By day, cobbler Greg Papazian runs the family business. But at night, he photographs some of music’s biggest stars—past and future.
- Written byLinda Grasso
At Eddie’s Shoe Repair, you can’t help but notice the iconic photographs that adorn every iota of wall space. From Rod Stewart to Ike & Tina Turner to Elvin Bishop, the striking images hint of a rock fan … a collector … or more.
“My line that I tell people is, ‘I couldn’t afford to buy these, so I had to make them myself,’” Greg Papazian chuckles. Indeed, the scribbled signature in each image’s corner is his own.
The third-generation cobbler has something of a double life. By day he repairs and spruces up footwear. But at 5:00 p.m, Greg, somewhat gleefully, transforms into a first-class rock ‘n’ roll shooter.
His career as a cobbler seemed almost predestined. In 1946 his grandfather opened the Sherman Oaks shop, and in the ‘50s his dad took the business over. By the time Greg was a student at Van Nuys High School, he was working there too.
“As a teenager, I’d shine shoes for 20¢. I had a good camera but wanted a better one. My dad owed me $350 for all the 20¢ shoe shines I’d done, so I was able to get a new camera.”
He immediately put his new toy to work, going to every local concert he could. In those days, you could go to a music venue and freely snap away, and the teen started selling photos to fellow students.
The hobby turned into more at an Allman Brothers concert at the Whiskey A Go Go. Greg went backstage and passed out a few photos. The club’s owner caught wind of one and called Greg to ask if he wanted to be the official photographer for the Whiskey. Before long, he was also getting hired by record labels like Warner Bros. and Capitol Records.
According to Greg, back in the ‘60s and ‘70s you could really be creative with the big stars. “Photographers would get a backstage pass and get access to almost everything—like rehearsals and when the band was just hanging out. Almost nothing was off-limits. It was great.”
And then in 1976, suddenly, it was over. “I didn’t think I could make a living doing it. I didn’t have a business sense, and I couldn’t figure out how to make money with it.” So Greg joined his dad at the shoe repair shop—ultimately taking it over in 1989.
Then in 2009 a friend encouraged him to print some of his old pictures for a gallery show. It was a hit, and Greg started using his camera again. But instead of shooting established musicians, he now aims for up-and-coming acts.
“It is just more fun. It is like the old days when you had access. If I were shooting famous musicians nowadays, I’d be grouped with the paparazzi. And that doesn’t appeal to me.”
Greg considers himself the official photographer of two teenage acts: Abi Ann, a country/pop singer, and Diamante, a rocker. “Both are really talented. I have never shot anyone whose music I didn’t like. And I never intend to.”