Alessandro Simonetti grew up in a small town in the north east of Italy called Bassano del Grappa, where he somehow discovered and started documenting the sacred quadrant: graffiti, skateboarding, punk and hip-hop. Simonetti honed his photographic skills at the finest Italian institutions (he’s a professor!), before hightailing it to New York City, where he became even better at what he was doing, and started working with top-shelf practitioners like the Wu-Tang Clan and 5Boro skateboards. This week, as part of Melbourne’s Independent Photography Festival, in association with Oakley and Doomsday, Simonetti presents Never Forget The Warriors, an exhibition and publication of images he shot at a 2008 reunion of A7s – a historical punk club in the East Village. Good on him.
What was significant about this reunion show to you?
Punk and hardcore concerts were a constant during my youth. My friends and I attended at least three concerts per week in my hometown and around the peninsula, and sometimes outside the country with a van. The punk and hip hop scenes were what I got into big time from the early ‘90s. Attending the reunion in 2008 was exciting even though Italian punk concerts in Italy were way more extreme!
Which bands played at the reunion?
Antidote, The Abused, Government Warning… I think there were 40 bands at the old 2 floors Knitting Factory in Tribeca.
Did it live up to your expectations?
I didn’t have any, to the point that the project sat for 5 years before I actually went through the negatives. I was looking for an old subject to print as a publication and the formula of the “one night stand” documentary is something I’ve deal before, with titles like Il Clan Del Wu and Japanese Rockabilly. I’ve found an event is a good exercise in order for me to be able to capture as many good images I can in a short timeframe.
Who turned up to the show? How did all these young kids hear about it?
It was a generational clash between those under age kids with Wikipedia patches and studded jean jackets, and the old people from the hardcore and punk scene. That’s what intrigued me more, since being part of a niche or a subculture doesn’t really fit with the quick way to digest content these days.
Did the crowd look like the punks you remembered from the ‘90s? How did you dress back then?
It was a total déjà vu, but there was not as much beer and smoke around as I remembered. I never dressed as punk, at least not with a mohican. I was a graffiti writer hanging out with skaters, straight edge, skins and punks. I think I was taking something from each culture but I do have memories of me wearing baggie pants only in my early stage!
Did growing up in Italy make you want to be closer to the source? Is that why you’re in NYC today?
That was the motivation that pushed me to spend time in NYC in the first place. I was equally into punk and hip hop. Coming here was like closing a circle: the graffiti, the hip hop scene and the Lower East Side punk sites. I’m in NY this days still cause I found a receptive attitude from New Yorkers.
Is punk dead? What is punk now?
I’m sure there are still some militant punks around, but I believe we are playing in a different field this days and punk, as it used to be, might be shaped in different attitudes and manifestations. The Metropolitan Museum is punk now!
What forms has this body of work taken up to this point? Has your take on the work changed since you took it?
NFTW has unfolded in different shapes since I took it out from the archive. Last year I presented it at the Newsstand and 8ball zine fair as a hand made book in an edition of 50 which had gauze on the spine. In Melbourne I will showcase it as a hard cover edition in edition of 10 with a silver gelatin print, and present a special edition the guys from IPF and Doomsday re-visited.
How did this Melbourne show come about?
I showed some images when Doomsday first opened few years a go but the connection between us was trough a culture/vision affinity since we never met in person. This year IPF invited me with the blessing of Oakley family over to Australia to showcase Never Forget The Warriors and it’s nice to be (this time physically) in Melbourne to mosh the shit out of it!
Why do you keep the date stamp on your photos?
I shoot mostly in film but I’m not a purist or moralist on photography. I do believe that the medium influences the final result and the feeling of your work; in this case I like the idea to use a medium that is considered fine art (the black and white analog film) and literally fuck the film with that light impression of digital numbers. That night I was shooting with two cameras; my old reflex and an old compact Nikon.
What are you working on at the moment? What was the last photo you took?
I’m writing from Jamaica where I came to shoot a new project about the new wave of spiritual reggae in Kingston. I’m on the field with a friend, a journalist that knows the Jamaican culture and music texture here really well. I’m planning to come to Jamaica pretty often in the next year to be able to follow the rising of those few upcoming artists we are shooting.
Alessandro Simonetti – Never Forget The Warriors at Doomsday, 195a Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, 12 Nov-10 Dec, Opening 12 Nov 6-9pm
Interview by Max Olijnyk