Trouble in the Camera Club

Don Pyle: The Diodes, Crash'n'Burn (1977)Don Pyle: The Diodes, Crash'n'Burn (1977)

By Joanne Huffa

Trouble in the Camera Club
Don Pyle
ECW Press, Toronto, 2011
$29.95 CDN

On page 39 of Don Pyle’s Trouble in the Camera Club: A Photographic Narrative of Toronto’s Punk History 1976 – 1980, there’s a photo booth portrait of Pyle as a young man, aged about 18. It’s one of the few photographs included that wasn’t taken by Pyle, but it speaks volumes about the artist and the world he inhabited at the time.

Wearing a striped t-shirt and leather jacket – with his own band’s badge pinned to it – Pyle gazes impassively out of the photo, the perfect punk persona. While the majority of the photographs included in the 300 page book capture the many bands Pyle saw in his mid-to-late teens, some of the most interesting are those of his friends and acquaintances who comprised Toronto’s punk audience, as well as many of the local bands. These faces are not recognizable like David Bowie’s, Joan Jett’s or Joey Ramone’s; these people are not famous but, in their drainpipe pants and eyeliner, they signify the heart of a scene that hipsters have attempted to recreate ever since.

Sadly, there are few shots of the crowd interacting with any of the bands. Understandably, a teenage music obsessive wasn’t prescient to the idea that people in the future would be interested in being able to glimpse the relationship between fan and performer, especially in this era of bands taking rock ‘n’ roll out of the arena and into dive bars and small concert halls.

Instead, we’re treated to intimate shots of some of the most beloved bands of the era, along with Pyle’s all-too-brief reminiscences of the performances. There’s a brilliant shot of Blondie’s Debbie Harry, kneeling on the stage and holding her microphone up to the maracas she’s playing. (I imagine it’s during the breakdown of “Detroit 442”.) A couple of years later, Pyle caught the Psychedelic Furs’ Richard Butler mid-song with a projection casting a shadowy glow. Before the days of photo pits and three-song maximums, Pyle was front-and-centre, getting a perspective many fans can only dream of.

Throughout Trouble in the Camera Club, Pyle offers a lot of insight into what drove him – a conspicuously tall, queer, underage punk in a city that closed by 6:00 p.m. and didn’t open at all on Sundays – toward this music. Pyle’s writing is decidedly anti-nostalgic; he is critical of the scene’s homophobia and misogyny, and doesn’t pretend to like all of the bands he used film on. Still, it’s tough not to look at these pictures and romanticize the time when savvy 15-year-olds with a camera borrowed from the school camera club (hence the book’s title) could find themselves at the front of a stage in a sweat-soaked bar, shooting legends in the making.

A selection of images from Trouble in the Camera Club are included in one of this issue’s portfolios.

Joanne HuffaJoanne Huffa works for a fantastic literacy organization and spends a lot of time thinking about the power of words. She lives in Toronto with her husband and two cats. Seeing photos of pre-condo Toronto makes her long for a time when the city wasn't so congested.