And so it had finally come, From the Edge of the World by Ruby Ray (Superior Viaduct), because this is where it is. This, yes, California Punk. 1977, 78, 79, right on through 81. Brave New World like Aldous Huxley said—but out in San Francisco, the Man of Letters was William S. Burroughs. Ruby Ray was with him, right on the edge. She caught him with a gun through her camera lens. She captured so many of these moths to the flame, burning with a passion and desire that true punk could claim: Darby Crash. Hellinn Killer and Sid Vicious. Poison Ivy. Kids on stage. Kids off stage. All this raw gorgeous energy. Black and white. Color shots. A sweet little photo album, remembrance of things past like Proust said.
And me, I am quoting novelists I’ve never read, and never will, because words, they do go on…but photographs scream and shout then whisper sweet nothings without ever saying a word. They embed themselves in memory as though we there and it is happening to us, like we are hanging with John Maxwell and Roky Erickson at Mabuhay Gardens, and we are standing against the wall and Ray is taking photographs in the mirror. Just like it was yesterday, like time has not passed, as though the ephemeral is now eternal whenever we catch a glimpse of these photographs that take us through the looking glass…
“Fate keeps on happening,” Anita Loos said, so it’s not surprising that after the success of Ray’s release of the e-book Punk Passage, she received a print publication deal with Superior Viaduct. What has come of this partnership is a most perfect photography book, a family album of sorts. It is here in Ray’s work that an array of intimacies are revealed, each photograph a kind of communion between artists, authors, performers, personalities during an era of raw energy that defined the punk ethos in California. The scene was brilliantly captured in the indie broadsheet zine Search & Destroy, to which Ray had contributed all those years ago.
As Jon Savage writes in the book’s introduction, “For a brief period, Los Angeles and San Francisco hosted vibrant subcultures that threw up sounds, noises, ideas and images that remain some of the 20th century’s most vivid youth statements. You can hear how in the few records that were made at the time… These pictures are a record of a lost moment that is finally receiving the attention that it was always due.”
Taken today, her photographs resonate with a vibrancy that came at a time when the underground was six flights below the surface of things. The world in which Ray inhabits here is one that we feel slipping through our fingertips, a world with newspapers, magazines, books, vinyl records, posters, print everywhere and everything; a world in which photographers like Ray came to define the look of a time and place. But it is music that unifies this story as a tour de force, as the reason everyone came together to share of themselves in the creation of art. Ray reminds us of this by including a CD inside the back cover, a mix of classics of the era. Context is king, allowing the music to penetrate the stillness of the photograph. Each image comes alive as two dimensions transform into three.
From the Edge of the World restores William S. Burroughs to the world, perfectly pressed in a three-piece suite, hat, and pistol. He stands before Ray solemn and sure, the godfather of an era, an unrepentant subversionary using art to explore the mind, to explode preconceptions by turning convention on its head, and liberating the underbelly of his being. Just like the artists he inspired, he was of a time and an era that changed our relationship to authority, ritual, and tradition. Ray’s photographs take us back, way back, to a time when this was new. And what remains in this album is endlessly refreshing in its insouciance, its attitude, and its commitment to a worldview that defies the status quo by rejecting its rules in favor of the discovery of personal truth.