“Ignorance is why I started taking photos.” Though such statements are not what kept him shooting. Adam DeGross is releasing his book, Pay Attention, and hosting his first public gallery on January 5th from 4:00 PM until 1:55 AM. The event will be hosted at Brickmania, aka the Profane Existence Warehouse, and is free to all ages. Paddy of Dillinger 4 infamy will DJ the gallery, while Ponx Attax, Agitate, Arms Aloft, Frozen Teens, and False perform alongside.
I met with Adam on a typical December Twin Cities evening over at the Triple Rock Social Club. During our conversation, a man in a long coat and shades – despite the night like some Jack Nicholson homage –
“Hey, did I miss your…”
Adam cut in, “No, no – January 5th.”
“Good, I’m actually looking forward to it. For once…”
“Yeah it’ll be different.”
With a heh heh, “I’m a fan of different.”
It’s 2013 and punk rock is not dead, and it sure as hell is still different. Thanks to Adam DeGross, the Greater Twin Cities Metro has pictures to prove it. For the last five years, DeGross has been a catalyst of the Minnesota punk scene, photographing just about every show one could think of. Just as some Cold War era espionage agent, his success largely results from his life’s embrace of the culture – the DIY attitude that these numerous subcultures indulge. Every punk will tell you, there’s a reason they were first attracted to the scene, and Adam is no different.
DeGross, a Burnsville native, got started on nu metal (i.e. Slipknot). The summer before ninth grade, he wanted to listen to his tunes en route to the Wisconsin Dells. Checked by a friend, a Rancid cassette was popped in, and the next thing you know DegGross was on to GBH. At a show at Burnsville’s Garage (a popular venue / youth center), a kid approached Adam, attired with a Virus shirt, with a flyer for a show at the Babylon Arts and Cultural Center (which went ablaze in a 2004 fire). The show got rowdy, a fight broke out – DeGross recalls, “[it was] something I’ve never seen, I’m into it.”
Shortly thereafter, he started heading down to local punk co-op Extreme Noise whenever he got a chance. He kept grabbing flyers to shows, and fell into Saint Paul’s street punk scene. It was only a matter of time before his attendance took a more, management-esque position – and DeGross was on to booking events. His ex-girlfriend talked him into buying a “shitty point and shoot,” and he fell in love (with the camera). Adam’s addiction timed well with the advent of social networking, and he began skipping school to add people for his photo page – 21,000 people. Bands began to take note, and Adam rose as one of the Twin Cities’ most well-known show photographers. With the rise of Facebook, MySpace’s popularity plummeted. “You don’t even know… when I started realizing MySpace was dead… I really thought I was done. I thought game over.”
Adam made the switch, and praised it for giving him more notoriety. “If it wasn’t for social media, I don’t know if I would have kept on doing it – I don’t know what the world would be like if we didn’t have social media.” DeGross refined his technique, and soon his photography began appearing in Alternative Press, and all over the Internet. He moved beyond typical band shots, and “realized [he] could take pictures of shows or people sitting and tying their boots up.” His interest moved beyond the music, and his work took a very inside perspective of the culture. “I feel like punk as a whole is both inside the shows and what people are doing when they’re not [inside the shows]… I could take a photo of right behind us and it would be punk…”
The University of Minnesota’s Andersen Archives had been moving towards a section reserved for the Minnesota subculture scenes, and DeGross was approached by Lisa Lee to help serve that purpose. Adam realized that outside our community, these photos could be relevant to people “who might just listen to The Current, or never go to a show.” So, alongside the first Minnesota flags, early war posters, and notes from the Minneapolis Orchestra, his photography now rests. Looking at the archives, DeGross contemplated, “The person who made that is probably dead… that could happen to my photos. That’s all I’ve ever really wanted… if I died, even just one photo.”
With this accomplishment, Adam started his big project, now to be released as Pay Attention. He told people before he knew what he was doing, he set the date to January fifth on impulse, “I talked big, and had to fill the shoes, you know.” So he began combing through his tens of thousands of photos, though he knew going in what photos he liked most, “because I see them so fucking much.” As do-it-yourself as one can be, DeGross looked into a self-publishing program, where he made the book himself and sent it in to get printed. All on his own, DeGross funded the project, and printed a limited run of three hundred books, “I’m losing $500 if they all sell. I just want people to know, I’m not trying to make money off of them… I’m doing it to immortalize the things I love, the people I love… but if people buy my prints for $25, alright.”
After our meeting, I posed Adam with a few quick questions for a little more insight, here’s what followed:
Morgan: Can you tell me a little bit about what you shoot with and why?
Adam: I shoot with a Sony A850. I use it because a guy at the camera store talked me into buying it.
M: What has been harder for you, booking shows on your own or learning to photograph on your own?
A: Booking shows on your own, definitely. Photography is done by yourself; you just rely on you. Booking shows can sometimes involve upwards of 30-50 different people, and then promoting it, making sure people come, feeling like shit if people don’t come. It’s stressful.
M: Which one of your photos from the book is the most memorable and why?
A: I think they all hold a special place in my heart, if they didn’t, then I wouldn’t have chosen them for the book. If you ever see me smiling like a crazy person at a show, then you’ll know I had just taken a photo I really like.
M: Out of all the touring bands you have met, who was the most outrageous? Did anyone in particular get upset about your shooting?
A: Some of the really out there black metal bands have been weird to talk to, I won’t name names, but they can give off a strange vibe. No bands have ever gotten upset when I take photos of them, except once, Ross The Boss from Man O War got pissed. He sucked anyway, and I never posted the pictures.
M: Have you ever considered learning film photography?
A: Maybe one day, it’s costly, but I feel like it would be a fun thing to try out.
M: What are you most excited about with the release of your book?
A: I’m excited to give something back to the community that I’ve based my art around. I’m still a fan of having physical copies of things, so I’m excited to actually have something I can hold in my hands, and share with people. I’m also really excited to show people the prints for the gallery; they blew me away when I saw how they turned out.
M: Do you think this will be your only release? Do you hope to put out future books?
A: Of course I want to do more, I’d be upset with myself if I only put out one book, or did one gallery. I want to do this for as long as I can, I can’t see myself stopping. It’s a part of me, and I think it will be for the rest of my life.
Protip: Adam’s first photo taken is in the book, can you spot it?
The Pay Attention Release Party is supported in part by Extreme Noise Records, Into The Void Records, KFAI’s Root Of All Evil, Profane Existence Records, and Radio K’s Clashed Attitudes
It takes place on January 5, from 4:00 PM – 1:55 AM and the event is free. Paddy of D4 will be DJing the gallery. Starting at 6:30 PM, the following bands will play: Ponx Attax, Agitate, Arms Aloft, Frozen Teens, False.
The event is located in a repurposed industrial complex, known as the Thorp Building and CBC. The address is:
1620 Central Avenue NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413