Lucky Lawler, editor of the NY Waste newspaper, on Robert Butcher

  Robert Butcher is one of my greatest mentors. I met him about a year before I started in the newspaper business. He was running tuesday nights at a joint upstairs, AKA on Houston St., at the same time he was shooting and managing bands like Spitfire America, giving the underground somewhere to play and grow. It was a fun time, even I ended up performing one Xmas time (in Fredericks of Hollywood gear.) After I started the newspaper and I would see him at the NYC Tattoo conventions at Roseland. Upstairs he had set up a dark backdrop drapped like it was a pop-up photobooth, (reminding me of Irving Penn.) He would scout around downstairs among the tattooed and would be tattooed and bring upstairs these beautiful creatures to create something special with his camera. He would send me a pictures from these sessions for publication in my rag, the NY Waste.
There is an ambigutie about him, he is a man of intrigue and I always feel he is more than his sum total and I find that very inspiring.

  “I was born in a bombed out city of Sheffield after WWII. A depressed child I was until I heard Elvis in 1957 and my world took on a a new meaning. No more Doris Day and How Much Is That Fucking Dog Doggy in The Fucking Window, no more Laughing Policeman.
I started to smoke cigarettes around then. I've always smoked, I was born with a cigarette in my mouth. My mother smoked all the way through her pregnancy, what did she know - what the fuck did anybody know, (Prime Minister) Harold McMillan was sprouting, “you've never had it so good,” while we were still on rationing.”

  Robert Butcher's family migrated to Perth, Australia in 1964. There, following an industrial machine accident, he was given his first camera by his father - a Minolta rangefinder adapted so Robert could shoot with just his left hand. With his reconstructed arm, and upon returning to England in 1967 to study photography at Twickenham College of Technology just outside London, Butcher became enamored with the work of Guy Bourdin and Henri Cartier Bresson, as well as the 60s Swinging London cultural scene.

  After returning home to Australia in 1971, he embarked on a career as a fashion, advertising and music photographer, first in Perth, then in Sydney, shooting throughout '70s and early '80s. His photography credits of this time include such titles as Australian Vogue, Mode, and Cleo magazines, as well as portraits of Led Zeppelin, Little Stevie of the Easybeats, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, and Stéphane Grappelli (Robert's adopted French god father.) His album cover work of the period includes MEO 245 Screen Memory, the award-winning photo for the Midnight Oil album cover Place Without a Postcard, along with iconic album cover shot for Rose Tattoo.

  Relocating to New York City in 1983, he immersed himself in NYC’s downtown world, shooting for magazines such as Details, New York Talk, Paper, the Village Voice and later on the New York Waste, photographing rockers including Cheetah Chrome, and portraits of various infamous beauties of the East Village.

  A portrait of one of these tattooed sirens, Nadège, came to the attention of Outlaw Biker magazine, initiating Butcher’s tattoo photo period, in which he brought a fashion sensibility to tattoo photography - a ground-breaking combination.

  Every time we pass certain street advertising panels, Butcher mumbles angrily, “That's mine and someone else gets paid.”

  “The reason that I got fed up with fashion at the time was because I was tired of being hurt by my couture clients. The main one, that will remain nameless, I started photographing her line when she was just a very small company, I had designed the way to photograph her look, it was simple and elegant. Her company grew to a phenomenal size, I was shooting her range 4 times a year, flying back and forth to Sydney to shoot for other magazines over there... I was digging fashion then, I had to turn away clients who wanted me to shoot in the style of my client, cause I'm fucking loyal like that. Anyway I turn up in Spring to do what I think will be my usual shoot with her and I'm told that they are now going to use a new production company and take the branding from in-house and they want to use their own photographer... What could I do but accept it. This was years ago, back in the late '80s and early '90s... anyway the client is still in business and her advertising is all over town and one could swear that I'm still shooting for her, the lighting, the posing, the simplicity is all mine... I bumped into her in the garment centre and she came running up to me and threw her arms around me and thanked me very much for everything that I had done for her in the past... but I could still feel the daggers in my back.”

  “Around that time I was immersing myself in the music scene down the LES, meeting incredible people, and drifted into the tattoo world thanks to Nadège. I was accepted into this community because I respected their art and photographed it in a way not seen before (anyway that's what I was told,) I just bought a fashion sensibility into it. I never had a tattoo myself, never wanted an identifying mark on my body in case I had to run away and hide out in Rio or some place like that... never wanted to be that guy with a dragon tattoo on his back with interpol looking for me... so in the tattoo world I was at a convention in another state or country nearly every week, and if I wasn't traveling I was doing stories in NYC.”

Shooting the tattooed in a simple banquet room, a hotel room or even broom closet whatever was handy, always shooting Ektachrome at 100 ASA which makes the mathematiques of photography easier, he was, in fact, documenting the NY Tattoo scene while it was still illegal and underground and vibrant.

“Everyone was an outlaw, my kind of people.”

  Back in the city Butcher settled down in a double store front on 3rd St. between A and B, a place he could live and shoot in. Lunacy ensued. Parties, crazy photoshoots, dogs barked, wild rock n' roll characters came and went.

  “I kinda retired from the tattooed world, after having problems with a publisher, he lost 1400 original never to be shot again photographs, so I sued him at the going rate at $10 a chrome. He even sent bikers around to warning me off from taking him to court. I actually wanted to pursue it, but my lawyer chickened out.”

  “The Italian's later approached me. They bought out the rest of my backlog of tattoo pictures and asked me if I would shoot for them, tattoos, tattoo conventions, covers, stuff.
I eventually started my own publishing company and licensed the Italian magazine that I would add and share content with. I even started my own magazine called TEAR, but my board of directors didn't understand it, a new editor changed the direction of it... I had conceived it as being urban, but it turned into a lowbrow art magazine. The job was killing me, it was a 24/7 situation. I was sinking too much money into it... some cunt told me that you had to spend money to make money... guess they never had a magazine that an advertising director never sold one fucking ad.”

  Chaos was looming. Butcher was supposed to be in the Towers on 9/11 but was running late. A week later he was involved in a home invasion, they tried to shoot him, but the gun misfired, they ran away: “It was in Brooklyn, I knew one of the guys... he was a street dealer and even though both of them wore balaclavas, his sleeve rolled up and I recognized the tattoo as one that I had organized for him. His street name was Smokey, he was found dead of an overdose a few months later. It was all too much, my sanity was at stake. I started using again... I even opened an art gallery in Berlin that I never visited and in 2004 I burnt the company, shut everything down. I was burnt out.”

  Butcher disappeared for 12 years, everybody thought he was dead.
Then, in 2012, many years after an email I had sent to him to meet for lunch, he finally responded.
Since his reemergence on the downtown NY scene, looking a bit worse for wear and tear, he is back finally getting recognition with an Acker Award, and finding new inspiration from Zoe Hansen, Raffaele, Wendy Scrips. Butcher has returned to shooting the sirens and other misfits for gallery shows and his book.