Photographer Dan Allen on Chronicling the Punk Rock Scene in Dallas
By Scott Mitchell
Inside the modest digs of one of the newer galleries in Expo Park, Cohn Drennan Contemporary houses a new round of art from local photographer Dan Allen.
Today, Allen appears as a stark contrast to his documentary photography hanging on Drennan's walls. The exhibit, which consists of several digital prints of 35mm black and white film from Allen's just released book "scrapbook, a portrait of texas counterculture from 1982 to 2002," contains all sorts of characters clad in their studded leather or fish netted finery. The book holds even more, along with some edgier content.
And back when Allen snapped those photographs, he was similarly dressed. But now Allen, in his late 50s, dresses as one would expect someone his age to dress--which is quite disorienting when hearing about his exploits earlier in life.
Allen's interest in counterculture began as a teenager living in Benbrook, Texas. At 13 years old, Allen started hitchhiking. "When I first discovered it I made a lot of trips down to Mexico, just to go down to the border and get drunk," he says.
Later trips were more intricate in both their destinations and substance use. His favorite trips include Death Valley with plenty of LSD. "That was my counter culture," Allen says. "The real good LSD period."
It wasn't until Allen settled into college life at University of Texas at Austin that he found himself truly embedded in the content featured in his book--the post-punk era. It was at the same time that Allen, majoring in science, began taking photography courses to "break up the stress of the science curriculum."
His early photographic endeavors varied heavily--he began photographing sorority parties and then tried his hand photographing drug addicts and prostitutes.
Eventually, when attending his usual punk rock hangouts, Allen, who describes himself as a "really OCD guy with a camera," would take photos of everyone in attendance--not just the bands. "I discovered that the people going to the shows were often more interesting than the people on the stage," he admits.
It was in these venues--Club Foot in Austin, Club Zero in Fort Worth, Hot Club in Dallas and the like--that Allen took the majority of the photographs for scrapbook, which remains on display at Cohn Drennan Contemporary through June 21.
Some of the more intimate portraits he snapped inside his punk rock clothing store, Assassins, which was located next to the Arcadia Theater. "After the show I would invite the band and roadies to the store and lock the door," he boasts. "I had the little lounge with the video display and beer and some pot if they wanted to get high."
By frequenting these clubs and running one of the few punk rock clothing stores in Dallas--Allen swears he was the only person selling Doc Martins in Dallas in the mid '80s--he became more and more ingrained in the countercultures of Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin.
And through the years hopping between those three cities, Allen saw an intimate picture of the development of the post-punk era and how it compared to the movement in Los Angeles and New York City. In Texas in the early '80s, Allen says, "People still didn't understand what punk rock was, so they were trying to emulate popular culture's depictions of it."
As the '90s approached, the punk rock groups began to immigrate into a young Deep Ellum and Expo Park. At the same time, the genre split and fractured--sub genres like rockabilly and Goth were joined by new musical influences from rap and electronic music. "All these other influences came in, and it all just sort of fused together," Allen recalls.
The culmination of those two decades of post-punk documentation came together with the release of scrapbook, which Allen says he couldn't hold back any longer. "I had to complete this, now or never," he says, as a little smirk tugs at the corners of his mouth. "A lot of these people are dying like flies. While the majority of them are still alive I'd like for them to be aware of it so that they can pass it on to their grandkids."
I doubt those grandkids are prepared.
For more information on scrapbook visit cohndrennancontemporary.com.