Daniel Corrigan on capturing the stars of Minneapolis’ iconic First Avenue
Thumbing through Daniel Corrigan’s new photo book, Heyday: 35 Years of Music in Minneapolis, you sense the beating heart of the Twin Cities music scene. You see eyewitness photos of the bands Corrigan’s lens has framed over three decades: the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, Soul Asylum, Babes in Toyland, and Minneapolis’s own—Prince—of whom the photographer claims to have the largest collection of live photos anywhere. Corrigan had been a roadie, touring with both Soul Asylum and Babes in Toyland, and was friends with most of the bands he shot. In fact, you sense that friendship—between photographer and subject—throughout the book, as though he couldn’t have captured what he did without it.
He was also in the right place at the right time. The place: First Avenue, the legendary music venue on the corner of First Avenue and 7th Street in downtown Minneapolis. The time: the early ’80s. As Photo Editor of The Minnesota Daily, Corrigan often headed to the venue—a jet-black building awash with silver stars—to shoot bands for the paper. Over the next 14 years his stacks of photos grew into formidable towers. He didn’t know it at the time, but he had been chronicling the local scene, documenting its rising stars, unsung heroes, and horrendous hairdos. But First Avenue did see this, and they did something about it. “They put me under contract for six shows a month,” he says, “and I’ve been doing that now for twenty years.”
When it comes to music in Minneapolis, you can’t underestimate the importance of First Avenue, Corrigan tells me. It’s been the white-hot centre of the scene since 1981, the year it turned from a disco into a full-blown venue. “[It] plays a key role in the Minneapolis music scene; I don’t think there’s any way you can get around that,” he says. “There’s a real brotherhood [at the venue], a real closeness, and I think that carries over to the bands themselves.”
Having shot so many shows there for so many years, Corrigan’s epic archive was naturally the main challenge for everyone involved in editing Heyday. “The best way to describe it would be unwieldy,” he says of his collection. “The writer/editor Danny Sigelman came over, and we spent six consecutive Sundays—probably six hours a shot—and we didn’t even get through all of it. We probably got through seventy-five percent of it, literally going through boxes and boxes and boxes.”
Those boxes didn’t just contain photos of live shows. It had heaps of portraits and album covers, too—not least his iconic cover for The Replacements’ Let It Be, for which Corrigan is probably best known.
That cover—picturing the band bathed in black and white, perched casually on a suburban rooftop—was actually a reshoot, after the band’s manager, Dave Ayers, turned down Corrigan’s previous effort. “I’d done some pictures of them where I’d trapped them in an elevator, and I made a really beautiful picture,” he said. “Dave saw the picture, and he didn’t like it—and that’s fine; that’s why you have editors. He thought we should do it again, so we did.”
The photographer’s plan for the new shoot was a mixture of two ideas. The first was that you can’t fake being scared. “If you’re in danger, your face takes on certain characteristics that you can’t fake.” The second was the idea of confined spaces, “of getting people where they can’t move. Once they get into position, into place for what we’re gonna do in the picture, they can’t really move.”
Part of what makes Corrigan unique as a music photographer is that he has absolutely zero artistic pretentions. He is not interested in high-concept photo shoots or dramatically lit live photos. “For me, photography is simply telling a story with a still image,” hence the simplicity of his style, with no embellishment, no frills. “One of the reasons why I was never going to be a world-famous photographer is that my style is so simple. I very rarely use lights. I usually try to use natural light, and my pictures are very simple.”
He’s also not a photographer who directs his subjects much—especially if that subject is Henry Rollins. Corrigan shot the then-Black Flag frontman in the early ’80s. In one picture, Rollins is folding his arms, staring down the barrel of the camera with his trademark ‘bring-it-on’ glare. “My time with Henry was probably under ten minutes,” says Corrigan. “I was pretty intimidated, because he was a real hero of mine, but at the time he was just so calm and gracious. I was just starting out; I was a stupid kid working for a college newspaper, and he was a rock star.”
Words: Oliver Lunn
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