Read all about Instagram’s and LA’s beloved punk photographer, David Fearn, better known as @shitshowdave. From his mouth directly, is the story of his journey from London to Los Angeles to his new zine and everywhere in between. There are drugs, there is alcohol, there is great fun- he is by far one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met.
What’s yer name?
-sh!tshow- but actually most are surprised to learn my given name is David.
I’ve also successfully shirked various legal issues by moving under the following pseudonyms: Breadly Beansley; Lord Much of Muchness; Dinosaur Dave; D-Rex; Big D; Dirtbike.
I’ve also been known as James Bond for the purposes of fake news, but that’s another story. (https://www.scotsman.com/news/uk/the-name-s-bond-times-21-1-725742)
What’s yer age?
Its funny cos just today I beat my personal best for consecutive days alive. I’ll be 35 on 4/20 which is nice as everyone blazes a fatty just for me.
What’s yer deal?
50/50 for the first year, 70/30 after 20 publishes, and full byline please.
Stupid editor jokes aside, I’m a documentary photographer, then London and now Los Angeles. It’s a long story so i’ll try and keep it brief…
Where were ya born? Where are ya now and why?
I was born in a bathtub in the industrial heart of Thatcherite England in 1983 amidst poll tax riots, coal pit closures and at the illustrious height of Britain’s favorite weekend pasttime: football hooliganism. My dad ran with the Birmingham City Zulus and spent his weekends getting his nose smashed in quite a bit until he found Jesus. Even under dreary grey skies I still had a pristine childhood. We travelled a lot.
Turns out Birmingham is a crucial road town for touring bands big and small as it inescapably connects London with the North and back again, so I spent my youth lurking around pubs, clubs and run-down theatre venues soaking up the loudest music I could find. There was a lot of it, and heck of ugly stuff in the late 90’s but hey anything provocative giving the fingers to plastic pop was just fine with me. Rock & roll smelled great and I wanted in. This may well have been the UK’s last great subculture war: the nerdy metal outsider alt.kids huddling in packs and painting their nails just to piss off the meathead tracksuit ‘chavs’ who were busy punching walls and breeding.
I went about doing just about everything children of the era did to strive for cool enlightenment: cassette-taping songs off the radio (it was a respectable skill in itself to pause said recording quick enough before the DJ fades up), dodging school and sneaking into shows, hopefully losing blood in the pit, buying the offensive shirts and waiting by the tour bus for the thoroughly exotic American band to sign it on their way out etc.
I also spent every available penny on records, but not before debating the merits of that weeks’ releases with the curmudgeonly “ex-Iron Maiden-roadie” shop owner whilst burning through 20 cigarettes together and glaring at anyone who might dare to interrupt. Nerding out on music is serious business. I discovered all the good stuff hanging around that shop for hours and hours, but he never gave me a job nor did I ask for one.
In hindsight we might have been the last generation to do all of these things, but that could just be nostalgia talking.
By the time I reached 17 I already knew everything so my parents kicked me out and I dribbled around various squats and bad flats doing nothing in particular but mostly losing friends, fumbling through bad sex and casually abusing drugs. Small town boredom is a lethal opportunity for danger: if we couldn’t afford a drug we would fight each other or race cars down country lanes with no headlights. Skirting close to death is a surprisingly similar high.
I never did give up drugs but I did move to London for big city living, got a proper job, ran a marathon or two and rode a bicycle 600 miles across India for charity, all in an attempt to aspire to something greater than myself. It even worked for a bit. I suppose I was growing up.
How and when did your interest in photography begin?
I can tell you the exact moment: it was waiting in the airport ready to fling myself at the India bike jaunt when I realized I might well appreciate some photographic memories on my return home. It was 2005 and camera phones hadn’t taken over yet, so I bought a junk 2-megapixel Kodak point & shoot in the duty free lobby. I photographed the whole journey without really knowing what I was doing. Nevertheless I was deeply moved by India: the poverty, the smiles, the way of life, the explicit spiritual vibrations everywhere, and the infamous quality of light from sunrise to sunset. India has its own spectrum of colors found nowhere else, so I took a lot of photos. The rapture of this foreign place and these warm people combined with a means of recording it totally absorbed me. To this day I cherish many of those photos from that trip.
I never did seek a proper education in anything but I carried on taking photos and putting myself in situations where photography seemed obvious: gigs, parties, family gatherings etc. I was working on locations in film & television and was sometimes shooting low-key set stills. Ultimately I found myself drawn to sport as it was all so dramatic and explosive, plus nobody seemed to mind cameras being around. I must have been ok at it because I started getting asked to shoot and began building up clients and getting published. When I eventually moved up to shooting Premier League football (soccer) for news I honestly felt like a made man: sitting under Halogen floodlights photographing millionaire celebrities kicking a ball around in front of 60,000 noisy fans several times a week was a great job for a small-town bozo, and then landing a photo on the back page of a national newspaper was utterly sensational. This was my new high. My dad was real proud.
Living in London is to live surrounded by art, from the venerated high-brow gallery institutions to the reactionary street level DIY creatives daubing walls and discreetly erecting sculptures in alleyways. I soaked up all of it, and it was these experiences – paired with a generous and nurturing mentor photographer in my life – which formed my education in photographic arts (I also joined a photography club but got bored of all the geeks disputing inverse square law, squabbling over lenses and color-popping a London bus on monochrome background).
I was shooting a lot but I didn’t feel very good at it. I desperately wanted to be a good photographer and felt a gut-burning jealousy whenever I witnessed something great hanging on a wall or printed in the annual Reuters’ “Our World Now” coffee table book, surely the foremost prestigious collection of photojournalism in the world. There appeared something surreally magical in that moment where photo reportage appeared to cross into art, and I wanted it.
Alas, I can honestly say in a near decade of working across news publication I never took a single photograph that satisfied me in this way. I was privately gutted I may never get there.
“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” ― Henri Cartier-Bresson
How and when did your interest in the punk scene begin?
(*let’s use “punk” as a catch-all term for the endless and confusing myriad of genres generally accepted as guitar-based music, including rock, metal etc).
I think any serious music fan will easily admit that all their favorite artists are introduced to them by proxy: dad was into ELO, mom was all about Tamla Motown, that first girlfriend had a troubling soft spot for 90’s RnB, and the local junkie down the street had inexplicably sharp taste in the troubadour junky blues of Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits, as an example.
But I think a lot of punk fans will tell you their music just comes at you, outta nowhere, 100 miles per hour, brute force, smacking you around and forcing you to pay attention. It is a wakeup call, a shot in the arm and a slap in your stupid face. It is immediate and arresting and there’s no going back. Punk got me in this way very early on; I loved how it shook everything to dust to leave only truly worthy things permitted to remain. You don’t even have to know much about anything to get on with it: play it loud, smash something up and fuck you to anyone in the way. It is primitive like that.
As a teenager, in a deadhole town, bored and terrified of the world, this was everything to me.
Not much has changed.
In 2012 I met the most incredible human being whilst very high on ecstasy at a house party in London, and within an hour I had informed her that, despite her being American, I was in love with her.
For some reason as yet unknown she didn’t freak out, and Kelsey moved into my Hackney flat for the summer. I proposed a year later and it went like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7kUQ_ewYW6c
In 2014 I relocated to Los Angeles to enjoy the glamorous new delights of marriage, fish tacos and traffic. I also faced a solid reset on my profession; everything I had done and achieved before that point seemed to count for zero and I had to start over. I felt like a failure again. Surviving in Los Angeles has everything to do with who you know and what you’re doing about it, so I chose to get stuck in with punk simply as something to look at. Photographers are always looking and personal projects are a way of making sense of things in front of you, so I started shooting DIY shows, backyard shows… the shitshows. My lifetime love affair with punk started to prove kinda useful and the scene felt like a natural place for me. I found my people, now all my friends are musicians or bookers or artists of some kind.
I’m not interested in shooting megastars at the Staples Center – it is far too contrived, impossibly big and garishly bright. You can’t get close to those celebrities to say anything interesting with photography in my opinion. I prefer the personal freedom granted by smaller shows, in the dark, where the unexpected lurks.
I quickly found myself addicted to the power and energy of it all, and the past two years of shooting underground music in my adopted hometown has gone very quickly indeed. Los Angeles rules.
I’ve noticed a lot of work highlighting Surfbort, what’s your affiliation with them?
My wife has been friends with members of Surfbort for several years, and we all hang out a lot even though they’re based in NYC. They’re some of my favorite people on the planet and i’ve come to love them all dearly. It is super exciting to watch them grow and develop their art and to be recognized for it, and i’m stoked to be along for the ride whilst contributing my thing. They give me a lotta love and respect and with any luck I am growing with them.
I have just tagged along with Surfbort and Pow! for a short west coast tour, popping in at San Diego, La, SF, Nevada City and also annoying the locals up in Portland and Seattle, before looping back around home via one last stop in Oakland.
I used my blog as a photo diary for the tour and a limited edition zine is coming real soon.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve captured on film at a show?
Well I won’t pretend i’ve been doing this long enough to dig deep into an illustrious history of crazy gigs, but I can highly recommend Daikaiju (Houston, TX) for a batshit bezerk live show. They have two drummers, They wear masks and very little else, they reject the stage to play on the floor, they set fire to drums and guitars whilst physically repositioning their gear into new configurations without ever stopping the beat, and if you’re really lucky you might catch them dismantling everything only to reassemble on top of the bar with faithful audience members operating as drum stands, before walking away leaving and it all behind for random strangers to plink, plank and prang on abandoned guitars/drums all in a random cacophony of wonderful madness. The show only ends when the venue cuts the power. Great fun.
What’s been your favorite show/band/festival to cover?
A few local bands I try not to miss: Prettiest Eyes, Wild Wing, Melted Bodies, Paranoyds, Cat Scan, Feels. I miss Death Hymn Number 9 because they broke up when the guitarist Troy moved far, far away.
As a photographer it is impossible to enjoy live shows in isolation, because the photos you come away with are often so personally valuable yet aren’t always in sync with what you’ve witnessed. I can come away from an ok show with a banger of a photo and vice-versa, but as a combination of both I love GOGGS more than anything. Muscular, loud, moody… incredible individual performance and still an astonishing sum of its parts. Shows are rare but worth every bit of waiting.
What do you think this ever-growing underground LA punk scene means for the future of pop culture?
I’d be a fool to take on any attempt at cultural commentary here as I simply don’t know enough about historical context or even literally what’s going on in front of me. I have no idea if this moment in time, here in Los Angeles, is a culturally significant thing or not. I wouldn’t even claim with sincerity that the punk scene is growing, but I will say that Los Angeles is currently home to an incredibly vibrant community of committed artists doing all kinds of fascinating things around music and i’m delighted to bear witness. There’s friendship, socializing, a sense of place, and a shared ownership of creativity. In fact this scene is now my only means of navigating life in Los Angeles, and that is just fine with me. I have somehow been permitted to get stuck in, contribute art, and be involved because out there in the big bad world a lot of things appear broken and unrecoverable whilst simultaneously owned/operated by crooks and cronies. It is stacked against us. Rock & roll everywhere has always been an affront to these ugly things around us, and i’m down to keep that up.
When I look around Los Angeles i’m excited to see rockstars of all kinds staking their claim: not only can you be anything you want to be, you also deserve to be accepted fully as who you are. Punk is inclusive not under mandate but because anyone can get involved, feel all the feels and find themselves included in a shared experience like no other. On stage and in the crowd, differences don’t matter and the things that do separate us aren’t relevant. Thus the power of punk is completely vindicated. Punk is not immune to human problems but I do believe in its power to destroy boundaries and build cohesion. Its up to individuals to decide who sucks and act accordingly. I’m an endless romantic so I believe in the good things, and I expect punkl to lead the way into better times.
Maybe in 20 years, when the right pair of eyes looks back through Insta-filtered glasses, they’ll be able to say Los Angeles in 2018 was a very fine place to be, and goddamnit we’re stoked to have been there.
What’s the most punk rock (badass) thing you’ve ever done?
That is one helluva scintillating question and I must try and save face by offering multiple answers depending on who is asking…
(1) If it were my wife asking: “sharing a tiki-themed wedding in a sunny Southern California garden with the very best family and friends anyone could ever dream of”
(2) if either of my two younger sisters were asking: “parading around in a green mohawk wearing a kilt and black contact lenses at a fancy Puccini opera, circa 2002”
(3) If my mom were asking: “always doing my taxes on time, promise”
(4) If my best friend were asking: “dropping LSD at a greyhound racetrack, leaping over the barrier to chase after the electric rabbit before being tackled into the mud by outraged security crew, much to the amusement of a thousand spectators in the grandstand”
What made you want to start a zine and what kind of content do we have to look forward to in it?
Shooting live shows is an interesting challenge; it is often a very physical experience to fight for a spot and have the conviction to wait for the moments that you want to capture. It is also distractingly sensual; it is violently loud, unpredictable, often sweaty… and frankly it stinks. Everything is happening all at once. Getting kicked in the head sucks too. Then you have to operate delicate precision equipment in bad light, with poor focusing, and try for the best view without ruining someone else’s. The finest music photography distills all of these things into a single image, and if on top of that you can make it beautiful and interesting then in my opinion it is a strong photo. This is my mission every time I go to a show and if I can deliver even a small sense of the show to folks who weren’t present then i’ve done my job.
It is also fair to say that music photography can often be a thankless task with little reward. It is incredibly difficult to make any money and although Instagram likes are nice they don’t go very far in a photographic world commodified by social media. Your photos can often wash up lost in a despairing pit of over saturation. So with the zine I wanted to produce something that could exist outside of the confines of the internet, that could be physical and seen and valued and touched. The art of photography is genuinely elevated when you produce it as a quality print on paper, in a zine or hung on the wall.