Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery in Seattle celebrates ground zero of grunge with the exhibit "Charles Peterson: Taking Punk to the Masses," which opens May 14, 2011.

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Rewind a couple of decades, before Seattle became known for grunge.

Punk rock ruled the fringe, and the bands and fans involved in the scene never thought it would culminate in a genre that would define the region.

This weekend, Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery celebrates Ground Zero of grunge with the opening of the exhibit “Charles Peterson: Taking Punk to the Masses.”

Peterson’s photographs of local bands and their fans became as much a part of the 1980s and ’90s as the music; his work is also showcased in the exhibit now at Experience Music Project, “Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses,” and a companion book.

“I was wondering why this kid was bothering to take photos,” said Larry Reid, curator of the Fantagraphics show, of Peterson.

Now, flipping through the photos, Reid remembers each scene as if it happened yesterday. Drawn to the energy of the music, Reid was a good decade older than many in the scene then. He shepherded the artists by promoting their shows and allowing them to play in his gallery’s basement.

“I can recognize the artists by their shoes,” said Reid, looking through the photos.

Unlike the EMP exhibit, where everything is sealed and protected, this exhibit will be like being in the period. Reid plans on transforming the Georgetown bookstore/gallery into a grunge-era record store. With vintage Seattle punk posters, records and ephemera, it will resemble Fallout Records, the iconic Capitol Hill skateboard and record shop that closed in 2003. Store co-founder Russ Battaglia will spin period music at the exhibit.

Peterson’s photos will take over one side of the store. The images are uninhibited — Peterson showcases the artists’ raw passion, allowing his flashes to stream into waves of light in the black and white photos. Like the music, the photos are gritty — full of sweaty foreheads, drunken faces and hair all over the place. Nothing is touched up.

“It’s important that people know that this was this really vital period in underground music before Nirvana,” said Peterson, 47. “It gets overlooked.”

A University of Washington student at the time, Peterson lugged his Nikon F into clubs, not knowing if the photos would be important, or who would even show up. This was before digital cameras, of course, and he couldn’t check the photos until they were developed. Nowadays, it is his photos that tell the story of the period, and he spends more time archiving them out rather than making new ones.

Joining Peterson’s photos are cartoons by Peter Bagge, another artist who defined the period’s attitude with his comic-book series “Hate.” The satire was about a New Jersey youth settling into Seattle during that era. At the exhibit’s opening party, Bagge will be signing copies of the recently released “Hate Annual #9” comic and his “Yeah!” collection.

And later that night, a concert at the bookstore’s neighboring Mix nightclub will also play music form the period, featuring musician/producer Steve Fisk, who worked with Nirvana and Soundgarden.

“The show is kind of like coming full circle,” said Peterson.

Marian Liu: 206-464-3825 or mliu@seattletimes.com