Publicity | Johan Kugelberg
“YOUR HEROES HAD TO COMPULSIVELY BE MADE FUN OF”
- Johan Kugelberg
- Publicity Portraits
- Fall-Winter 2014-15
Publicity shots are publicity shots, and one of the matters that came out of punk— I was 15 in 1980— was that your heroes had to compulsively be made fun of. As publicity shots were the façade of an icon being presented to the public, it meant that those were the very images we would ridicule. I attended a gig in the UK in ‘80 or ‘81 where Nick Cave, the singer of Birthday Party was doing his usual primal scream tough-guy stuff and fell over backwards and got his head stuck in the kick drum. This made their lugubrious records better. We loved Joy Division and told endless morbid Joy Division jokes after the singer killed himself. We lusted after Debbie Harry non-stop and graded the press shots of punk/post punk gals based on biological qualities. We were super-pumped that Killing Joke and Crass never had publicity stills. We were really serious about the whole no-heroes no-idols thing at the same time as we drew homemade Misfits t-shirts in magic marker. The iconography of ‘cool’ as presented in these publicity stills was actually more of an iconography of ‘uncool’, as the very presentation of the publicity still was uncool. I still feel pretty much the same way, by the way. In my work with photography I don’t have much tolerance or interest in formality, so portrait photography of all kinds is something that I rather blank on, that includes these kinds of façade as content images.
In the early ‘90s I was not only working for the man in the record biz, to an extent I was the man. Homer Simpson says that money can be exchanged for goods and services, and Edward Gibbon says that Capitalism seems to work rather well as a means of transitioning accrued wealth between generations, and Raoul Vaneigem talks often and well about everyday conduct within the spectacle and the moral choices we make daily. But hey: The record business is, and was, a manufacturing business without an a priori in relation to the customer base. There would be a lot of discussion with artists and management regarding how they would want to present themselves in a central publicity image. Working for Gerard and Chris at Matador, this stuff was easy since we would accept anything the artist would hand us as publicity material or as an album cover graphic.
The press releases themselves were an endless barrage of half-truths, in-jokes and wise-ass juvenilia— often written by me. When I started working for Rick at Def American I quite quickly came to realize how
Johan Kugelberg is the owner and curator of project space and gallery Boo-Hooray in Manhattan. Over his career Johan has curated over 20 exhibits and written 18 published books, including Vintage Rock T-shirts, True Norwegian Black Metal, Born in the Bronx, The Velvet Underground: New York Art, Beauty is in the Street and Punk: An Aesthetic.
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