Phil Spring moved to Chicago back in the late 1980s, but he’s never left Southie behind.
“I’m a Bostonian,” says Spring, better known as the photographer Philin Phlash. “I’m always on the go. These people from the Midwest are always half a step behind me.”
That’s the energy he brought to his nightlife photos, which captured the hectic subculture of art-school punks and all-ages hardcore kids who invaded the clubs and loft spaces around Boston in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Sixty of Phlash’s evocative photos are on display now through the end of November at Time Out Market Boston in the Fenway.
“Fenway Phlashback” features plenty of celebrity shots — David Bowie, John Lee Hooker backstage at the Channel, four young guys in a new Irish band making their first trip to Boston in 1980. There’s also a great portrait of Mitch Cerrulo, the imposing, always meticulously turned-out longtime doorman at the Rat.
But the real stars are the alter-egos — scene-makers answering to names such as Kitty Litter and Julie Chaos — and the unidentified. In one of the “banner”-style enlargements hanging over the market’s communal tables, an unnamed couple strike an instantly iconic New Wave pose against a brick wall. In another shot, a young man stands on the edge of a mosh pit, his nose gushing blood, looking eager to dive back in.
Phlash never considered himself a “punk photographer.” Instead, he went out every night to chronicle the life of a city’s hidden corners, much the way Weegee did for an earlier generation of New Yorkers. Boston’s legendary music scene was “a motivator,” he says, “a tool to get me out there.”
For several years his photos ran in the Boston Phoenix’s weekly roundup, Cellars by Starlight. He also contributed to the Globe and other local papers. One of Phlash’s best-known photos appeared on the cover of “This Is Boston, Not L.A.,” the 1982 compilation album that confirmed the city as a hub of hardcore, and his photos were all over the 1985 documentary “All Ages: The Boston Hardcore Film.”
These days Phlash is busy with his second career, as a dog trainer.
“I have dog telepathy,” he says. “I’m a professional dog player. We chase bunnies and squirrels, and I growl at them.”
Meanwhile, there’s a growing appreciation for his photos. In early 2019 he came to Boston for a reception during a month-long exhibit of his work at the Midway Gallery. More than 600 people attended. Phlash will be on hand at Time Out Market Thursday and Saturday.
“All Ages” was co-produced by Duane Lucia, longtime owner of Gallery East, where he presented Phlash’s first major one-man show in 1981. Lucia, who also runs the West End Museum, curated “Fenway Phlashback” on Phlash’s behalf.
“This is definitely nostalgia,” Lucia says. “It’s something that doesn’t exist today. There aren’t really any alternative clubs or dive bars anymore.
“Everything in Kenmore Square is gone, everything downtown. Cantone’s, the Channel, Maverick’s, all these places have disappeared. So these photographs become almost more important. They remind people of what was, and what could be.”
Lucia has long been a champion of Phlash’s photos.
“I think Phil’s work belongs in the Museum of Modern Art, in the high-end photography archives,” he says. “I don’t think there was a better person to document that scene than Phil.”
James Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.