NEW YORK — Even in his teens, Terry Richardson was laying the grainy, seedy foundation for his signature imagery. A show of the first 15 rolls of film he ever shot opens Saturday at Glenn Horowitz Booksellers in East Hampton and runs through Sept. 16. Richardson will be on hand to sign his book “FTW” on Aug. 19. Shot around Ojai, the Los Angeles suburb where Richardson moved with his mother at the age of 16, the photos document the emergence of punk in Southern California and the rebellious life of teenage America at the beginning of the Eighties. Here, Richardson talks about growing up in California, his punk roots, and how he got from there to shooting a nude Kate Moss or, better yet, capturing porn stars smearing bodily fluids across their faces.
WWD: When were these pictures taken?
Terry Richardson: My mom gave me a snapshot camera when I was in high school. At the time, it wasn’t like I wanted to be a photographer. She just thought it would be cool to take some shots of me and my friends. This was at the end of 1982, and I was very naïve to the whole art of photography, so I just took pictures here and there. The punk rock scene from the early Eighties was called Nardcore, and all the pictures are taken in different people’s bedrooms or when we would go out and party or see bands playing in American Legion Halls.
WWD: Are these images an appropriate representation of Ojai life in the early Eighties?
T.R.: An appropriate representation? (Chuckles) Well, there’s a lot of pictures of punk rock and beer, so I guess it sort of is. This was a small town. Like, it had one traffic light and a 10 o’clock police-enforced curfew.
WWD: From looking at the pictures, it seems safe to assume you weren’t home by 10 p.m. What did you do for fun?
T.R.: My house was the crash pad. We used to hang out and party at my mom’s ’cause she was pretty cool. She didn’t care if we drank there or smoked weed. It was just after the Seventies and Ecstasy was legal. I remember when I went to a club in Ventura and they were giving out jars of Ecstasy.
This story first appeared in the August 10, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
WWD: What else was around?
T.R.: Lots of acid, lots of booze, lots of coke — lots of coke. You could get anything: Vicodin, Percodan, whatever.
WWD: The cover of “FTW” has a newspaper clipping of a “Terrence Richardson” who was involved in a nasty car crash. What happened?
T.R.: I was driving my Volvo, which I had for about a week. I had taken two Quaaludes and drunk about 15 beers and blacked out doing 70 miles per hour. When I woke up, the car was wrapped around this pole. I walked away from the crash, though, and even tried to start the car. Yeah, 75 stitches and I had a head like Frankenstein. I wish I had taken pictures of that.
WWD: Did all that make you the cool kid in high school?
T.R.: I guess, kind of. I mean, I went to Hollywood High before I moved to Ojai and I was born in New York, which I’m sure was cool to these people in “Upstate L.A.,” which is what I call it. There weren’t any punks in Ojai, so my neighbor and I started cutting people’s hair and started the scene there. This was before punk was in the mall and on MTV. But there were still preppies and other cliques, too. The jocks drove by in pickup trucks and threw bottles at our house because they hated us.
WWD: So where have these pictures been?
T.R.: They’ve just been sitting in my mom’s closet in my old bedroom. About seven years ago, I was cleaning it out and stumbled upon this dusty box of pictures and negatives. I forgot all about them; after these pictures, I think I sold the camera or something and didn’t pick up another one for about five years.
WWD: Why not?
T.R.: I didn’t want to be a photographer. I wanted to play music and be a rock star. I didn’t have a mentor telling me to take pictures and encouraging me. But when the music thing didn’t work out, I became a photographer’s assistant. And then I caught the bug.
WWD: What do the images say to you about the pictures you take now?
T.R.: I look fondly back on these renegade days of my youth. Not the partying or anything, but it’s still the spirit that I have always adhered to. When I do work that I like, it feels like a great punk song, like a burst of adrenaline. I’ve always kept this spirit in me, or some sort of connection to it. But it’s not like I’m romanticizing it or anything. It’s just cool.