School Days is a new exhibition of live punk and hard rock photography opening at the Lethal Amounts gallery in Los Angeles, but maybe more unique than the images themselves is the story behind them. The photos of bands including the Ramones, the Runaways, and Blondie are all previously unseen and were all shot during the late 1970s by Barry Kleven — a long-haired, mustached suburban teenager who was still in high school.
Kleven died in 2015 and his nephew Chris Kleven found his negatives while clearing out his place.
Growing up, Chris knew about his uncle’s interest in photography and music, but it wasn’t until he was gone that he realized the extent of it. As a sophmore Kleven had enrolled in a photography class at Orangewood Academy, a Seventh Day Adventist school in Garden Grove, thinking it’d be an easy elective. He soon discovered he was good at it and started stealing a camera on weekends. He’d take it to West Hollywood clubs like the Roxy and the Starwood, taking live shots (often during touring acts’ first L.A. shows) and using it to sneak his way backstage. When his teacher figured out what he had been up to, instead of punishing him, he turned his trips into an on-going assignment that lasted through his senior year. Kleven wanted to pursue photography as career, but after one camera broke and another was stolen, he gave it up in the early ’80s. In the years before his death, he work as a detailer in a car lot.
Though acts that Kleven loved as a teenager, like Black Sabbath and Iggy Pop, are considered cool now, back then that wasn’t exactly the case. “I was reading his yearbook, going through all of his stuff after he passed, and everybody called him a freak and ragged on the ‘crazy music’ he was listening to,” says Chris Kleven. “A lot of people were basically talking shit.”
To cover funeral costs, Chris had to sell some of his uncle’s old punk records. One of the buyers saw Kleven’s photos and put snaps of them up on Facebook, tagging his friend Danny Fuentes, the owner of Lethal Amounts. The gallery specializes in music-related exhibitions and Fuentes soon got in touch. School Days will feature around thirty of Kleven’s photos, plus ephemera like ticket stubs and pins he collected. Though a small amount of prints will be for sale, that’s not the main purpose of the show. “It’s more of a memorial at this stage,” says Fuentes.
School Days opens on Friday, April 22 at Lethal Amounts, 1226 W. 7th St., Los Angeles, California.