Along the way, he became perhaps the ultimate and sharpest visual recorder of the emerging & amazing post-punk scene, with his searing shots of such greats as Bauhaus, Wire, Gang of Four, X, XTC, New Order, Monochrome Set, James Chance’s Contortions, Richard Hell’s Voidoids, Suicide, Pere Ubu, Lydia Lunch, Only Ones, Bush Tetras, and more, all caught in their primal infancy/urgency. His shots of the band synonymous with CBGB, the Ramones, in their ancestral home circa Rocket to Russia are perhaps the best of all of them.
Now, for the first time, his original works, all in the stark and arresting black & white that suited this shadowy scene best, will be featured in a gallery that suits his work the best; on the walls above the CDs and vinyl of the Etherea store in the neighborhood that spawned so much of this music, the East Village. Previously best known for the cover shot to Bauhaus’s 1982 live album for Beggar’s Banquet, Press the Eject and Give Me the Tape, more recently his work appeared on Wire’s Live at CBGB—a natural fit given Merinov’s series of photos from that pioneering band’s historic first and only visit to punk’s Mecca in 1978 (their New York debut).
Along the way, Merinov didn’t merely collect the images of groups whose stature has increased ten-fold since those intimate small-club days. Though less-remembered or seen, Merinov valuably set his lens on a plethora of fascinating regular acts also playing those clubs, valuable members of the thriving local scene. It has been 25 years, perhaps, since most of us have seen the sights of such cutting edge types as the Erasers, Johnny Thunders-associated punks the Blessed, rockabilly rebels the Senders, Max’s weekends’ sensation Von Lmo, power-pop faves the Speedies, and the avant-pop of Polyrock, Revelons, Student Teachers, Zantees, and Model Citizens, England’s dance minimalists Delta Five, San Francisco’s incredible new wavers the Mutants and the Offs, and tough Boston acts like La Peste and Human Sexual Response — and more. Having not laid eyes on any of these familiar faces in 25 years, the effect is as jarring as the images that jump at you.
Merinov is no longer active in the field, but as he puts it best of the time, “I felt I was part of a new scene and didn't want to miss out on it.” Typical is his remembrance of his favorite concerts of this period, by Wire. “Visually and musically. I came out of those shows drenched in sweat and shaking all over.” That quality always comes across in this exhibition. And, stumbling on the scene after seeing Patti Smith in 1976, Merinov saw everyone, experienced everything, and made sure it wasn’t lost for posterity. Influenced by Egon Schiele, Ingmar Bergman, the French New Wave, Italian Futurism, Russian Constructivism, the photography of August Sander, Rodchenko, Koudelka, Peter Hujar and Anton Corbijn, the design work of Peter Saville for Factory Records, (as well as many Friday afternoons picking up new 45's, LP's, and issues of the NME, Sounds, and Melody Maker at Bleecker Bob's) his keen eye and sense of darks amid the lights is beyond powerful.
From the absolute last years before MTV arrived and ruined any sense of an alive & kicking club scene as being the place to see and hear new, breaking sounds, these bands, and these photographs, feel as timeless as the uncompromising art made by so many artists depicted in them — who fought the good fight for the ultimate expression of the form over mere commerciality and video-camera ready looks. It’s the last era where the real kooks, geniuses, and wily, oddball artistes ruled the forefront of underground cool and left a legacy that will never diminish. And the Bavarian-born, Russian descended, School of Visual Arts-trained Merinov captured every last bit & dusty breath of it.
- Jack Rabid, Editor & Publisher, Big Takeover Magazine, 7/19/07