Wed. Feb 26th, 2020

LilMike.Me Vidiocracy

@LilMikeSF Media Maker Myriorama

Ruby Ray : Kalifornia Kool at Vesuvios

Ruby Ray photographed confrontational artists like Devo, William S Burroughs, Crime, Nico, The Avengers and Z'ev at the nexus of punk & industrial subcultures for Search & Destroy magazine in late 70's and early 80's San Francisco. Her photos are a vivid documentation of decades past that still seem as vital and necessary today
Kalifornia Kool by Ruby Ray
Ruby Ray discussing her work with friends & admirers at Vesuvio’s
pics from the Ruby Ray exhibit at Vesuvio's
Flipper as photographed by Ruby Ray

Last week I attended an art show by photographer Ruby Ray at Vesuvios in North Beach. Having recently collaborated with a Swedish publishing company to compile a new coffee table tome of her photos , called “Ruby Ray : Kalifornia Kool 1976-1982” I had expected perhaps some copies for sale alongside her works.

Alas, she herself had not lugged heavy boxes imported from Sweden of her visual documentation of sticky floored band sets in dark clubs, brash backstage parties, and the seminal spawning of the “Industrial Culture” movement that happened in San Francisco. Fortunately, a City Lights employee present assured me there was one last copy that was for sale next door, and I bought the last available volume from right behind the cash register, and demanded Ruby re-sign it again for me, even though it was already signed!

If you click the link below, you won’t have to pay Ferlinghetti‘s word temple tax of full retail price, as the imported book is actually much cheaper and easier to obtain through the mail, but then again, maybe you will feel guilty not dragging it off a shelf in a serene shop.

Kalifornia Kool by Ruby Ray
The UK Guardian ran a feature on Ruby’s book when it was released

Ruby Ray currently, as I write, still has a retrospective set of about two dozen prints framed and placed on panels in the already densely packed bar, but the stark striking faces and perfect poses caught in her classic black & white imagery always stands out despite distracting visual clutter & competition all around the room.

Ruby Ray’s punk photos on display at Vesuvio’s

There amongst the other paintings, flyers and tchotchkes that abound in the bar were photos that popped, featuring images from a truncated but 5 year period in SF from roughly 1977-1981. Many were moments preserved from inside or fairly near the Mabuhay Gardens nightclub, that capture in action bands like The Avengers, Crime, Devo, Flipper, Mutants, UXA, X and others that broke free of the bearded denim bro mold of the late 70’s schlock rock to bring to life a vital, energetic and angry new musical art form with its own merits and manifestos, that took music fans far from the middle of the arena rock road.

Hank Rank of Crime etc
Images from “Ruby Ray: Kalifornia Kool 1976-1982”
a review from ArtBook.com

A few years ago, I purchased the now out of print collection “From the Edge of the World” a smaller sized book of Ruby Ray’s photos that also came with a 16-song CD compilation including rare music by bands featured in the pages: These included The Offs, Darby Crash & The Germs,  The DilsThe AvengersCrime, Mutants, FactrixThe SleepersNegative Trend, The Screamers, Chrome, The Bags,  Noh MercyPink Section, The Zeros and percussionist Z’EV.  If you can find a copy, it is well worth a deep dive or at least perusal.

From the Edge of the World: California Punk 1977 1981 Superior Viaduct Book Cover
Out of Print Book/CD “From the Edge of the World: California Punk 1977to 1981” by Ruby Ray edition put out by Superior Viaduct

Back when it mattered, Ruby was right there with a lens, seemingly always pointed in the right direction as the purveyors of the late 70’s scene spouted their first songs/rants, played pranks, or sprawled out in chemically induced hazes. She helped make Vale‘s Search & Destroy publication such a vital document at the time, and her work stands the test of time. The cover showing a passed out Sid Vicious certainly tells a story, as do most of the other images inside her latest book.

Oddly, now 40 years on, Ray’s punk portraits and surreal snapshots of cultural icons like William S Burroughs, Jello Biafra or Exene Cervenka take on a frozen in time historical significance, with an impact that belies their lively off hand and youthful impromptu actuellement.

She’s a feisty and interesting lady and I enjoy her provocative conversation as well as seeing her artistic work, and encourage all with the ability, get out and do the same!

Viva La Ruby Ray!

Ruby’s photos are viewable at Vesuvio’s daily til 2am at 255 Columbus Ave until Feb 28th 2020



Ruby Ray: Kalifornia Kool: Photographs 1976-1982 (Hardcover)

Punk and industrial culture in late ’70s and early ’80s San Francisco

Spanning music, art and literature, the industrial and punk scenes of San Francisco in the late 1970s and early 1980s were diverse but united by a DIY, anti-authoritarian attitude. Photographer Ruby Ray was there to capture it all in the same spirit. With her work appearing in the legendary punk zine Search & Destroy and its successor RE/Search, Ray was at the epicenter of, and a key participant in, a vital cultural moment vibrant with provocation and creativity. A local experimental music and art scene supported artists like Bruce Conner, William S. Burroughs and Louise Nevelson and attracted groundbreaking bands like Devo, the Mutants, Boyd Rice and the Dead Kennedys, as well as established international bands like Throbbing Gristle, the Clash and the Sex Pistols (in fact, Ray was there to shoot their famous final concert at the Winterland Ballroom).

Ruby Ray: Kalifornia Kool collects the photographer’s images from this time: live shots, backstage parties, apartments overflowing with youthful exuberance, elegant portraits of key people and photographic experiments. Her work captures a time and a place where West Coast open-mindedness, youth, art, music and electricity merged. As Carl Abrahamsson puts it in his introduction to this volume, “Ruby’s images open up a portal to a mythic and frenzied scene and show that it’s true: all mythologies are real.”

Ruby Ray (born 1952) is an American photographer, well known for her photography of the early punk, post-punk and industrial movements in California in the late 1970s and early 1980s. She began her photography career in 1977, when her photographs began appearing in Search & Destroy.


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