There have been many months of chance meetings, hints and even some begging and pleading but my friend, photographer CC has finally allowed me to see part of her collection of photographs taken in and around the King’s Road in the 1980s. I’m not going to give you a whole lot of social/fashion history by way of introduction but for the few who don’t remember, the King’s Road, having been part of a fashion revolution in the 1960s did the whole thing again in the 1970s and 1980s when punk came along and suddenly a new teenage tribe was parading through London.
A few weeks ago I featured some street scenes from the King’s Road in the 1990s photographed by Bill Figg. I made the point that Bill knew there was something new in Chelsea which needed to be photographed, but he just wan’t quite sure what it was, and I imagine he found the idea of taking photographs of people in the street a little daunting. Well that’s true even today in the era of street style photography. But in the punk era part of the point of the new fashion /anti fashion was to to be seen, and whether you were admired or denigrated by the “normal” world didn’t make much difference. Punk was either a step forward into a new weird scene or a threat to civilization. What I sometimes have to explain to people who weren’t around then was that it was both playful and serious. CC was around then, camera in hand, and set off to record what she saw. Unlike our friend Mr Figg she understood what she was looking at and had an artist’s eye for what she saw.
This picture was taken outside Chelsea Old Town Hall. What strikes me most is the precision of the look, as carefully constructed as any Regency dandy. Punk began out of a kind of do it yourself style. Like this young man, improvising with found objects.
The style developed although it retained that improvised element.
Some people like to be photographed, some don’t. CC’s rule of thumb was ask – Can I take your photograph? – and if the answer was no, just walk away. Quite a lot of people said yes.
These two were quite happy to pose, even revealing the all-important rear view.
In the early days it was always useful to walk around as a duo.
There was a certain amount of hostility from the straight world so it helped to have a friend, and look like you could resist any physical abuse. My recollection of London in this period was that it was a little more violent than it is today (although knives and guns were a lot rarer then) and it took a certain amount of bravery to be a punk.
You should blame me for the colour in this image. the original is a slide, which I scanned not entirely successfully. But I wanted to use a picture of a striking young woman.
Here is another.
A picture taken in a tattoo parlour in the Great Gear Market.
As the 80s progressed some of the punks became New Romantics.
And the modern boys and girls got jobs in King’s Road shops.
Outside Boy. This young man was one of CC’s favourite subjects. (Look at the size of his Walkman) This is his girlfriend.
Another willing subject from the same vicinity.
The teenage tribes morphed onwards. Punk was followed by New Romantics, Goths and other less definable looks. What didn’t change in the 80s was the desire to get out there and be seen.
CC also photographed her friends. Her is her hair stylist dressed up for a party as a famous 80s person.
You don’t need me to tell you who.
You also might not need me to identify one of this duo posed outside the Chelsea Potter.
Leigh Bowery and Trojan, both sadly no longer with us. CC saw them being photographed by David Bailey and asked if she could take a picture as well. Neither of them could resist posing for one more shot. Showing off was the essence of the art of being seen.
My thanks to CC for supplying these pictures. None of them are part of the Library’s collection and copyright is retained by the photographer. If anyone wishes to reproduce them in a professional capacity I can put you in touch.
And if you like them, there may be more. And of course if you are one of CC’s subjects, please leave a comment.
You could say that Tom Petty, who died sadly young this week at the age of 66, doesn’t belong with punks and new romantics even though his career began with a 1978 album. But death isn’t neat, so once again I’m noting the passing of a musical hero. Tom Petty’s music looked back to the 60s as well as forward in to the 80s and he captured the essence of the times in many memorable songs. many of the tributes and features have mentioned “American Girl”, quite rightly, but I was drawn back to another song on his first album.
“…didn’t go to bed, didn’t go to work/ picked up the telephone and told the boss he was a jerk….
…I know what I want, I want it right now / While electric guitars are playing way up loud..”
Anything that’s rock’n’roll’s fine ”
A sentiment few old punks would argue with.