By John Gemmell
The first thing Katia Taylor does when she walks into the Ryerson Gallery is check the guestbook. Flipping through its pages is the best way to gage reaction to her current exhibition, Running with the Devil: Photography of Metalheads. Yes, metalheads.
They’re not the usual subjects hanging from gallery walls, but Taylor is a member of the Much Music generation and her love for photography and metal culture have cultivated in this exhibit. “I’ve loved [the music] since I was 13-year-old,” says Taylor, who looks like a mature, just-received-her-B.A.A., twenty-something woman rather than the poofy-haired rock-ons in her photos. “I caught the end of the original wave in the mid-80s to 90s,” she says. “Seeing it come around again, I was curious to see who was still into this [music] and who was going to the concerts.”
Twenty-eight of Taylor’s black-and-white photographs are on display. Most were taken last summer outside various metal concerts in Toronto, Hamilton, and New York. Taylor captured fans’ anticipation before and exhilaration after the shows – exhilaration felt by all concert goers regardless of their musical tastes. “I’m told them I’m photographing metalheads and they’re like ‘Oh, that’s me, that’s me,'” says Taylor. “They have all this energy, they want to exhibit it and show how they’re feeling.”
Taylor approached the fans in a very casual way, letting them pose however they wanted.” A lot of time they’d bring in all their friends like a snapshot. That’s the way they responded, and that’s what I wanted to get.”
One of the elements that differentiates metal subculture from others is make-up. Alice Cooper and members of KISS slap on the gunk before every performance, inspiring their fans to do the same. Taylor captured a dead-ringer of Cooper strolling through Times Square and a near-replica of Gene Simmons. But she’s the only one who can tell you the latter is actually a six-year-old girl. “Her costume was to a tee. She was there with her dad; he was so proud of his daughter.”
Any music fan will appreciate the enthusiasm shown by die-hard Motorhead fans – they’re no different than red-faced 12-year-olds screaming for B4-4.
“When a style of music can bring about a whole subculture, a whole way of life…it’s amazing,” says Taylor. “That’s what music does in a lot of areas, and I think heavy metal is very enthusiastic and in-your-face.” But metalheads are people too.
Across the gallery hang 13 colour photos taken by Esther Choi, one of Taylor’s former classmates, which show metalheads in their homes. Choi’s photographs fir perfectly with Taylor’s because they show the flipside of emotion. There is obvious trust between the photographer and the subjects.
Whether propped up against their kitchen counter, sitting on the bed or lounging on the couch with a beer, each metalhead has signs of the subculture in their living space – the most common are posters. The contrast between crass culture and quiet living is exemplified in one photo where a hair-freak sits on bed covers that look as if his grandma bought them at Eatons. Behind him, a poster advertises, ‘Live cannibalism on-stage.’
“[Choi’s work] is a lot more of the private scene and subdued while mine is so public and such like a performance with the camera,” says Taylor. “Everybody here goes home after the show and their home may or may not be reflective of the subculture, and [Choi’s] obviously reflect that environment.” Both photographers originally presented their photos as their minor thesis project at school last year for their image arts degree.
“Basically the only time they’re shown is during my critiques at school,” Taylor says. “It’s just a shame to have this work and not let it out.” It’s no wonder that she’s transfixed by visitors’ comments in the guestbook – which range from clueless (“Why are you making fun of metal?”) to appreciative (“Like looking in a mirror”).
Katia Taylor and Esther Choi’s Running With the Devil: Photographs of Metalheads shows through Saturday at the Ryerson Gallery, 80 Spadina Ave., Suite 305. Admission is free. And don’t forget to sign the guestbook.