Visual Vitriol: David Ensminger and the Anthropology of Punk

To a casual viewer, punk show flyers and gigposters can be as violent, messy and discordant as as the music they advertise. But to David Ensminger, who's been collecting show flyers since the 1980s, the flyers are a part of the history and folklore of the punk culture. His new book, Visual Vitriol: The Street Art and Subcultures of the Punk and Hardcore Generation, explores the DIY tradition of the street art from the 1970s on, as well as the participation of several subgroups of the punk culture.

"The books looks at the participation of women, lesbians, black people, subgroups that usually don't get included when you think about punk," says Ensminger, a sometime contributor to the Houston Press. "It's usually associated with groups that are mostly white, mostly male, mostly middle class."

The 330-page book includes some 130 images and will launch on July 9 at Domy Books. Ensminger will also present a short documentary about punk culture, specifically what he calls "the rite of initiation": That single moment in a person's life, whether it was at a show, hearing a song on the radio or hanging out in a record store, that his or her life was changed by punk. The punk movement, he says, isn't just about listening to a certain kind of movement, but about participation in a vibrant, defiant culture.

"What I'm interested in is 'where does it lead?'" he says. "Where does it take you? Were you turned into a vegetarian or did it lead you to print a fanzine?"

The film features interviews with e\members of Chumbawumba, the Epoxies, Dag Nasty, Strike Anywhere and Lifetime.

Ensminger recalls his rite of initiation, when his older brother came home from college on a break. "I was nine or 10, and he came home with piercings, funky hair, a drug habit and great records, and to me, I became that person," he says. "I'm an 11-year-old learning to play drums to Iggy Pop and the Stooges records, then I'm making art and fanzines and flyers. It led me down that path."

Even as a teacher for 15 years, Ensminger finds himself using the DIY ethic in his lesson plans. "I encourage my students to be empowered," he says.

7 p.m. July 9. 1709 Westheimer. The launch will include a panel discussion with members of Mydolls, Really Red, Party Owls and photographer Ben DeSoto.

Scroll through for some iconic DIY images, all courtesy of Ensminger.

Clarification: An earlier version of this article implied that Ensminger's been collecting flyers since the 1990s. He informs us he's been at it longer than that, and began collecting in the 1980s.

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