As someone who thinks that Art is someone who sang with Paul Simon, it is nevertheless enjoyable to walk around the galleries of London and allow some of the good stuff to soak in to the brain, hopefully adding something a little more beneficial than the other things London has to offer at this time of year, such as damp weather, and – no doubt – the flu virus.
One such place to stroll is Somerset House, which has devoted a space amidst its galleries of impressionist art and ice skating rinks to show off the photographs of Chris Stein. The exhibition also marks the occasion of Blondie’s 40th anniversary at a venue where I saw the band perform a few years ago.
Stein was a student of the School of Visual Arts in New York City and began making photographs in 1968 documenting an emergent downtown culture. In 1973 Stein met Debbie Harry and together they co-founded the band Blondie, and helped give birth to the new wave movement. Stein’s photos helped establish Harry as an enduring fashion and musical icon.
The photos on display are remarkable. There’s an early band shot from ’74 with Gary Valentine channeling Ian Hunter with his big curly hair and aviator shades. Another shows Harry perched on the hood of a car outside The Country, Blue Grass and Blues Club – or as you may know it better, CBGB’s…
Blondie’s story is woven into the fabric of a New York that reeks of character and musical history, from the Warhol Factory scene to The Ramones, (of whom Stein says “The Ramones should be up there with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones etc. For a lot of us, they exist in the same realm“).
Also here are images of Richard Hell, Suicide, Lester Bangs, Devo, David Bowie, The B52’s, Iggy Pop (whom Blondie supported on his 1977 The Idiot tour) and Joan Jett, amongst many others.
The exhibition draws you into a number of scenes that feel instantly familiar, perhaps because some of the images and subjects here are so iconic, yet it all happened around 40 years ago.
It really is an extraordinary exhibition and, until someone invents a time machine, is going to be the nearest any of us will get to actually being there, at the birth of New York punk.
Chris Stein/Negative: Me, Blondie and The Advent of Punk´, Somerset House, London WC2,
The exhibition is on from 5 November – 25 January at Somerset House; somersethouse.org.uk.
The book of the same name by Chris Stein (Rizzoli £35) is available nationwide