INTERVIEW: JIM JOCOY

Jim.Jocoy.Blog
By Conor Riley

As a photographer, Jim Jocoy is best known for his book We’re Desperate, which chronicles the distinct style of the West Coast punk invasion of the late 1970s and early 80s. Since taking these images over 30 years ago, Jocoy set down his camera until We’re Desperate was published in 2002. While promoting the book, Jocoy produced another notable body of work, a series of Polaroids. After some serious digging on the Internet we were able to track Jocoy down, and were lucky enough to have him submit images from both eras to Oakazine N. 07: The L.A. Mega Issue. We recently caught up with Jocoy in an interview in which he talks about living through the 1970s West Coast punk scene, what he’s been up to since, and what he considers punk today.

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OAK: Your submission to Oakazine features two eras of your work, your punk photos from the late 70s/early 80s that were featured in your book We’re Desperate and polaroids from the first decade of the 2000s. What about these two eras, and specifically the subjects of these eras, did you find compelling and interesting?
JIM JOCOY: [The subjects are] people who are creative. I find people interesting if they dress well, sing, make art, write, or anything that makes this planet a more interesting place. It’s like I’m a groupie for art and artists, not just for Rock and Roll. I want to be around that kind of energy and I found that it can happen for me when I take photographs of creative people.

OAK: What, if any, is the common thread between these two eras? Either as time periods themselves, or for you creatively, or both.
JJ: During the early punk era in San Francisco, many of my friends were active in their quest to express themselves. I have no musical skills and I’m basically very introverted. I found out soon that I felt more comfortable hiding behind my camera, and could interact with people much better with it. One of the common threads between those eras was that I like being around people who are considered outcasts. They seem not to fit into society the way most people are programed. I find much beauty with people who are considered misfits, queer or “troublemakers” and get much pressure from society to fit in and behave. Misbehaving without hurting others is what I like. They are brilliant survivors not unlike how diamonds are made from coal.

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OAK: What about Polaroid photos as a medium inspired you in your 2001 – 2010 works?
JJ: After I had my book published, I knew I was going to do a bit of traveling and meeting new people. I wanted to capture that experience with photos. I thought the best way to do it was to use a Polaroid. I like the fact that a Polaroid is a camera that is best when you are close to your subject. I usually ask permission to take pictures of my subjects. I like the idea that I have an artifact of that encounter in an instant Polaroid image. I am very opposite to photographers (paparazzi for example) who use telephoto lens to get to their subjects. I want permission form them and give all the respect I can. That’s my style. I like the idea that I have a photo in hand that represents that I could have touched them physically while taking their photo. It worked for me when I took Polaroids of Michael Jackson. Be nice to people and they will usually be nice in return.

OAK: According to legend, Thurston Moore discovered prints of your photographs in storage and that’s how We’re Desperate came to be. Can you elaborate on this series of events?
JJ: My good friends Heidi Engle and Martin Sprouse suggested I send my color Xerox images to to Cynthia Connoly, a great photographer in Washington DC. They said I might get to show them back East if she liked them. I was told that Thurston Moore was visiting her and saw my photos. He contacted me and asked if he could take them to a publisher to see if he could get them published. It was a magical and very effortless experience. In a matter of a week or two, the publishers at PowerHouse Books contacted me and offered to do the book. Not a typical experience for an unknown photographer. I have the most wonderful friends. Thurston is one of the most gentle, sweet and intelligent men I have ever met. I recently saw him on his world tour with his new band, The Thurston Moore Band. They’re brilliant! I love their new record, “The Best Day.” It’s my favorite record for 2014!

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OAK: Obviously what’s considered punk now has changed significantly since its US invasion in the late 70s. What do you consider punk in 2014?
JJ: I know that punk as we know it got big with the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Dammed and other bands from the UK. I was already into The Velvet Underground (I was a huge Andy Warhol fan), Iggy and the Stooges, MC5, Patti Smith and The Ramones. I loved The Rolling Stones (“Satisfaction” was the first 45 I bought), The Kinks, and T Rex when I was younger, so I guess I was primed for punk. I have no clue what would be considered punk in 2014. I just love good music. I listened to Bach this morning and I loved it. I’m someone who considers Beethoven, Madonna or Caribou punk and so I may not be the best one to ask. I do love Silversun Pickups and DJ John Digweed but they’ve been around a while as well. I just love good music. I loved disco and Mowtown when I was going to punk clubs.

OAK: You took a significant sabbatical from photography. What led to this decision, and what piqued your interest in the medium again?
JJ: I needed financial security and so I had to put my camera down and find a reliable source of income. I went into the medical field and worked in physical therapy for most of my adult life. I didn’t have the confidence to try and support myself with photography. I really never put my camera away as I think I took more photos of my dogs, niece and nephew during that time. I also love taking road trips and photographing nature. My primary motivation to take photos is that I enjoy the experience of it. Now that I have some financial security, I just go out and take photos I enjoy making. I’m planning on taking photos of the colorful tide pools along the rugged Northern California coastline soon.

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OAK: Submissions to Oakazine were very open ended. We asked our contributors to simply contribute their feelings about LA in one way or another. While I of course want to leave your submission open to interpretation, without commenting on your photographs, in your own words, how do you feel about LA?
JJ: I love LA. I’ve never lived there but almost every time I go there, something super magical happens. I love the energy and history of LA. I’ve lived in San Francisco and the Bay Area all my adult life but have never experienced the highs of what I’ve experienced when I’ve visited LA. I’ve been around more Hollywood movie stars, Rock and Pop Icons in the short visits I been in LA than the many decades here in SF. Something special happens when I’m there. I have a feeling if I moved and lived there, the magic dust would fade and I wouldn’t have the same kind of experience. Maybe not, but my visits to LA have generated some of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I would have loved to be there in the early 1970s during the glam rock and glitter period. I guess I’m a bit of a frustrated Hollywood groupie.

OAK: Your images from We’re Desperate were quite possibly the original “party photos” – which has since become its own genre of photography. What about the time and the scene prompted you to take these in-the-moment shots?
JJ: I enjoy a good time and I still do. I think Iggy Pop’s “Funtime” and “Nightclubbing” could be my battle cry back then. I love reading about the Swinging London scene in the 1960s, the Warhol era in NYC and other pop cultural moments in history. I felt that the punk energy in the late 1970s was going to be my time to enjoy and experience. There was much great energy to do things DYI. It was before MTV. I wanted to capture some of the energy I felt back then. I also took photos to help me remember what happened. I didn’t think it would have the legacy it has now but I’m very glad I recognized something special was going on and picked up my camera.

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