Interview with Photographer Jorg Bruggeman, Author/photographer of Metalheads.

Spread the metal:

Interview with Jorg Bruggemann by JP

An exciting new Metal themed coffee-table book, METALHEADS – A GLOBAL BROTHERHOOD was recently released and I had the opportunity to speak with author, editor and photographer, Jorg Bruggemann.


Tell us how you came up with the concept for Metalheads. What inspired you to create this book?

In 1991 when I was twelve years old we got MTV at my parents home. It was the time when the “Use your illusions” albums of Guns ‘n Roses came out. Their first single was “You could be mine” and had a music video with snippers from the Terminator 2 movie. That visuals from the video and the guitar riff of the song just got me straight away. Little after that I started listening to Metallica, later to Sepultura and Pantera. Friends of my played in a straight edge hardcore band and we used to hang out at their rehearsal room. It was a very typical socialization with heavy music like millions others experienced it in the ninthies.

My taste of music changed over the years or better to say got more diverse but I never really stop listening to metal and hardcore. Six years ago a very good friend of mine became the manager of the German metalcore band Callejon. I got really interested in his new job, the band and everything that happened with them. We talked a lot about it. Then I saw the documentary “Global Metal” by Sam Dunn and I felt like this could be something to explore deeper. I asked my friend if the band could take me on tour with them and I hopped on their tour bus very now and then for over a year. They took me to small community halls on the German countryside and to Wacken Open Air.

In earlier 2010 I booked a flight to Indonesia just knowing one guy called Wok the Rock who helped me entering the local scene. Three week later I got back to Germany with tons of photos and some amazing experiences richer. Putting the photos from Germany and Indonesia together made me believe that this really could turn out into a project. Later that year I flew to Brazil and and in 2011 I spent time in the USA and in Egypt. I also shot some pictures in Argentina, Malaysia, Switzerland and Austria.

Was it difficult to choose that one image to be the cover of the book? During the editing process how many photos did you work through to make the final selection?

The cover image was chosen by my publisher Robert Klanten from gestalten verlag. I was immediately happy with his decision. Robert really knows best which image works on the cover of a book and I am very thankful for his expertise. I think the image transfers very well the content of the book in a whole and attracts people to look at it.

In total I made about 3000 images for the project. It was shot with an analoge mid-format camera. So first of all I had to make analoge contact sheets in my dark room. After that I scanned about 600 images from which I chose about 250 on my computer in a first editing stage. Of these 250 image I made small prints. With these prints I work during the final editing stage. The final book present 108 of them.

I noticed that unlike many other coffee-table/photo books, METALHEADS, focuses more on the fans rather than the bands?

Books on bands try to sell a dream, the dream of Rock ‘n Roll. This is absolutely legitimate but I was more interested in real people and their life. For me heavy metal is a mainly fan culture. You could describe my approach more as anthological or sociological. I wanted to know why people all over the world cheer up to a music that I have been listening to when I was a teenager. I could relate more to the fans than to the bands. So it was only natural to me to focus on the fans.

What attracted you to this topic as compared to nature or even news journalism?

I believe that in order to produce a significant work in documentary photography one has to have some kind of relation to the subject. I have been socialized with metal when I got into music as a twelve year old. A lot of my friends have been listing to metal music ever since. However I also believe that a certain distance to your subject will also be of great help, because you can look more objective at things. I have not been listening so much to metal for a couple of years before I started the project. This balance between critical distance and sympathizing nearness feels right to me.

Content-wise I have been interested in the globalization of youth cultures for quiet some time now. There is a lot of criticism towards globalization but this aspect seems very positive to me. I like the idea that I have more in common with a metalheads from Malaysia then my neighbor in Berlin. It gives you a home wherever you are in the world. And I also believe that you can tell more about the world that we live in when you concentrate on people’s real life conditions rather than trying to show the big picture like news journalism does. It was my goal to find a universe in the nutshell – telling something general and very human by concentrating on a niché. I believe that people can relate more to this kind of image because they might find a representation of themselves in it.

Why did you decide to include a few essays in the book? Are there any stories about working with the authors to get them to write along the lines of the books theme?

I liked the idea to contextualize the photos. Photography is very limited medium but there were so many stories to be told. My aim has always been to make the book work in the metal scene but also to interest people outside of it. These people need more information about what they are seeing.

We have included very different types of texts in the book. There is an introduction by a professor for cultural sciences, an interview with Mille from Kreator and two essay by German journalist, one on a concert of the Big Four and the other one about the socialization of the author with metal music on the German countryside in the 80ies. In total these four texts give a good overview of what metal can mean to people and through this they add another dimension to the pictures.

Working with the four authors was very easy. I liked their way to write already before I asked them to write for the book. And they understood very well where I wanted to go with the book. So they had the same freedom to write their texts like I had when shooting my photos.

When you were designing the book was there a deliberate attempt to include the juxtaposition of fans in third-world countries compared to those shots in America for example? Did you have a goal to demonstrate that Metal fans around the globe are essentially one…hence the sub-title: ‘The Global Brotherhood’?

Obviously, yes. Metal is maybe the one youth culture where the globalization has worked best. Already in the 80ies bands like Sepultura from Brazil became popular in America and Europe and cassettes were swapped across the whole world. Through satellite TV and the internet this development has been taken to another dimension.

I don’t deny that there are great differences between fan cultures from the different countries I have photographed and I think my pictures show these differences, too. But to a certain degree one can say that you become part of a global brotherhood if you put on a metal shirt no matter where you are in the world. Metalheads recognize each other and have a common background they can communicate about.

By the way, I haven’t photographed in any third-world countries for the project. Indonesia, Brazil of Egypt are all emerging nations with growing industries. Actually it is mostly the kids from the new working classes that start listening to metal in these countries. The stories they tell are often the same one that I grew up with in the coal mining area that I come from in West Germany. The differences aren’t that big anymore as people in the so-called “first world” think.

In your travels did you experience the legendary hospitality and acceptance of fellow Metalheads? Conversely was there anyone (group or individual) who did not see the merit of your work and was non-co-operative?

People were very hospitable to me. In Indonesia people would let me sleep on the floor of their small apartments. They would invited me for meals though they had almost no money. In Sao Paulo metalheads guided me through the very dangerous inner city and in Egypt some metalheads took me to their favorite holiday place by the red sea. There is really no bigger problem I can report of.

For our gearheads out there, what type of equipment do you use?

I shot the project with a Mamiya 7 on 6x7cm mid-format film and I used a shoe mount flash.

Was it easy to get the Nuclear Blast CD sampler included? Did you get any say or input in the track-list?

I was assigned by a German magazine to shoot a reportage at the Nuclear Blast office in 2009. That’s how I got to meet the people at the label. They help me during the production by giving me press tickets for concerts and they have been following my work with a lot of interest. So it was only natural to ask them to contribute to the book. We decided together to only include bands on the sampler who’s concerts I had photographed and we wanted to have a good mixtures of metal genres. They finally decided which songs they would put on the sampler. But obviously all band had to be signed with Nuclear Blast.

How are sales? Do you plan on doing a second edition?

As far as I know the book sells well. A second edition is not yet planned but my publishers is satisfied with how everything turned out.

Do you have words for young aspiring photographers who may want to work in live environment?

Always be informed. Read the news and the cultural page of you newspaper. Know about what has been done in photography before. It is almost impossible to photograph something that has not been photographed before. But you can do it your way and go further. Push your boundaries and work hard towards your goal… and if you want to shoot in a mosh pit, use your elbows.


To read my review of Metalheads go here

Please feel free to visit Jorg’s page.