BJ Papas may be the most legendary photographer of NYHC. Pretty cool considering the bad rap hardcore has always gotten for the lack of female involvement. Seemingly elusive and interview-shy despite still photographing bands and being connected to the scene which she grew up in, we were psyched as hell to be able to chat with her. Thanks BJ! -DCXX
How, when, and why did you get into hardcore?
I love the music! I grew up in Woodstock, NY. I would go to the local record store, “The Collector,” and purchase punk rock records. When I moved to NYC to go college in 1984, I was able to go to shows because there weren’t any in Woodstock (Punk Rock, Hardcore and Metal etc.)! It was a great escape from the world. I hated school so going to shows and skateboarding is what got me through it.
What was your photography background before taking photos of bands and Packed NYC clubs?
I took photography classes in high school. I didn’t like school, and art classes were the only classes I could deal with. I loved processing my negatives and working in the darkroom making prints. I hated school but I loved NYC and I had to figure out how to move there. I figured if I went to college there, I would not only get out of my parents’s house and Woodstock, but also get to be in NYC. So, I choose a cheap school, with only a 2-year degree, The Fashion Institute of Technology. I did graduate with an associate’s degree in photography.
How did you feel being not just a girl in a mid 80's hardcore scene, but a girl prominently on stage with a camera?
I was a tomboy and most of my friends were guys. I never really thought about it until I started to sell my photos. BJ is the initials of my full name, so everyone assumed I was a male. They sounded shocked when they heard my voice on the phone. As much as I hated my name, it actually helped me out. I can’t imagine getting hired to shoot those bands with a girly name.
Who were your closest friends within the scene?
My closest friends in the scene were the “Alleyway Crew”/Sick Of It All, Rest In Pieces, Bad Brains, Leeway, Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags, Murphy’s Law, Warzone, Token Entry, Gorilla Biscuits, Youth of Today, Straight Ahead, Nausea, Big Charlie, Brendan, Alexa, Gwyn and more.
Who were your favorite bands as a fan from the mid to late 80s hardcore scene?
Bad Brains, Agnostic front, Cro-Mags, Sick of it All, Leeway, and Murphy’s Law.
Who were your favorite hardcore bands to photograph, and why?
My favorite bands to photograph were very energetic and interesting on stage. Bad Brains... HR did back flips! Sick Of It All were constantly moving and jumping. Leeway, Eddie moved around a lot and jumped off speakers. Murphy’s Law was always full of fun.
A packed CBGB dance floor at a 1987 hardcore matinee put out some unbelievable energy. Do you remember wanting to capture specific people dancing or stage diving? If so, who are those people?
I wish I photographed the stage diving, it is what everyone asks me for. I rarely photographed the dancing, I mostly shot the bands. I couldn’t afford to shoot film on the crowd. The few stage diving shots I have were of my friends or when I was hired to shoot the crowd.
Are there any specific photos (which you took) that you automatically think of when the phrase “New York Hardcore” is brought up?
I just think of the photo used on The Way It Is record cover. I guess because the album was titled NYC Hardcore, even though it was taken in Connecticut.
Did you know when you got it developed that it was just a classic, timeless photo? What do you remember about it that photo and the show?
Well, I was never happy with any of the photographs I took. Most of my photos that you see were chosen by someone else. I don’t remember much at all about the show, but I have been to over a thousand shows and shot at least 3 thousand rolls of film. I think Jordan had asked me for some stage diving photos for an album. I am not sure if this was all I had or if he picked it out of the contact sheet. I think I found out it was the cover when Jordan asked if he could use it. To me, it looked better as a record cover than on my contact sheet. But ultimately, I think the photo summed up NYHC because of all the NY hardcore kids in it, even if it wasn’t in New York. Just now while looking at it I noticed Ray Beez (Warzone) was in it! Ray Cappo (Youth of Today), Matt (Crippled Youth/Bold), Gus Pena, and of course Civ and Arthur (GB).
In that pre-internet time period, the first place you would see your photos pop up was in a fanzine. Were there any fanzines you specifically looked forward to and truly enjoyed seeing your photos in from back then or even over the years?
Hmmmm, I can’t really remember the names. Some of the more recent ones I liked were “the village noize” and “Schism.” There was a small one, it was the 1/4 size of an 8 1/2 x 11 page. But I can’t remember what it was called. Sorry, I have the worst memory.
Any good stories involving broken cameras or injury from people stage diving, flying guitars, or kids getting on stage?
My camera sure did break often, but there weren’t any good stories about the amount or cost of those repairs. There was always stage diving stories at every show, but there are too many to list. I did break my wrist at an Agnostic Front show though. It was a Rock Hotel show that I wasn’t photographing. I had just graduated college and was there for fun. Jimmy G was on stage he was flinging me off. He took me by the arm and leg and swung me into the crowd... I could get a lot farther that way. I am not sure what happened next except I met my longtime friend Brian Friedman because of it. He got me some ice for my wrist and took care of me. It hurt a lot so I asked Big Charlie to take a look at it. He said it was fine, so I didn’t worry about it. I spent the night at a friend’s and went to a matinee at CB’s the next day. My wrist hurt and it was hard to take photos. I just used my arm to rest the camera on so I could shoot. I had Charlie look at it again and he was shocked how bad it looked. He said it was definitely broken! My friend drove me home to my Mom’s in Woodstock two hours away, and my Mom took me to the hospital. My wrist was broken and too swollen for a cast. We had to go back the next day. All my mom did was just laugh