Ansel Adams’ famous quote about technical proficiency in photography is more apt today than ever. Camera manufactures and photography ‘gearheads’ continue to peddle a narrow narrative concerning the importance of mathematically machined photographic equipment and its importance if you want to ‘shoot like a pro’. British photographer Pennie Smith has proven otherwise. Her iconic photo of Paul Simonon smashing his guitar on stage during a show in New York City in 1979 is a perfect example of the visceral power of an imperfect photograph that is perfectly flawed. It’s out of focus and grainy. A technocrats worst nightmare. Yet it became one of the most famous images in Rock’n’Roll when used as cover art for The Clash’s London Calling album. A fuzzy photo that captures the energy and vitality of life will always win out against a sterile photo that’s perfectly sharp.
Interview with Pennie Smith via Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/showstudio-official/showstudio-punk-photography-4
Rock ‘n’ Roll and photography are made for each other. My early visual education was informed and inspired by music photography commissioned by the NME – a British music journalism magazine that had its heyday during the emerging punk period in the late 70s. Along with incisive and intelligent writing from Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons, the magazine also hired “hip young gunslingers” to take the photos. Photographers like Anton Corbijn and Pennie Smith, who shot the famous photo of The Clash’s Paul Simonon smashing his guitar on stage. Smith’s iconic photo went on to appear as the cover album art for The Clash’s seminal “London Calling”. Rumour has it that the NME is on its last legs. A “victim” of the irrepressible digital onslaught? I think not. Like many creative endeavours today, we’ve all forgotten what makes something interesting, something compelling. NME will probably crash and burn as a result of pandering to market research “experts”. Like politicians who have nothing to say, creative people are also asking the market what they want to see and hear. All we want is to hear and look at is something that has soul. A point of view that challenges how we perceive things. Something that isn’t boring. Too much to ask?
Great series of images by Christopher Furlong that record events at a boutique music festival for Punk and Ska fans in Morecambe UK. Difficult to explain the raw energy and excitement of a musical movement that blew away the stifling banality of corporate culture in the 70’s. It could be successfully argued that we have returned to that cultural stasis today. Joe Strummer, lead singer of The Clash, summed up succinctly the purity of the Punk ethos in this quote shortly before his untimely death in 2002. “I’d define it as self-awareness: an ability to trust your own judgement. An ability to see through veils of bullshit or spins on stories or propaganda. Maybe an ability to think for yourself.” I had the great fortune to see The Jam and The Clash live in the late 70’s – I have the perforated eardrum to prove it:)