If you mention “gallery” and “death metal” in the same sentence we’re probably going to think Gallery of Suicide. Maybe this is a sign of the yawning chasm that exists between extreme metal and art/gallery culture, or maybe it’s just a deeply concerning hardwired word association. But, if you think about it, aside from the occasional Norwegian black metal exhibition, extreme metal culture hasn’t exactly been rigorously, chronicled, curated and presented in galleries the way that say punk has, for example. Quite why, we're not so sure. Maybe as a subculture, extreme metal – and in particular death metal – is more self-effacing, not so photogenic or aesthetically interesting to study. But Baltimore photographer J.M. Giordano might take issue with this; not only that, he might be in a position to can change things too.
Giordano’s Killer Angels: Faces of Death (Metal) project is a long-form photography project capturing death metal fans “in the moment”; in black and white, shot against a plain white background. Giordano has got few rules other than that his subjects have got to be at a show with their war face on. You can check out more photos and keep up to date with Giordano's Killer Angels project here, and get in touch with him at his website. Here’s a little bit from Giordano on the inspiration behind the project.
Where did the idea come from to do a project shooting death metal fans? J.M. Giordano: I’ve been into metal since middle school, like nine or 10. My first t-shirts … I had two t-shirts my mother had to pry off my body, one was a Judas Priest Turbo t-shirt and Blizzard of Ozz by Ozzy Osbourne. I’ve always had an interest in metal. I’ve always had been into thrash metal at high school, more like S.O.D. and Anthrax because most of my friends were skaters. But Baltimore has a huge deathfest every year, and I’ve always been away. I’ve either had to work or I have been out of town. This year I was in town and I wanted to photograph it, but we’ve got a really good photographer in town, a guy called Josh Sisk (I think he shoots for you guys occasionally) and he owns live shots, he completely owns live shots. His live shots are amazing, and I knew I couldn’t mimic him. But at the time I was writing about Richard Avedon’s trip across the American West, and having wanted to take the subjects, the individuals he met, out of their surroundings so that they’d just be this cold, harmless, clinical look at the subjects with no background and no landscape. So I thought what if I take this [Maryland] Deathfest, take the kids and the bands literally out of the crowd or just off the stage, and not have any of that noise in the background and just shoot them straight on in a formal portrait. It just took off from there. I just got hooked.
Will you be shooting bands in this project or just fans? J.M. Giordano: I’ve asked a couple of bands. There are two musicians who are in the pictures on the Tumblr; Shawn from Extermination Angel, and Peter from Whitehorse in Australia. Those were the two musicians I shot. I am going to New Jersey Deathfest next weekend, so I’m gonna see what bands I can get. But the thing with bands is that they’re so busy backstage, and obviously it’s power rock so a lot of them are exhausted when they are finished, and they don’t wanna be bothered. But I’m going to get there early and try talk to a couple of bands and do a more comprehensive look at death metal culture.
There have been a few photographic studies before, about Slayer fans, and Norwegian black metal: but you’re exclusively death metal. I didn’t think that we death-heads were that photogenic. J.M. Giordano: Well, so far so good. Obviously it depends on the individual. But I am taking them out of the element of the crowd, y’know. I’m isolating the individual, focussing on them and seeing what I come up with. I mean, I had two guys in the series on the Tumblr and they would just not stop rocking. They just kept on, right in front of the white background and that’s perfect. It’s a good way to see the individual, and in the end they are portraits of people. You wanna relate to the person in the image by showing what they’re into.
What is your background as a photographer? J.M. Giordano: Well I went to the UK, through Scotland on a photo project and was shooting modern Druids in the mid to late ‘90s, and then I went to Prague, lived in Prague for about five years, got my equipment nicked in London, then came back and picked up the camera again just trying to develop my style. I do a lot of conceptual photos. I do a lot of fashion, like boutiques, and I do a lot of editorial work. My influences are… Avedon, even without the white background, Tom Woods is fantastic, Bill Brandt, who is another British photographer, also Don McCullin, who was a very famous British photojournalist.
If anyone wanted to get involved how would they get in touch with you? J.M. Giordano: Well I don’t have much of a travel budget. I mean this is definitely going to be a book. This isn’t a short-term project it’s going to go on for a year or two or for as long as it takes. You can put my email up if anyone wants to get in touch, but they have to be at a concert, though, that energy really has to be in the photo or you can tell that it’s bullshit. I mean, I really wanna pull these metal fans out of the crowd and say, ‘there you go!’
Are there any bands within the scene that you’d love to shoot? J.M. Giordano: Oh I’d love to shoot Napalm Death, those guys have been hacking it out for like 30 years. They deserve a museum quality portrait just for their tenacity.