Giving your soul over to pleasure

In conversation with Richard Kern.

The darker sides of human nature: American underground filmmaker, writer and photographer Richard Kern in conversation with Maria Abramenko.

Please tell us about “The Heroine Addict” magazine and its name. I understand it is Lou Reed related? What were your photos about back then?

I discovered The Velvet Underground’s records while I was living in a small town in North Carolina and was extremely impressed by these ultra-cool New Yorkers.  I was studying art in a school there and New York seemed to be a mythical place where all kinds of crazy stuff was happening. The song “Heroin” described what seemed to be the ultimate existential experience – giving your soul over to a pleasure inducing substance. Heroin was non-existent in North Carolina at the time so The Heroin Addict was for people that had a junkie attitude but had no access to it or afraid to do it. The zine was a music zine for one issue then switched to fiction, photos, drawings etc for the other 5 issues. The official title was “The Heroin Addict – the magazine with a consistent attitude.” I still hadn’t done heroin at this point but got briefly addicted to Valium when I moved to New York so I changed the title to “The Valium Addict”. After a while it I changed the title to “Dumb Fucker”. In the South, a Dumb Fucker is someone who thinks he knows everything. I think there were maybe 14 issues of these mags total plus 4 stand-alone titles. I published everything that was sent or given to me so over time the mags got pretty thick. To save space in the later issues, I started shrinking the text on all the writing so it was almost impossible to read them. These mags were free – I printed maybe 500 – 1000 of each (my buddy had free midnight access to a Xerox M95 machine) and dropped them off at random places in Manhattan and sent them to people in other cities and told them to drop them off someplace like a record store or book store.

Do you still mostly work on Super 8 film? If you would film experimental films nowadays, what would they be about?

It was a good medium in the past because you could shoot 2.5 minutes of film with processing for 5$. There was also a place in Manhattan that would process the film for you in 3 hours. S8 was used mainly for sports teams and news stations that needed to look at what they shot quickly. Now of course I use video because you can shoot all you want for nothing. I am still making films but I’m not sure if they are ‘experimental’.  Medicated (which is on my website) is to me, the best of my recent projects. I shoot some video (or film in the old days) on every shoot I do. I always have a specific project in mind but I don’t know which things will exist in some finished form before I die.

For example, I shot Super 8 on every shoot I did from the late 80’s through mid 90’s for a project loosely called “Strip for me Now”. I’ve shown parts of it in some galleries but never finished it.  I’m shooting tomorrow and I’ll be shooting several video sections during that shoot. If you look on my website under ‘filmography’ I believe there’s a list of finished video and film projects.

You have photographed artists as G. G. Allin, Nick Cave and filmed music videos for Sonic Youth and Marilyn Manson. Any particular backside stories you could remember while working with them?

In 1988, I fled NYC to San Francisco as part of a plan to get off drugs. While there, I organised a show for GG Allin. At the time, GG didn’t have a band and did shows using a pick-up band wherever he went.  I got together a band made up of my speed freak friends called the Drug Whores. We learned one song (Bite it you Scum) for the show which we played over and over for an audience that consisted mainly of slam dancing SF skinheads. Although GG told me he wasn’t going to do anything crazy during the show, I looked over at him when we walked out to play to see that he had his jock strap off and was spraying diarrhea all over the stage. He then took a broken bottle and cut his chest open while pissing in the faces of the skinheads jammed at the front of the stage. After the show, I took great photos of a bloodied GG but lost the negs when I moved back to NYC.

What are your currently working on?

A new book of portraits was just published by Baron Books in the UK and right now I’m retouching photos of wrecked cars that I shot in the early 80’s that will come out from Hassla Books. I’ve been shooting of video of women floating in water for a project based on an early Brian Eno video piece that I like. I’m always shooting women with their medications or smoking pot or dancing to their favorite songs. There’s lots of projects but who knows if I will ever get around to them to finishing them.

Giving your soul over to pleasure

Artist: Richard Kern / @richardkernstudio
Editor: Maria Abramenko / @mariabramenko
Assistant: Antoine Schafroth / @a.schafroth

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