This Portland Photographer Puts Heavy Metal Battle Jackets in Focus

Peter Beste's Defenders of the Faith turns a lens on metal fans' leather- and denim-heavy regalia.

By Casey Jarman September 23, 2019 Published in the October 2019 issue of Portland Monthly

Portland photographer Peter Beste works on campaigns for Nike and Foot Locker, but when he’s left to his own devices he’s prone to years-long projects documenting subcultures around the world: 2008’s True Norwegian Black Metal, 2013’s Houston Rap Tapes. His latest book, Defenders of the Faith, turns a lens on metal fans from all over the world—Portland included—with a particular focus on their leather- and denim-heavy regalia.

Every metal fan’s patch-sewn “battle jacket” looks a little different. According to Beste, it shows how true the fan is by how authentic the patches are, which festivals they’ve attended, or which bands they’ve seen. “It is an object that gains in value as it deteriorates,” he says. Together, these battle vests create a “visual history of the genre,” claims the book’s publisher, Sacred Bones Records. They also look real cool. Here’s Beste on metal love, Portland’s scene, and his debt to the rapper Scarface. 

Do you consider yourself a metalhead? I’ve had a lifelong love of metal. I grew up on ’80s thrash and hair metal, and while my tastes are quite broad I always seem to come back to heavy metal.

You decided to call the book Defenders of the Faith? One of the concepts I explore in the book is the borderline religious-like passion of die-hard heavy metal fans. In addition to the fans’ attitude, there’s also a linguistic connection: the Germans call their battle vests Kutten, which translates into “monk’s robe.” I’m also a big Judas Priest fan!

Why focus on these jean or leather vests covered in patches, studs, scrawled logos, and the like? The vests themselves—particularly the older ones—appeal to me because of the stories they tell and the childhood memories they evoke. My original idea was to feature photos of vests only, but I decided to expand the idea to include candid moments of the fans who make the vests, to bring in a human element—which is what I ultimately like to photograph.

How does Portland’s metal scene rank compared to other places you’ve been? The metal scene is really great in Portland. There’s lots of talent at the moment. I’ve had the pleasure of working with several fantastic local bands like Uada, Idle Hands, Silver Talon, and Soul Grinder.

While doing your rap book you also spent some time with the recently deceased rap legend Bushwick Bill. What can you tell us about him? Bushwick was one of the many larger-than-life characters I met during my time photographing in Houston. I really got to know the other two members of the Geto Boys better, since Bushwick wasn’t in Houston too much during those years. Scarface kept me from getting my ass kicked by some crazy guy on the street during one of our shoots. Thankfully I made it out of that one alive!

Peter Beste will be signing books at Wyrd War on NE Broadway on October 12

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