questions about her life behind the camera for this new entry in the Photographer Spotlight series.
Where were you born and raised? I know your father was a photographer himself, but were your parents generally artistic people?
I was born and raised in Studio City, CA. My dad was an amateur photographer. He was a home builder professionally. Generally, I wouldn’t regard my parents as particularly artistic, per se. My mother took painting classes, but never excelled. My dad liked to photograph landscapes.
What was your first musical love?
My first musical love was Black Sabbath. I loved acid rock. It was 1975 and I heard about them at summer camp. Not sure how I found out about KISS, but I was a huge fan starting around 1976.
Speaking of KISS, you've said that seeing them live in 1976 was a transformative experience. Can you explain?
Our seats were close enough to the stage and I was able to see the photographer taking pictures at the front of the stage. I was completely engrossed with what he was doing. I so wanted to be there, doing that. It was one of my first rock concerts and my first exposure to a rock photographer.
When you decided you wanted to try shooting yourself, did it take long for you to get a general hang of it? In other words, was there a lot of trial and error during the first stages?
I don’t remember a lot of trial end error. Film was expensive and I had to budget my shots. I developed my own film. Photography came very easy for me. As a matter of fact the home page image of Wasted Youth on my website is from the first roll of film I ever shot at a concert.
Who were some of the photographers you looked up to during those formative years? Did you have contact with any of them? I ask that since you were based in the LA area.
Locally: I really looked up to Ed Colver and Gary Leonard. We were friendly, but I was literally a child. They had nothing personally in common with me except for our cameras and the fact they always found themselves stuck standing next to me on stage. Ed and I are still in contact through social media.
You shot on the Sunset Strip back when it was still had a hugely thriving music scene. Who were some of the bands you shot there before they became huge?
Mötley Crüe was one of the first. Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Adolescents, TSOL, the Dickies, Social Distortion, 45 Grave, DOA.
Did you deal with a lot of sexual discrimination from the club owners/bookers/musicians?
No, I was 15-years-old and alone most of the time walking through Hollywood and South Central Los Angeles at various venues. I held my own and was never victimized. Promoters, musicians treated me like family. The owners of the Whisky would let me come early and sit around. Bouncers looked after me when I was taking pictures. I thank my father for teaching me self respect. I rarely did drugs or drank, and I tried to make good decisions.
What was it about the punk scene that drew you in back in the late ‘70s and ‘80s?
It was raw, ugly, and loud. I was able to get into the center of the activity and contribute artistically. No other type of music at the time made this possible.
What are the toughest aspects to shooting live shows?
I was always looking over my shoulder. I didn’t want to get knocked over or jumped on from behind. I also hated long, high stages. Photographing up some guys nostrils is not a flattering angle. Also, the Bad Brains were the hardest band to shoot, ever. They never stopped moving really fast, and I was always missing the perfect shots.
Who are some modern-day photographers that you admire?
Annie Leibovitz, Robert Frank, Richard Avedon.
What are you up to these days? Are you still shooting?
I don’t shoot much these days. Sometimes if a friends band comes through seattle, I’ll show up with my camera. Otherwise, I am a technical program manager working in software development.
If you had to pick one of your photos that best encapsulates why you loved shooting bands/artists, which one would it by and why?
This Adolescents one sums everything up nicely. It’s, raw, and loud. And captures how we all felt.
See more of Alison's work on her website.
Tagged: photographer spotlight