At some point, I noticed a row of photo albums haphazardly stacked against the wall, and I began to look through them. What I found were thousands of images composing a visual history of West Coast punk culture, starting with Jennifer Finch’s teenage Hollywood years and proceeding through her time in Seattle for the birth of grunge, and then on tour with L7 for Lollapalooza and later on several Warped Tours with both L7 and the Shocker.
But what captured my attention beyond all the history and rock stars were her earlier pictures, from our teen years in the Los Angeles punk scene of the late ’70s and early ’80s. There was admittedly a wave of bittersweet nostalgia, seeing so many old friends looking young and unscathed, if not particularly innocent. But when I managed to step back, what resonated far more was the undeniably troubled quality of the subjects in her images. I had seen the energy and defiance captured by other photographers, but while many have been able to render the rebelliousness, none seemed to grasp the underlying discontent like Finch. And the truth is, as provocative and exciting as those years were, what attracted such a disparate cross section of kids to both the music and one another was that, more than anything, the scene gave purpose to the pain. Perhaps because Finch was a part of it, one of us, it’s there on display in her photos — the uncertainty, deep friendships, youthful sexuality and eyes-closed comfort of the heroin that would eventually destroy the scene and so many of us.