Every Day Is Saturday: The Rock Photos of Peter Ellenby
by Christopher Slater, John Doe, and Tim Scanlin
They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it takes an urban village to make a city a great music town. It’s easy to see when a city has a crop of cool bands hitting local stages. When the buzz gets going, even local clubs like the legendary CBGB’s in New York or the 40 Watt in Athens become stars in their own right. Then there are the rock critics who fill the band bios with tear sheets. Other folks like the bouncers, bartenders and photographers are a lot less likely to become famous. Every Day is Saturday puts photographer Peter Ellenby on the map by sharing over a decades worth of photographs of the San Francisco music scene.
Peter Ellenby became a fixture in the San Francisco scene as the unofficial resident photographer at a club called The Bottom of the Hill. Ellenby lived nearby and came by to hear and shoot everyone who played the club. As his reputation grew, he took on the photo editor gig for the magazines SnackCake! and Devil in the Woods. He was also the official photographer for the International Noise Festival. If you’ve never seen any of these outlets for Peter’s work, you’ve still probably seen his work in other magazines as artists turned to Ellenby for their promo pictures.
Every Day is Saturday features Ellenby’s work with famous folks like John Lee Hooker, John Doe, Bob Mould and Sonic Youth but also includes people I’ve never heard of, like Actionslacks, Hey Mercedes and Uncle Joe’s Big Ol’ Driver. That’s part of the charm of the book. Ellenby is the ultimate music fan. He’s just as interested in shooting the local band playing on a Tuesday night as he is shooting the headliners on Saturday. As I look through the book, I’m caught by the compelling images of people I’ve never seen before. As I turn the pages, I’m pleased to see personal favorites like the Clean and the Fastbacks represented.
One of the unique things about Ellenby’s work is his free-wheeling style. He is perfectly capable of doing classic headshots and stop-action concert photos. That’s only part of Ellenby’s style. Ellenby is fond of shooting surrealistic images using the warped perspective of fish-eye lenses and toy cameras. Ellenby is particularly fond of a cheap, Chinese medium format camera that leaks light and doesn’t advance film correctly. The Holgaroids inject an element of randomness to the process yielding unexpected results. Ellenby also allows randomness to rule some of his concert photographs. Some of the images were taken without aiming, focusing or setting the proper exposure. These images may be out of focus and blurred, but they capture the energy and spirit of the moment. It takes a certain kind of courage to put out images that look cool even if they aren’t technically “right.”
Extras that add to the enjoyment of Everyday is Saturday include a foreword by John Doe, text by Christopher Slater and a 21-track CD featuring some of the bands seen in the book. The CD opens with an answering machine rant putting down some band, then proceeds to share a mix of the well-known and the obscure, just like the photography of Peter Ellenby.