Interview with Donna Santisi, originally conducted July 2010. All photos by Donna Santisi.
In the summer of 1978, The Bags had just finished playing a show at the Whisky a Go-Go when a skinny, bespectacled young man walked over to me and struck up a conversation. He was a little but nervous and after complimenting the band, he seemed to have run out of things to say. I was just about to walk away when he impulsively pulled out a little book from a canvas satchel and thrust it into my hands.
"Have you seen this?" he asked. It was Donna Santisi's book, Ask The Angels. On the cover was a beautiful photograph of Trudie Arguelles and Hellin Killer, looking like they'd just been kicked out of heaven for making trouble. I was immediately captivated as each page treated me to photos of the people who were steering rock music in a new direction. What set Donna's book apart was that these were not the usual preening and posing rock gods featured in national music publications. Donna was chronicling the underground, troublemakers who were upsetting the apple cart of the music business.
I was so engrossed in the images that I almost forgot about the young man who had been looking over my shoulder. "Thank you for letting me see your book." I smiled at him and tried to hand it back.
"Keep it," he said. "If you like it that much, keep it."
And I did.
32 years later, I am honored that Donna Santisi has agreed to answer my Women In LA Punk interview questions. I am also very happy to announce that her seminal punk photography collection, Ask The Angels, has just been republished in an expanded version with even more great photos. Congratulations, Donna!
Ask The Angels captures a very special moment n time for me personally, but it's just the tip of the iceberg as far as Donna's photographic career is concerned. I encourage you to check out her website at www.santisiphotography.com to see more of her amazing work.
1. What was/is your contribution to the punk community?
I was a photographer and documentarian. There were so many incredible bands and a great community. I wanted to capture moments so that people would be able to look back and see the impact that was made. My book "Ask the Angels" was released in 1978. It was an homage to the LA bands. The reformatted reissue was recently published and it includes 1979 and 1980. I felt that there were so many bands that
didn't get recognition in the original book.
2. Which artist, band concert and/or show had the most impact on your life?
Patti Smith. When "Horses" was released, it was a mind-blowing revelation. Then, seeing Patti live inspired me to pick up my camera. Lastly, Patti liked my images and she got me published for the first time.
3. What was the role of women in the early punk scene?
Women were involved in every aspect of the punk scene - musicians, photographers, bookers, managers, writers, etc...
4. What is the legacy of punk in your life?
The legacy is my archive of photographs from 1976-1980. All the captured moments from an incredible time.
5. What are you listening to now?
Patti Smith, Beatles, classical music, Elvis Costello, X, world music.
6. Do you have any funny or interesting stories to share?
The Cramps asked me to shoot their album cover for Psychedelic Jungle. It was great spending the day at the Wilton Hilton with the band. Ivy had a suitcase filled with colorful fabric (which ended up on the cover shot) and there were lots of props. We had several ideas for the cover. I was using a fisheye lens for the first time and I felt like I was on acid when I looked through the lens and saw Lux in a white dress, holding a Christmas tree, looking down into the camera. Also, the photos taken in the trippy bathroom with Lux in the tub with accessories were fun to create.
One day, Siouxsie Sioux wanted to go to Disneyland. It was Sioux, Kid Congo, Marcy Blaustein, Randy Kaye, and me. Sioux was really excited when we got there but once we were on Main Street, two security men came up to her and told her she had to leave. They said that she looked like an attraction and it would confuse the people in the park. Siouxsie was telling the men that she just wanted to see everything and go on the rides. They finally agreed that Sioux could stay if she covered up with Randy's raincoat. We were followed all day by several security people with walkie talkies.
7. Are there any punk women from the early scene that you feel have not been adequately recognized?
Most of them. A few at the top of the list: D.D. Faye (Back Door Man), Danielle Faye (the Zippers), Dianne Chai (the Alley Cats), Melissa Connell (the Heaters), Maggie Connell (the Heaters), Mercy Bermudez (the Heaters), Dawn Wirth (photographer), Spock (Backstage Pass).
8. What is something we should know about you that we probably don’t know?
I have a BS in Business Administration from Rider University in NJ. When the punk scene happened, my whole world shifted and a light bulb went off. I knew that I was meant to be a photographer/ documentarian.