Contributing Editor

All style, all fun. No inhibitions, no haircuts. David Yellen‘s “Too Fast For Love” (powerHouse books, 2004) portrays a cultural moment that keeps on living: heavy metal. Yellen’s portraits of fans, made over the course of three months in the summer of 2000, captures the eccentricities of this subculture. Photographed typologically and bound in an intimately-sized book, Yellen presents a dramatic cast of characters.

‘Too Fast for Love: Heavy-Metal Portraits’

Aesthetically, Yellen made some choices that serve his project well. The harsh flash lighting complements his subjects’ proclivities for sparkly and/or leather clothing and tousled hair. The lighting puts the spotlight on the fans, briefly bestowing on them the glamour of an arena amphitheater. It also underexposes the backgrounds in many images, creating moodily dark skies and further pumping up the drama quotient. His compositional formula, however, took his mission of portraiture too literally, with almost every picture is a dead-on shot of one or two people.

One of the strongest images shows how much the project could have benefited from a greater willingness to trust serendipity. It shows a scene with two women backstage wearing oddly vacant expressions above their vinyl bikinis, a band crowded in the dressing-room door behind them. This rare deviation from the strict “portrait” raises interesting questions about the enduring cultural role of music as an arena in which to explore taboo themes and activities.

Most of these subjects are Dressing Up, and the seriousness of their task layered onto the pure fantasy of the costume is a great mix. Although Yellen is drawn to the zanier fashions, even those who could fit in at the local supermarket are tilting their hips just so, squinting their eyes just so, to imply a killer mix of sexuality and confidence despite their advanced years or less-than-perfect looks. There are many hilarious moments in the book, but some of the best pictures read more subtly. In a picture of two women behind a stage barrier, the younger, slimmer, and more attractive is on the left, but the star of the picture is on the right, a plump, plain-faced woman with a stunning cascade of golden blond hair. The potential for such transformation — whether from the reality of what you look like or the reality of what your life is like — is the kernel of insight that elevates the project from freak-show humor to sensitive perception.

The book closes with thumbnail images paired with date and place of the picture’s making. With such a quick and dirty project duration, the thumbnails seem like an anthropological attempt to restore “authenticity.” This labeling is ill-suited to the project; all we need to know is in the pictures. Perhaps the choice has something to do with the bizarre PR wrangling between Yellen and his ex-wife, painter Helen Garber. Garber claims the photos were made by Yellen at her bidding as source material for her paintings, and the project was robbed from her by him. Broken hearts, stolen dreams … sounds like a heavy metal anthem. [2005.02] 

Book: ‘Too Fast For Love‘ by David Yellen (foreword by Chuck Klosterman), powerHouse books, 160 pages, hardcover. More info.