Monday, April 25, 2011

Book Review: Trouble in the Camera Club, by Don Pyle

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2011
Book cover from the Internet
Band photos © Don Pyle

Trouble in the Camera Club: A Photographic Narrative of Toronto’s Punk History 1976-1980
By Don Pyle
Introduction by Steven Leckie
ECW Press (Toronto), 2011
300 pages; USD/CDN $29.95
ISBN: 978-1-55022-966-0

Every scene instigation has its photographer. In Buffalo from the ‘70s on, it was Eric Jensen. In Boston in the ‘80s, it was Peter Parka (aka Rocco Cippilone). In New York, well, there were many, including myself. Perhaps someday, my book will come.

One such photographer and fan to the nascent New York scene was Mariah Augier [d. 2005], with whom I was acquainted. By the early-‘80s, I had lost touch with her. Years later, around 1996, I ran into her at a party for a mutual friend and we started talking about “the days.” She said something to me that changed my entire perspective of my photographs: “When I started taking photos,” paraphrasing what Mariah stated, “I was just doing it for fun. Years later, I realized what I had wasn’t a collection of pictures, it was a body of work.” I identified with that. Obviously, on his own, so did Don Pyle.

Pyle was a music-obsessed teen with a new camera who pointed his lens on whatever bands he was interested in, which turned out to be just about everyone that matters in the Toronto scene, and more. Hot on the heels of Liz Worth’s excellent book, Treat Me Like Dirt: The Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond 1977-1981 (in which Pyle is not only often quoted, but his photo is on the cover, a self-shot piece which also appears in Camera Club, and, in part, to the right of this paragraph), comes this unofficial and welcomed companion.

Actually, referring to this book as “a photographic narrative” is a bit of an understatement. Yes, there’s over 300 of Pyle’s photos, but there is so much more, such as 200 other images of ticket stubs and show flyers, and sometimes scalding, other times self-reflective – and occasionally self-depreciating – stories of what led him to certain bands, and what turned him off about others. There are the occasional pictures of friends, some of his early and experimental shots of the city, all on levels of varied expertise: he was learning to work a 35mm camera by photographing shows, much as I was; his first was Iggy supported by Bowie, mine the Ramones at CBGBs. Similarly, he also starting out taking pix with a cheap instamatic (him: Ramones and BOC; me: Roxy Music, and stalwarts of the NY scene like the Cramps, Dead Boys, and Wayne County). Heck, we even both took some shots off the television of the same program (Joan Jett and Kim Fowley on The Tomorrow Show). I get the feeling that if we had lived in the same town at the same time, we may have been friends.

Though he was in Toronto and I was in New York, apparently we saw many shows of the same tour (e.g., Gary Glitter, the Troggs, Iggy Pop), and it was interesting to hear him describe what I was feeling back then (such as how bad and boring the Police were on stage). Fortunately for him, he also got to see way more of Toronto’s local bands than I did. While I saw the Dave Rave period Teenage Head, he followed the original Frankie Venom Kerr (d. 2008) era, along with the Viletones (great band, and Pyle took a lot of shots of them; the lead singer, Nazi Dog – aka Steven Leckie, wrote the brief intro to this book), the Diodes, the Curse, the Demics, the Ugly, and so many more that I would have loved to have seen, but have to rely on stills like these, and their released vinyl (which often, according to Pyle, did not live up to the live band performances).

So, you’re not familiar with the Toronto sound and bands? It doesn’t matter, because Pyle’s interest went beyond that, as he took his camera to shows by international groups that were touring, like David Bowie, Iggy Pop, 999, the Stranglers, the Runaways. Then there are the amazing shots of some of the New York bands that made it up there, like the Ramones, the Heartbreakers (Johnny and Walter, but no Jerry), Blondie, the Patti Smith Group, the Fast, David Jo and Sylvain, and the Dead Boys.

While I realize I have woven myself into this review (more than usual, anyway), it’s because I feel an affinity for the period, the photos, and the Pyle’s process and story. After going through the book and reading all the text (which alone would have been enjoyable), I went through it again just admiring the images. Sure, there are blurry shots (like me, he did not use a flash for a long time), weirdly composed ones, and just plain lucky ones, but mostly he innately presents the performer in the action that gives the photos life, rather than just some shots of a band in concert or backstage.

As the ‘70s turned into the ‘80s, Pyle started to lose interest in being behind the camera, and instead chose to be on the stage in bands with brilliant names like Crash Kills Five (vox) and the Juno Award winning Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet (drummer) who played the theme song to the Kids in the Hall show; he also became a music producer (the Sadies, John Doe, Iggy Pop, Andrew Gold, etc.). While Pyle may have left the camera behind, but he also left a legacy that we can still enjoy.

This collection is a superb entranceway to the Toronto scene, and yes, beyond.

Below are some samples of the photos in this book.


Sylvain Sylvain

Runaways: Joan Jett

The Curse

The Diodes

The Heartbreakers: Johnny Thunders

Iggy Pop


  1. Great review! I know JT (solo/Dolls/'Breakers) stopped there several times throughout his career. Does the book simply touch on him or are there any good stories?

  2. Thanks for your words, Robert! x Don

  3. MJG: Yes, there are stories to go with the photos.

    Don: Glad you liked it, as I sure enjoyed the book. Let me know if you make it to Saskatoon...