Close to the Art: Horgan?s personal photos document the lighter side of the early D.C. hardcore scene.
Close to the Art: Horgan?s personal photos document the lighter side of the early D.C. hardcore scene. Credit: Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

When Susie Josephson got her first camera for Hanukkah and started Photography 101 at American University in the winter of 1980, she did what any kid would do—she took pictures of her friends. “My professor would say to me, ‘Can’t you take a picture of anything besides these punks?’,” she says.

“ ‘No, I can’t’,” she would respond. “That was my life.”

Her life for those six months, documented in the photo book Punk Love and featured at Govinda Gallery through March 3, consisted mainly of working at Georgetown’s Häagen-Dazs and going to punk shows. The black-and-white images lay bare the inexperience of a newbie learning her camera (some shots are overexposed or out of focus or both), but they also show a natural eye and an ability to capture the goofy enthusiasm of youth—co-workers practicing pretend kung fu; one stuffed in an ice-cream freezer.

For the sake of interest (and a book deal), it doesn’t hurt that the co-workers were Henry Rollins and Ian MacKaye, and the shows Josephson (now Susie J. Horgan) documented were among the first for the two future ’80s-punk pioneers and their contemporaries. Also in those first 50 rolls are the cover shots of Alec MacKaye, Ian’s younger also-hardcore brother, that Horgan took for the Teen Idles’ Minor Disturbance EP and Minor Threat’s self-titled EP.

By late August 1981, both Horgan and Rollins had left for Los Angeles, and Ian MacKaye’s band Minor Threat and label Dischord were well under way. The three have remained friends, but the photographs, for the most part, have been in storage. Horgan, 46, had been taking author portraits for an independent bookseller in Miami when an editor at Rizzoli came looking for a “punk book,” she says. A friend at the store referred him to her collection. Horgan turned to MacKaye and Rollins for help putting it together.

“It didn’t even occur to me until the other day that my name is actually on the cover,” says MacKaye, 44, who helped edit the photos and conducted and transcribed an interview with Horgan for the book. “It’s the tip of a hat, but I think it also gets attention.” Yet MacKaye says he’s a little uncomfortable with the credit. At the Govinda opening Feb. 2, “people kept saying to me, ‘Congratulations!’,” says MacKaye. “And I’m like, ‘I didn’t do anything; it’s not my fucking book.’ ”

For his part, Rollins, who turns 46 on Feb. 13, wrote a foreword that pays tribute to “the ‘-ness’ of those times,” he says. “The basic overall feeling that those photos capture….It was a time before everyone got their cool on.”

What sets Punk Love apart from D.C.-hardcore tomes such as 1988’s Banned in D.C. is its small window into that awkward beginning. Rollins describes the mishmash quality of Horgan’s Wilson Center shots—taken at a seminal show featuring Minor Threat, Rollins’ S.O.A., and the Bad Brains—and notes, “the black guy, and the guy with his ’70s hairdo, and the punk-rocker dude.”

Horgan still uses the memory of taking those pictures as a gauge for success. “During the Wilson Center shots, I knew I had it going on,” she says. “I’ve tried to keep that feeling alive.” She’s also purposefully avoided refining her style: “I try not to learn too much.” Besides doing author portraits, over the years she’s taken photos of various music events—including recent Peaches and Bright Eyes shows—as well as at Jem Cohen’s Chain film series and documentary pics of Cuba and Haiti.

Horgan has shown in Miami, San Francisco, and her native Rhode Island, but until this book, she’s kept some of her most valuable pictures “very private,” she says. “They were just precious to me, and they were just, ‘Oh, you know that picture?’—I could pull it out of my pocket—‘I took that picture.’ ”

“Punk Love” is on view from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, to Saturday, March 3, at Govinda Gallery, 1227 34th St. NW. Free. (202) 333-1180.