CNN Photos

‘I was a teenage paparazzo’

In the late 1970s and early 80s, in the hotbed of Los Angeles, Brad Elterman was there, camera ready. As a teenager, he had exclusive access to some of the hottest celebrities.

“I was a teenage paparazzo,” he said.

At the age of 16, while most young people were learning to drive, Elterman was begging his brother to loan him his camera so he could take pictures of legendary musicians and movie stars, such as Joan Jett, David Bowie, John Travolta and Brooke Shields – the list goes on.

It was a different time, before the TMZ era. Fans could bring cameras into concerts, and maybe run into their favorite pop star at a hotel and be allowed to photograph them.

Celebrity photography was done on a much smaller level, Elterman said.

“There weren’t all these guys with video cameras being shoved in your face. There wasn’t this hunger to sell these pictures for big bucks, just a kid or two with a camera and that was it.”

Everything he captured was in the moment, from Paul Stanley of KISS eating an ice cream bar to Bob Dylan meeting Robert De Niro backstage.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “I had a lot of freedom to do these pictures.”

There was no need for him to party or do drugs, Elterman said. His rush came from taking the pictures.

He returned home full of adrenaline and developed the film in the early hours of the morning. When his parents woke up around 7:30, he would still be up washing the prints in the kitchen sink.

After drying the prints, he wrote the captions on the back, stamped them, put them into envelopes and went to the post office to send the photographs to a handful of media outlets around the world.

By the mid-1980s, the tone started to change. Many of the bands he photographed had broken up and the public relations people started moving onto the scene.

“You basically needed to have a pass with a gold star on it,” he said.

Security became tighter, and it was becoming much more difficult to reach the celebrities he loved and admired.

“I woke up one morning and just decided I didn’t want to do it anymore.”

Elterman ended up putting his cameras and photographs away in storage for more than 20 years.

A few years ago he started to post the images online.

“All the kids today are totally enamored with that era,” he said.

And how could they not be? Elterman was able to capture a glimpse of a different time and tell tremendous stories to a younger generation.

“My Tumblr kids got me to take pictures again,” Elterman said of his fans. He has become a prolific blogger on Tumblr, with more than 300,000 followers.

He also started making movies, starting with a short film telling how he got his first camera.

“The story is about relationships and my quest for independence,” he said. “I have been taking film directing and screenwriting classes at UCLA.”

The title of his recently released book, “Dog Dance,” was a phrase Elterman heard often from Kim Fowley, the colorful and often offbeat producer of “The Runaways.” It was a term Fowley used to describe a gathering.

“He would have his own unique vocabulary – dog this, dog that – and he would say I am having a dog dance at my apartment; come on over!”

– Kacy Burdette, CNN

Brad Elterman's "Dog Dance," published by Damiani, is now available. Rising photographer Sandy Kim curated the book and Olivier Zahm, the publisher of Purple magazine in Paris, provided the forward.