by Lee Taylor
The Punk’s Dead book and exhibition gives us a peek at unseen images from Punk’s formative years by a real Punk insider. Simon Barker was a member of the infamous ‘Bromley Contingent’ from 1976 to 1977, and his photography gives a unique snapshot and insight into the early days when the style and look was still coming together. We see early pioneers such as Jordan, Siouxsie Sioux, Poly Styrene and Ari Up before they were famous.
When you think of Punk now, a clichéd image of spiked hair and bondage pants springs to mind. It’s hard to recall the shock and outrage that the movement inflicted on an unsuspecting public back then. More than anything else it was the visual imagery that struck an uncomfortable cord with the mainstream culture of the time. The original pioneers were teenagers bored of the world they found themselves in and full of energy, passion and anger that they channelled into a movement. The look of Punk said it all. Bold, provocative, unafraid to mix and match styles and genres in true DIY style. At the start, some of the main protagonists would simply nick stuff from their granny’s and granddad’s wardrobes and customise away – mix garish colours together and go heavy and jagged with the make up. Traditional notions of male and female beauty were ripped apart along the way. Their anger and frustrations found an outlet as they quite literally turned their ‘revolt into style’.
The Punk’s Dead title of the book and show reflects the feeling that maybe we’re back to where we were – as though Punk never happened. The oppositional force that Punk became has drifted and waned to such a degree that there has been little hostility to events such as the Queen’s Jubilee. This is cleverly highlighted with the inclusion of Barker’s historic series TEA where one photograph shows our Queen back in 1977 in the royal carriage with the Romanian tyrant Nicolae Ceauşescu. So nothing has change – with many of the Middle East’s latter day dictators invited to this year’s Jubilee. Personally I think the virus that was unleashed with punk is still within us. Our need to question, to cock a snoop and sneer at the established order may not be as blatant as it was with Punk but it still lies there latent just below the surface.
Punk’s Dead is at DIVUS Temporary, 4 Wilkes Steer London E1 6QF until 7th July.
The book, also titled Punk’s Dead, was recently published and is available at the show. It features an extended selection of Barker’s unpublished punk archive as well as an introduction by the author, and texts by Michael Bracewell and Peter Tachell.
For more information and details visit www.punksdead.com
Music Article by Lee Taylor