Lynn Beldner’s DIY visual chronicle captured concerts in a pre-Instagram era.
For Lynn Beldner, shooting photos in the dark was a way of transcending the awkwardness of life in Silicon Valley.
An East Coast native who transplanted to Santa Clara during the late 1970s at the age of 22, Beldner found refuge from her new environment by photographing punk rock shows in small clubs around the Bay. “I was really drawn to that as an escape from Silicon Valley,” she explains. “I was pretty young and I just didn’t fit in there.”
With no formal photography training, Beldner embraced punk rock’s DIY (do it yourself) ethos and cobbled together her own three-chord kind of know-how via a quick community center photo class and lots of in-the-moment practice for the required skill set (or, as she puts it: “I basically learned only how to shoot inside in the dark”).
From there, she got good at talking security guards into granting her access (backstage as much as front) and was soon regularly documenting a dynamic new music culture that was barely a decade apart from the heyday of San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury music scene, but light years away in terms of its sound and fury.
Decades later, Beldner’s full photo archive from this era has recently been enshrined at Stanford University’s Archive of Recorded sound, where it will work as a visual teaching aid for one of the university’s art history courses. At the same time, it is also a lively addition to the school’s impressive and ever-growing photo collection (as well as the very rare instance when the terms punk rock and Stanford University find a way to intermingle).
For about five years, Beldner drove all over the Bay to chronicle the early ’80s apex of punk rock’s subculture: The Dead Kennedys at On Broadway in San Francisco, Iggy Pop at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz…even a young band from Ireland with the peculiar name U2 who played San Jose State during their first tour of the U.S. (“I was like—‘Ugh, they’re the worst. They’re not very punk.’”). In addition to dodging flying beer bottles and airborne stage divers while shooting, Beldner simply clocked some very long hours in pursuit of her photographs.
“It wasn’t just a hobby, I was really committed to it,” Beldner explains. “I would come home at 1 o’clock in the morning and then go to work the next day. You had to have a commitment for that.”
In this regard, Beldner’s imagery works as more than just a vivid visual document of a particular subculture, but also in how it speaks to an era before every concertgoer had a camera on hand, often anxious to qualify the experience via photographs.
“I do feel kind of didactic about my pursuit of photography, that I actually used a camera, developed film and I learned how to make prints,” she says. “Doing photography really taught me how to see, how to be patient. I don’t think that people really get that via their phones. It’s not the same process.”
Both the late-night drives and the scrappy work ethic paid off as Beldner began getting more access, better photos and was soon shooting assignments for the locally made punk mag/zine Ripper.
A few decades later, her imagery has now found a longterm home at Stanford University’s unique and long-running Archive of Recorded Sound.
“It was founded in 1958,” explains Sound Archives Librarian Nathan Coy, “and was one of the earliest sound specific archives in the U.S.”
Stanford’s Sound Archive contains close to 400,000 recordings that span every format of audio dating back to the late 19th century (when sound was first recorded). The collection, however, is highly diverse, showcasing everything from a world class collection of phonographs to a Scandinavian heavy metal poster collection.
“[Beldner’s punk rock archive] is a little atypical in that our collections skew heavily towards classical and jazz,” Coy says, “but we do have a little bit of everything.”
In conjunction with Beldner’s photographs, the Sound Archive has also incorporated work from her husband during the same era. The Steve Briscoe Punk Music Collection includes audiocassette recordings (and other ephemera) of local punk bands the Bruces, Pseudos and Clown Alley, essentially offering a soundtrack to accompany Beldner’s images.
“I met Steve when he was in the Pseudos and I went to photograph them, and I was like, ‘You can’t really be in a punk band cause you’re not in San Francisco,’” Beldner explains with a laugh. “But there was a small punk scene in Santa Clara…it was bigger than I thought.”
While the two collections will work as course material for art history students, Beldner—in very punk rock style—has made her imagery publicly available.
“Lynn gave us permission to make the materials available online non-commercially, which is really exciting,” Coy says, “because we can promote it more widely.”
Today, Beldner works as an artist largely in the realms of textiles, painting and drawing. In addition to her photo archives at Stanford, she also has a collection of her journals at Harvard University and paintings that are currently included in the “Aesthetic Forces” group exhibit at St. Mary’s College Museum of Art.
Beldner still regularly employs photography in her work, though more in a supportive role in documenting her other art. Thinking back to her scrappy days as a punk rock photographer, she reflects on the scene fondly: “I was drawn to the music, the clothing…the whole thing of it.” And when asked about the longview irony of her photos being archived in the same Silicon Valley that she was trying to escape, Beldner goes full punk rock PMA (positive mental attitude): “I am really honored.”
Follow Lynn Beldner on Instagram
See more from Stanford’s Punk Rock Archives
Learn more about the school’s Archive of Recorded Sound
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