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23 April 2013

In Conversation with Sheila Rock

“Punk.... it was like the Wild, Wild West” Sheila Rock 

It's a mere few days until the anticipated launch of Punk+ at Browns, and we were extremely pleased to meet with the iconic photographer Sheila Rock for a heart-to-heart on punk history, and find out how the accidental culmination of photographs stored in her garden shed would one day lead to an independently produced, limited edition publication. With Punk+ you can expect raw portraits of The Clash, The Jam, and Generation X (to name a few), not to mention a blend of hedonism and narcissism captured behind her lens. 

Sheila Rock will be signing her Rock 'n' Roll memoirs on Thursday April 28th  from 6-8pm. 

We’ve heard that you kept a collection of your photographs in your garden shed - what initially made you want to take them out of storage and create a publication with them? 
It was totally by accident. A publisher from First Third Books came to see me about a completely separate project and mentioned that he liked my very early pictures. I told him that I had kept everything in a box in my shed labelled ‘Raw Fashion’. There were certain pictures of The Clash and John Lydon that I’d kept separate because they’d become so well known. Shortly after I met with Paul Simonon (The Clash) and his sister Sarah for dinner in Paris; they convinced me that they should come and have a look at the images in my shed. When we finally got around to having a look, we were surprised at the amount of content we had; not just music, but fashion, kids on the street and the whole Zeitgeist at the time. And that’s how it happened. 

You had a whole ‘movement’ in your shed; why did you leave them there so long? 
Because I didn't think that they were important. At the time I didn't realise what I was documenting, I was just young and interested in photography. I would have never even considered myself as a photographer, I just knew a lot of people and I had a camera. Towards the end of the 70s I started to get commissions or I’d meet people who’d like me to take a picture of them; it was a completely organic and very punky way of starting my career. 

Your portraits include the The Clash, Sex Pistols and Don't Letts to name a few; do you have a stand-out?
I like the picture of John Lydon in his bedroom, I think it explains a lot about his character and how he’d become a pastiche of Johnny Rotten. I do like the very early Clash picture with a montage of film posters in the background; I just happened to be at their first gig at the ICA and then somehow found myself photographing them. One of the pictures from that shoot became a poster which their manager Bernie Rhodes used for their first Roxy gig. 

They say a picture tells a thousand words, and yours definitely have a distinct narrative; do you have any shocking/hilarious anecdotes behind the images?  
We’d be here all day; from meeting the Bromley Contingent, Siouxsie and the Banshees and then Billy Idol. I remember when I was in the basement of Acme Attractions and by chance, the creator of BOY John Krivine decided that Acme needed to go punk. He told Don Letts to take down all the decorations and replace them with black dustbin bags. That was the beginning of punk for me. 

Fashion and music notoriously go hand-in-hand, but why was it so important to the punk movement? 
I’ve always thought that in the UK fashion and music go hand-in-hand, but it’s not so obvious in the States. 1970s Britain was incredibly poor and I think that economics really influences how young people express their creativity. If you have no money you express yourself through clothes and music. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that punk was the last and most expressive movement. Although, it was really Malcolm Mclaren and Vivienne Westwood that created tabloid punk and a ‘look’ that you could buy.  I remember being at a gig in Aylesbury and all these kids were dressed like replicas of Paul Weller, except their suits were covered in chains and badges; everyone just wanted to be creative and expressive, it was just like the Wild, Wild West. 

Will there ever be a movement like up punk again?
I would like to say definitely, because if not then it’s suggesting that creativity is dead. It will be interesting to see what happens next.

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