Tour de Force: Interview with Henry Rollins

In anticipation of Henry Rollins’ coming travel slideshow tour, Collide’s resident photographer gets up close and personal with the punk rock legend.

These days, Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins graces the stage as a solo spoken word act, riffing on music, politics, humanity, and recounting his extraordinary global experiences  he’s hit Antarctica, North Korea, and Burma, to name a few  for his many fans. Soon, you can catch his Showtime special Henry Rollins: Keep Talking, Pal (airing August 10) and he’s recently announced a U.S. tour focusing on his personal travel photography. There’s still plenty of storytelling, but now his rapt audience gets the accompanying visuals.

Collide’s resident photographer put down his camera to get up close and personal with his  longtime punk rock idol Henry Rollins to talk travel etiquette and photography. Read on for Rollins’ best advice for new travelers, lessons learned, and what’s next.

Henry Rollins / Shaun Regan

I was lucky enough to check out your Travel Slideshow back in January. I enjoyed your photos of people showing real emotion, especially those you shared from your book OccupantsHow do you approach people that may have some trepidation or are scared of the camera?
I ask if I can take their photo, rather than just walk up and start shooting. Politeness and respect go a long way. It’s a bit much to be a guest in someone’s country and treat the people there like they’re the unwitting parts of your documentary. I try to eliminate any idea of being a voyeur. It’s one of the reasons I shoot with a wide lens. I am forced to get up close.

How do you break the ice with strangers in foreign lands?
For me, it’s a combination of honest curiosity, politeness and cultural awareness. It’s been my experience that if you are aware of where you are and are polite and really want to know, people will often be very accommodating. If you’re ready to get laughed at if someone thinks you’re kind of strange or whatever, then you can see a lot. A lack of judgment is key.

Equipment wise…I’ve read in your books that you have shot with Canon 5D and 1dX. Do you use other cameras when you want be less conspicuous?
I use the 5D almost exclusively. It’s all the camera I need. I usually travel alone and go for weeks at a time, so weight is a consideration. As the years go on, the less gear I take. I’ll always bring two lenses but only bring one body now. I have a Lumix, which I take on short trips in case I want to take photos but don’t want to haul around a lot of gear. It’s a handy camera.

“Work is vengeance, and I’m always working.”

You have a tremendous work ethic and intense travel schedule, what drives you to keep your schedule full?
I really have nothing else going on besides work. I’m at my best when I’m working on something. Work is vengeance, and I’m always working.

Henry Rollins at Riot Fest 2015 / Shaun Regan

While shooting photos around the world, have there been instances when you had any close or dangerous encounters?
Not really. You do what you can to lower the odds of a bad encounter but in a city, you take your chances. One of the things I do, like if I go into a village, I keep the camera put away and get a feel for the place and then on the way out, take photos. If I’ve angered someone somehow or attracted the wrong kind of attention with the camera on the way in, someone might be waiting for me on the way out. One time in India, I saw three guys check me out and start to move in. One was a lookout, one was the tough guy and the other was the guy who makes contact. I caught on within seconds of them starting. The distraction guy sat down next to me and started trying to engage me in conversation. I said some carefully chosen words to the man and he got up and looked at his friends and they left. Perpetual alertness and the ability to read streets is helpful if you’re on your own with gear.

What would you say to an American thinking about traveling the world or leaving the country for the first time?
Read up on where you’re going. Not only on the historical aspect but the cultural. You want to be polite no matter where you are. In parts of the Middle East or Central Asia, you want to make sure you’re not being offensive when interacting with people. What you think is a non issue might be quite another thing somewhere else.

“…almost all people are essentially good.”

What was the most surprising thing you’ve learned about people in your travels?
That almost all people are essentially good. Now and then, you meet some truly awful ones but by and large, they’re good. I’ve been to places where it would be very hard to live your life, yet people do it and they are kind. It took me years of going to tough places to understand how someone could be smiling in such hard conditions. This is when I started learning more about people.

Henry Rollins / Shaun Regan

Can you share some projects you are currently working on?
A few book projects that will come out starting later this year. Tour dates that go from mid September to late December. Past that, I’m editing another book for 2020 release and getting ready to hit the road.

Watch Henry Rollins: Keep Talking, Pal on Showtime (airs August 10) and catch Henry’s travel slideshow tour starting next month.

Henry Rollins Tour Dates
9/17/2018    Royal Oak Music Theatre – Royal Oak, MI
9/18/2018    Southern Theatre – Columbus, OH
9/19/2018    Ohio Theatre – Cleveland, OH
9/22/2018    The Andy Warhol Museum Theater – Pittsburgh, PA
9/23/2018    Egyptian Room at Old National Centre – Indianapolis, IN
9/24/2018    Thalia Hall – Chicago, IL
9/25/2018    Thalia Hall – Chicago, IL
9/26/2018    Turner Hall Ballroom – Milwaukee, WI
9/27/2018    Ames Center – Burnsville, MN
9/28/2018    Barrymore Theatre  –  Madison, WI
9/29/2018    Hoyt Sherman Theatre  –  Des Moines, IA
9/30/2018    Icon Lounge – Sioux Falls, SD
10/1/2018    Rococo Theatre – Lincoln, NE
10/2/2018    The Pageant – Saint Louis, MO
10/3/2018    The Englert Theatre – Iowa City, IA
10/4/2018    Liberty Hall  – Lawrence, KS
10/5/2018    Orpheum Performing Arts Center – Wichita, KS
10/6/2018    Gillioz Theater – Springfield, MO
10/8/2018    Tower Theatre – Oklahoma City, OK
10/9/2018    Kessler Theater – Dallas, TX
10/10/2018    Heights Theater – Houston, TX
10/12/2018    KiMo Theatre – Albuquerque, NM
10/14/2018    Boulder Theater – Boulder, CO
10/15/2018    Avalon Theater – Grand Junction, CO
10/16/2018    The State Room – Salt Lake City, UT
10/17/2018    Egyptian Theatre – Boise, ID
10/18/2018    Bing Crosby Theater – Spokane, WA
10/19/2018    Neptune Theatre – Seattle, WA
10/20/2018    Capitol Theatre – Yakima, WA
10/21/2018    Aladdin Theater – Portland, OR
10/22/2018    McDonald Theatre – Eugene, OR
10/23/2018    Rogue Theatre – Grants Pass, OR
10/24/2018    Cargo @ Whitney Peak Hotel – Reno, NV
10/25/2018    Herbst Theatre – San Francisco, CA
10/26/2018    Crest Theatre – Sacramento, CA
10/27/2018    Rio Theatre – Santa Cruz, CA
10/28/2018    Visalia Fox Theater – Visalia, CA
10/29/2018    Fremont Theater – San Luis Obispo, CA

photo by: Shaun Regan