Sheila Rock for PUNK+

It’s a Wednesday evening in London. The weather is not exactly warm but balmy enough for those belonging to the Spitalfields Society to adorn their summer style. Ladies clad in tea dresses that show off bare knees loll around outside grimy pubs drinking bottles of Rekorderling next to their bearded beaus who’ve swapped skinny black jeans for slim chinos. This is a part of the capital I know and love so well but am shunning for a trip down to London’s punk Memory Lane.

I am at the Q&A and signing event for PUNK+; the limited edition book that presents a fresh view of the punk movement through the lens of renowned photographer Sheila Rock.

Rock is perched on a high stool with her Apple Mac laptop placed on a ladder to her right, which will project some of her iconic images. Her good friend Don Letts, a British film director and musician who was also immersed in the punk rock movement, sits next to her on her right and acts as a compere to the evening. She’s decided she doesn’t want this event to be a Q&A but more of a presentation of what Punk+ is all about.

She starts with three images of London in the 1970s by John Savage. They’re atmospheric shots of the London that Rock encountered when she first moved here. It’s pretty grim. ‘I don’t know if you remember London like this?’ she asks. ‘Oh yes!’ a chorus of voices from the audience cries.

‘London has become a completely different place now,’ she goes on to say. ‘But out of this grittiness, this greyness, this poverty, came an incredible energy that both Don and I were able to experience when we were young. It was our beginning. The start of our careers.’

‘The reason why punk has had this long lasting legacy is because it wasn’t just the soundtrack. It was very much a complete subculture,’ Letts says. Not only were people picking up an instrument but people were moved to pick up a pen, a stills camera or become graphic designers or film makers. ‘That was the power of punk. It was about expressing yourself. It was all pervasive.’

Names highly regarded in the punk movement are dropped by Rock and Letts such as Jeannette Lee; an important person in the punk scene who’s now co-owner of Rough Trade and unable to be here tonight because she’s in Venice with Jarvis Cocker. Writer Jon Savage, founder of The Roxy Andy Czekowski (who’s hiding in the back acting all shy) and Chrissie Hynde are also mentioned with fondness as photographs of them are projected on the screen.

Photos that Rock are most proud of are ones she took of The Clash during rehearsals. Then there’s the image of Johnny Rotten, taken in his flat. ‘I particularly like this picture because John is incredibly provocative in front of the camera and he’s great to photograph,’ says Rock. ‘But I feel as if I’ve caught a moment. Something about him…because he’s not actually playing to camera.’

Rock has only shown a fraction of images from the book but we’ve been given a tip of the tongue taste of the vibe and energy of what was happening during the punk movement. PUNK+ is a lavish book that archives some of her important work in music photography.

PUNK+ is available to purchase from the First Third Books website 

The Sheila Rock and PUNK+ book signing and Q&A was held at:

Rough Trade East
Old Truman Brewery
91 Brick Lane
E1 6QL

Image from ribbonaroundabomb.com

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