ALL PHOTOS BY JULIE KRAMER
Julie Kramer’s basement is a rock music museum and artistic gold mine
Julie Kramer, a longtime Boston rock radio staple and esteemed lens-snapping documenter of the genre, is a totally extreme example of this cultural phenomenon. Short of the masochists who actually work with rock stars as their agents and road managers, Kramer, in her dual role as on-air host (currently with Indie617) and scene photographer, has gotten as close to music’s most flamboyant icons of the past several decades as anyone. Her repertoire runs deep. If you’re a fan of punk and the subgenres that grew into and out of hard rock in the past 40 years, chances are she’s captured some of your most beloved artists.
With portraits and casual studio shots of legends like Lou Reed, Debbie Harry, Evan Dando, Iggy Pop, Joe Strummer, and Thurston Moore, as well as of bands ranging from the B-52’s to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, crowding her crib, last year Kramer broke out some favorite prints for her first installment of The Basement Archives: The Ghosts of WFNX: Volume I in Lynn. With her Boston follow-up opening at the BCAE this Saturday, July 20, I asked my former Phoenix colleague about her seismic collection and the stories behind some of the pics.
What was your first camera as a kid? When did you start taking photography seriously?
My first camera was a Nikon FM. When I was in high school I begged my parents to get me a camera, a really good one because I wanted to be a professional photographer. I think it was a birthday gift, and that camera was always with me.
How about getting paid? What was your photography first check for?
I truly can’t remember—but it was likely some neighbor’s family portrait.
Are there any famous rock photos that came before your time that particularly inspired you?
I really liked Annie Leibovitz and the work she did for Rolling Stone, but the photographers I really admired were Diane Arbus, Mary Ellen Mark, and Robert Mapplethorpe. It was the way they captured people in spaces and places that really excited me.
When the Phoenix was closing down, I remember boxes and boxes of old photo files literally being tossed on the street. Did you keep your own files with all of your stuff? I read that they were jamming up your basement.
I had always kept my negatives in archival boxes, and they were stored in plastic boxes in my basement. That’s why we started calling this project The Basement Archives.
To a lot of people you are primarily known as a radio host and personality. But to yourself, when you think about it, do you consider yourself a photographer first?
I always straddled the line between photography and radio (and still do). Back in the late ’90s I had to make a decision between the two, it had to be one or the other, and I chose radio at that time. For reasons I am not quite sure of or maybe still can’t put into words exactly, I put my camera down and stored my photo stuff away in boxes in the basement.
What is the difference between engaging a subject as a photographer, say for a portrait, and engaging them as a radio interviewer? Can you explain the process by which you convinced your subjects to do shoots after going on the radio?
I always like to have a conversation with someone before an interview or photo shoot. Get to know them a bit and let them get to know me, it is all about feeling comfortable on both sides. At WFNX the artists would come up for an interview and hang out and chat; the vibe was so amazing there. The WFNX crew were all super music fans. We would always do group shots with the DJs and then I would usually ask if I could take some photos for myself. I think being a radio DJ and having the ability to talk to artists as a music fan and someone in the music business opened the door to me being able to get great photographs. It was about them feeling comfortable. There were no cell phones, no in-your-face selfies, no intrusion. Photography was my art—not a means for celebrity.
I am sure that everyone always asks who your favorite and least favorite subjects were, and that’s cool, but I am most interested in which shoot(s) you are most proud of. Like, which were the biggest gets? Any that you had to work the hardest to get? To make work?
I was doing a photo shoot for Columbia Records one night, Eddie Money at Citi Club on Lansdowne Street. Roy Orbison was playing the Channel Club that night and Eddie wanted to go to the show. We all hopped into a limo and to catch the show and ended up in Roy’s trailer afterwards to meet him. I took pictures of Eddie and Roy, and before we left I asked Roy if I could shoot a few portraits. He said, “Sure, honey,” and smiled and sat for a few snaps before his manager scooted me out of there. I remember how sweet and kind Roy was to me. He passed away two days later. As far as I know I took the last portraits of him.
Some of my favorite “gets” would be Joe Strummer with his guitar. Joe was an amazing man, funny, sweet, kind, and I think that comes across in his photos. XTC being crazy funny, which is a side most people don’t know about them because they never play live concerts. There were all these toys in an office and they just went hog wild with them having fun, fooling around, and letting loose. John Lydon was surprisingly kind. I didn’t know what to expect when he came by the studios, I thought he would have an attitude, but he was super chill. Maybe it was because as soon as he arrived—he immediately threw up. I guess it was bad chowder.
Iggy Pop was one of my favorite shoots; he jumped into Kurt St.Thomas’ Karmann Ghia convertible, and before I knew it I was on the hood of the car shooting. Iggy was and is the bomb, that was such a fun day hanging with him. The Red Hot Chili Peppers in the Capitol Diner (in Lynn), after their interview we went to grab some lunch and of course had my camera. My biggest take away from that was that Anthony called the waitress ma’am and was super sweet to her. Chad ordered the broiled scallops.
You are still in the music business, but of course photos are now more ubiquitous—Instagram, etc. Do you still shoot a lot of bands? Anything changed in that regard? Bands still love the camera light?
Thanks to smartphones, everyone is a photographer now. That was actually one of my turn-offs to photography. I am shooting bands again—even more at live concerts. I think photography, like radio, is who I am, it is a part of me. I like embracing the past while also looking forward.
THE BASEMENT ARCHIVES: THE GHOSTS OF WFNX: VOLUME II. OPENING RECEPTION AT THE BOSTON CENTER FOR ADULT EDUCATION, 122 ARLINGTON ST., BACK BAY. SAT. 7.20, 4-8PM. FREE/ALL AGES. RUNS THROUGH 12.20. MORE INFO AT JULIEKRAMER.COM.