‘Snapshots From The Epicenter’ Documents 30 Years of Long Beach Punks

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Photo by Sarah Bennett

A mellow wine bar is probably the last place you’d expect to see an art exhibit of gritty live punk photography, but in Long Beach, the love of local music makes the odd connection seamless.

Since March 8, more than 70 photos from across 30 years of Long Beach concerts have wallpapered the exposed brick interior of 4th Street Vine, arresting customers with nearly a lifetime of work from L.A. Record Truck owner Kirk Dominguez and his partner in photo crime, Jenn Kitner.

“A lot of Long Beach pride went into this,” says Dominguez, a longtime hobby photographer who unearthed decades of old negatives for the exhibit, Snapshots From the Epicenter. “I’ve moved around a lot, but we have caused the most mischief in Long Beach.”

Born and raised through junior high in Long Beach, Dominguez moved to other nearby cities but always ended up back in his hometown, especially after he started listening to hardcore in the early 1980s.

A friend’s older sister had introduced him to the idea of photography as a punk-documentation medium through magazines like Slash and L.A. Weekly, and after a hippie kid at school sold him a stolen Canon SureShot, he couldn’t help but start taking his own.

“We would just freak out over the magazines,” Dominguez says. “This was before the internet, mind you, and the only way we could access this craziness was through magazines.”

By 1983, Dominguez was shooting for a fanzine called Flipside. He would show up to long-gone Long Beach venues like Bogart’s and Fender’s Ballroom to snap photos of bands like Nirvana and The Offspring as they set up. He stayed to get more shots as they screamed into microphones, shredded guitars and incited raucous teenagers to start mosh pits.

He never got paid for his work, but that was the point. The experience of getting into free shows, talking to up-and-coming local and national acts, and documenting artists over the course of their careers was enough of a payment for Dominguez.

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Kirk Dominguez and Jenn Kitner in front of some of their collaboration shots. Photo by Sarah Bennett.

By the time he got burned out on concert photography in 1995, he had thousands of unseen black-and-white photos of bands like Metallica, Fugazi, Gwar, Rhino 39 and The Melvins.

“The reason I’m so prolific is because I never got paid for it, so it’s all what I wanted to shoot, not what other people wanted,” he says. “When people start paying you, that’s when you lose passion.”

Dominguez’s distaste for paid work has helped keep his photos as gritty, crude and Photoshop-free as he originally intended. For the 4th Street Vine show, he scanned in each negative and kept their irregularities—from hairs on the scanner to the film perforations—intact. One image, of a young Jane’s Addiction sitting around a table backstage, is yellowed not with age, but because Dominguez used cheap film he had purchased at a 7-Eleven.

FugaziPRINTBut Dominguez’s dedication to primitive photo tactics has been balanced out in recent years by a creative partnership with Kitner, a musician who used to shoot Riot Grrrl shows in the ‘90s and insists on professional lighting and attention to detail.

“Shooting with Jenn is different experience,” he says. “I don’t think twice when I shoot alone, I just see the moment and snap but Jen brings out my creativity. I feel more like a documentarian—more like an artist.”

Fourteen of the color photos featured in Snapshots From the Epicenter were collaborations taken specifically for the show and include subjects—from Zed Records owner Mike Zed to the bartenders who pour at Red Room—who the duo thought still represented all that is punk in Long Beach.

After being printed cheaply on rolls of white blueprint paper and stamped with custom embossing seals, all the vintage and recent photos were hung at the music-friendly wine bar with simple white string, using weights to hold down the papers’ curling edges.

When the show comes down at the end of this month, Dominguez says he will delete the scans, bringing to an end the short life of these editions. In the meantime, the one-off prints are all affordably priced, ranging from $50 for small ones to $80 for the largest.

“I don’t believe in fine art,” he says. “I want punkers to own my work and stick it on their walls and drink around them. And if blood or boogers get on it, then all the better.”

Snapshots From The Epicenter runs through May 5 at 4th Street Vine, 2142 E. 4th St. 

[Inset Photo: Fugazi at Zed Records by Kirk Dominguez]

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