Brooke Smith | Sunday Matinee

A love letter to New York's hard core scene

Written by

McKenna Matus

Photographed by

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Styled by

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In Sunday Matinee, Photographer and Actor Brooke Smith, captures the comradery and pandemonium of New York’s hardcore scene during the 1980s. With Reaganism and social discontent looming large, the scene was an outlet for kids who were working through trauma, kids who wanted an escape, and kids who were just plain fed up. Bands such as Bad Brains, Murphy’s Law, Agnostic Front, and Cro-Mags created music for a raw and authentic New York.

Brooke captures the movement and chaos of gigs through low shutter speeds and bright lens flares while simultaneously capturing portraits from the scene with a sense of intimacy. She shows the stillness of abandoned and distressed buildings and makes them look like home. She shows the community and joy of the scene at house parties and caring young punk mothers holding their babies. Flaunt sat down with Brooke to discuss her work and the legacy of the New York hard core movement:

There is a level of intimacy to your photos. How did your personal connections, relationships, and comradery with your subjects affect the outcome of your work?

I’m glad you feel that way! The whole objective for me was to honor these people. They became my chosen family when I was a teenager. It’s a love letter from me to that time and place.

Which hard core band made the most lasting impression on you as an artist?

Bad Brains. HR is the most incredible front person I have ever seen. The band itself was so tight and no one even came close to them. They just had a way of getting into a flow with the audience and then we’d all ride that energy together. HR also seemed to be able to control that flow somehow, and he could even shift the energy if he wanted to… I am so grateful I was able to see some of those early shows.

What role did the patriarchy play in the hard core scene? How did your experiences as a woman differ in the male dominated movement?

Well it was the early 1980’s so things were definitely different, and the hard core scene was mostly male-dominated. But there was a group of us women who became very close and they are some of the best humans I have ever known. Strong and smart and powerful. They were authentic and not trying to fit in.

With the 80s hard core scene being a reactionary movement, which societal issues of the time elicited the most emotion for you personally?

I was mostly working through my own childhood trauma. It seems to have been a common denominator with everyone who was involved in the scene. I wanted truth and rejected any form of bullshit.

What aspects of the movement are you most nostalgic for?

I think the ethos of the movement was D.I.Y. and that is an aspect I am nostalgic for. To this day, the New York Hard Core scene reminds me to be independent and that I can do anything if I just put in the time and effort. I am also nostalgic for the days of film (instead of digital), in both photography and acting. I think the stakes were higher then; film was expensive, so that made the work more intentional. And I’m nostalgic for life prior to cell phones; everything felt more connected somehow… if I wanted to see a specific person, I had to know where to find them.

How did your personal style evolve during this time period? Who were your biggest fashion influences in the scene?

My personal style? LOL. Back then I tried not to look at myself from the neck down. I was unhappy and my outsides matched my insides. I was very overweight and wanted people to stay away from me, so that’s kind of the look I had. I would have loved to have looked like Siouxsie Sioux. I was a huge fan of the movie Times Square and for a little while I wore a garbage bag as a dress like the girls in that movie did.

What was the most memorable show you attended?

There so much I don’t remember! I do remember a few shows that ended in violence for one reason or another. But I guess I mostly remember feeling like we owned CBGB and the Lower East Side - we were young and the city was ours!

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Sunday Matinee