[Tom Biederbeck] Photographer John Scarpati works out of Nashville these days, but there was a time in the 1980s when he was the leading chronicler of the bands making rock and roll history in Hollywood. He’s collected his images from the era in his book Cramp Slash & Burn: When Punk and Glam Were Twins, interspersing photos from the period with artifacts and recollections of those involved. It’s an intimate portrait of the flash style and frenetic partying that characterized the scene. To kick off our coverage of Winners in this year’s Mohawk Show, we catch up with Scarpati to find out more about this visually rich and, yes, even endearing time capsule.
The Mohawk Show 12 judges—Stanley Hainsworth, Jorge Alderete, Michael Jager and Susana Rodriquez de Tembleque—chose your book as the Winner in the On Demand Book Category. What was your inspiration for doing it? Did the project give you new insights about the times and experiences?
I didn’t set out to document the “Hollywood in the ’80s” part of my career. Starting about five years ago, I got a series of random phone calls and e-mails looking for images from one band or another for this or that project. I had always thought of my archives as being at least somewhat organized…then I had to actually locate something in them. There were at least three different filing systems: alphabetical, chronological, and “Hey! There’s still room in this box!”
So this began as a simple organizational project. But during the process, I kept turning up great little gems that had been buried in boxes for decades. I started wondering, “Who the hell chose the pictures we used back then? They missed all the good ones!”
As for gaining insights, absolutely. It brought back a flood of what great times we had “living in the belly of the beast” at a time when the Sunset Strip was on fire. But the best part was reconnecting with everyone for the writing of the book…I realized that while I loved these people and thought they were really cool when we were all kids, they are even cooler now as adults!
Can you talk about the book itself and its making?
The book is available at Blurb three ways: as a 12 x 12 in. hardcover, 7 x 7 in. softcover and as an e-book for the iPad. Why 12 x 12? Because I really liked the idea of the book being the same size as a vinyl record from the back in the day.
Pretty much from the word go, I knew my concept was going to be a “three-pronged attack”: images, words, design elements. I realized this was going to be a big book and not for the weak of heart—I needed a design warrior who could dig in for the long haul and have my back. I turned to one of my favorite designers and best friends, John Cate. We’ve collaborated on lots of projects together, and I knew his extreme attention to detail was just what I needed…not to mention his talent. Incidentally, he’s also a drummer, and it amuses me to say, “Only musicians were used in the making of this book”!
In revisiting your film images, what were the challenges of preparing them for 21st-century printing?
I went back to the source—the original film, all large format 4 x 5 and 2¼. Wet-mounted drum scans at 4000 dpi 16 bit RGB. If we were going to do this, we were going to do it right. No flat bed scans here!
Image resolution has always been paramount to me. I mean who else shot album covers on 4 x 5 film back then? This obsession with resolution extended right through to the ephemera in the book, all photographed in 2011–2012. For these elements, I went straight to the sources again, asking the bands to provide me with personal artifacts “of the day.” The objects were photographed using a Phase One P40+ medium format digital back, resolution 40 megapixels.
Why did you choose to do the book via Blurb?
Since I knew there was not going to be any large print run right out of the gate, and I wanted to get moving and get it done, I turned to the world of on-demand publishing. We treated this as an art book in design and form, and a rock book in content. Blurb’s presses and available paper stocks are now at the level of an art book. And the 12 x12 print format I had envisioned was a new size offering.
I looked at lots of on-demand options, did some tests, and when push came to shove, Blurb was way ahead of the curve in every aspect of the industry.
You also chose to print on Mohawk proPhoto, a premium choice for sure. Why did you make this investment?
Like I said, while lots of people will think of this as a rock and roll book, it’s really a fine art photography book at its core. That said, was there ever really another choice for a paper stock? I cut my teeth printing on double-weight fiber paper in the darkroom, so a good thick stock has always been very important to me. And the Mohawk paper performed most impressively!
SPECS & CREDITS
Client: John Scarpati
Creative Director & Photographer: John Scarpati
Designer: John Cate
Design Firms: Scarpati Studio & Ink Creative
Printer: Blurb, San Francisco
Paper: Mohawk proPhoto Lustre White, 190 gsm
Production & Musician Wrangling: Heather Appuliese Hornsby, a.k.a. JustHeather
Image Editing: Rory White
Clipping Paths: Tony Richards
More on Mohawk Show 12 Winners here
John Scarpati’s autobio says, “I really wanted to be a painter. I really wanted to be a rock star. Ultimately, my career ended up allowing me to be neither of these things—and both.” An international acclaimed photographer of musicians and a wide variety of commercial subjects, he studied at Art Center College of Design and now resides in Nashville, Tenn.
All photos © John Scarpati
Illustration of John Scarpati’s quote by Parker Biederbeck