I'll be honest. I wasn't aware of photographer John Scarpati, the subject of the story I wrote for this week's Scene, until I got an email about his show at Bongo East. But a quick Google later, and I realized that I was, in fact, very much aware of his work: On the inner sleeve of Redd Kross' psych-pop masterwork Neurotica, in little cartoon script it reads, “Cover Photographs by Scarpati.” Redd Kross may be a cultural footnote for most but in the weird little world of Maloneyland, Spirit of '76 was a life-defining moment for me, and this photograph is a momentous rock ’n’ roll achievement.* Nothing buys street cred with me like Redd Kross, and there was no way I could pass up the opportunity to talk with this dude.
Our conversation was long and wide-ranging, and there was a lot of tape left on the cutting room floor. I've picked through some of the best moments — the moments that capture John Scarpati's energy and attitude — and included them below.
• “I'm the kid who had a darkroom in his bathroom. The enlarger went on the toilet — you know, off and on, break it down and set it up and break it down, that sort of thing. I was in yearbook in high school and all that crap. And then I went off to college to study business.”
• “The reason I did the book was that when I graduated from high school — it might have been ’78, when you go back too far in time that far actual dates may differ — I went on the classic, obligatory 'backpack through Europe' trip. I stumbled into so many art galleries and bookstores and music venues — especially in Italy and France and England in particular — and got so inspired by art and culture that I ended up collecting a lot of hardback art books. Trust me, after a little while in the backpack, I figured there were probably lighter things and smaller things I could have chosen to collect. Paper gets heavy really fast. But I kinda decided then and there that someday I was going to have a my own really cool art book.”
• “After graduating from the University of San Diego ... I was probably going to get a job with [my father's contacts] doing stock trend analysis at Paine Webber, and I kinda freaked out and realized, ohmygod, that's not what I really want to do."
• “I didn't really want to tell the stories in the book. I'm a photographer, not a writer. I got the people in the pictures to write the book. And I gotta tell you, the best writers, bar none, in this entire extravaganza: Punk. Rock. Girls. Wow, can they write. They are amazing.”
• “This is geeky, but I'm going to tell you just for fun — because I'm kind of a perfectionist and most of the stuff that I do I try to be really high-end, my camera is a 40 megapixel sensor. I used to shoot album covers on 4x5 film. I was one of the few photographers that did that. I almost never shot on 35mm.”
*He also did the cover photo for Redd Kross' Researching the Blues, one of my favorite albums of last year. So there's that.
Update: Scarpati did the color correction on RK's Reserching the Blues. Jon Krop did the cover photo. It's still one of the best albums of 2012.