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Exclusive: Brad Elterman on Burgers With Joan Jett

Presented by French filmmaker Juju Sorreli at Poppington Gallery, tomorrow evening marks the opening night of The Runaways, an exhibition featuring photographs of that iconic girl band fronted by Joan Jett, and shot by legendary photographer Brad Elterman.

His candid snapshots span across decades, most known of course for his relationship with The Runaways, The Ramones, and other rock punk icons. The exhibition pays homage to a time when a group of girls from the San Fernando Valley ruled, they were music making badasses, flipping the bird, playing with switchblades, and riding their bicycles, all while sporting the choppiest of layers.

It’s been decades since these photos were taken, and yet we’re still obsessed with these young, and iconic ladies. We took a minute to chat with Elterman to find out more about time spent with these gals, and why they are still so prevalent today.

Can you tell us about your relationship with The Runaways?

Well I was one of their original photographers back in the 70’s and they were one of the first bands I’d gotten to do a proper photo session with. They just so happened to all be girls which was interesting. Half of them were from the San Fernando Valley, that’s where I was from and basically Kim Fowley their producer just entrusted me with the band to take their pictures and hustle them into magazines. So that was kind of my introduction. I was just this 18 or 19-year-old very shy precocious kid.

How old were the girls at that time?

We were all around the same age. I think Joan and I are about the same age and Cherie may be a year or two years younger.

What was it like shooting this rebellious group of girls as a shy young lad?

They just kind of had the moves down and knew how to work the camera. Kim Fowley would say things like “do the hustle, do this, do that, think about selling records!” He said a lot of other things also, but he was mostly saying “do the hustle, work the camera!”

I shot a lot of Joan, just the two of us together and those were really magic, she really had a lot of charisma and the camera adored her. We were both of kind of shy and kept to ourselves, so we were a good team. She left her parents house when she was about 18 or 19 and moved into the Tropicana Motel in West Hollywood. I’d come over and visit her and we’d go to the coffee shop there called Duke’s and we’d eat enormous hamburgers and frozen snickers bars. I always had my camera with me. I took pictures of everything, which was kind of an anomaly back then to be a kid with a camera. No one could quite figure out why I always had a camera, but I always did and of course today everyone has an iPhone and everybody’s a photographer but today’s kids don’t really have the icons to photograph like I did.

How many photos have been selected for the exhibition?

Maybe 25-30 different images. There were hundreds, hundreds, hundreds, of photos to choose from and some of them are still in transparency, in negatives in boxes. My friend Juju Sorelli is going to produce a short film I’m making about my start as a teenager taking photos. She’s the one who is putting this whole thing together along with her friend Riley Keough who was in The Runaways film. They kind of curated the show together and told me which photos they liked. When you look at these photos everyday it’s nice to get the opinion of someone from the outside especially someone who’s in their twenties. Their fascination with this band and these pictures almost four decades later is unreal.

What does this exhibition mean to you?

It brings it all in full-circle. I took these pictures so many years ago and yeah there were probably twenty years when nobody cared about them, but what I get out of it now is that there are so many young kids out that come to me with these questions. “What was Joan like? “Were they really always fighting?” I love when young people come over and ask me those questions and to hear them say “You’re so lucky to have been there.” That makes it all worthwhile. That’s the excitement of it, to get these comments and the traffic and to see this whole other generation that’s into it.

What do you think makes The Runaways such an attraction?

Today all these fans see these preprocessed, homogenized, idols that don’t even seem real. Everybody today’s got a stylist, nobody had a stylist back then. I don’t have anything against stylists but those girls just picked their own clothes themselves and it wasn’t like they were really trying to sell something. Today it just seems like it’s all in your face, corporate sponsors are involved, it’s just a whole different world.

Do you find yourself longing for the past?

No, I embrace what’s going on today. The Internet is a real kick. I’ve got all my Instagram followers and Tumblr followers and I couldn’t imagine waking up in the morning without doing the Internet and looking at blogs and so on. I was at two very special times: 1977 and 2015. So I’m really blessed, I’m really really blessed. I’m taking photos again which is the most important thing. People are fascinated with the stuff I did in the past and the stuff I’m doing today and I’m just glad, at 58-I don’t look it though!

Are you and Joan still in close contact?

I see her from time to time and I hope that she will come to the show. I’ve seen her in L.A. and I’ve seen her in New York around when The Runaways film came out. I hadn’t seen her in 25 years and she invited me to Sundance to see The Runaways where she introduced me to Kristen Stewart. She still has that style to her, that certain Joan style, the way she walks, talks, the swagger.

The exhibit was a huge success in Hollywood, how do you think it will be received in NYC?

Oh it was a mob scene; hopefully it will be mob scene part II here as well.

The Runaways Exhibition with Brad Elterman will run from January 9-19th at 60 Orchard Street, New York, NY 10002

Photos by Brad Elterman

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