Sheila Rock’s iconic candid snaps from the punk era

11.03.13 Words by: Anthony Walker

Sheila Rock is an American-born photographer who has lived and worked in London since 1970. Her career has spanned a diverse range of projects, but really kicked off as an early contributor to The FACE magazine who really helped to document and establish the aesthetic of youth counter-culture in the 1970s and 1980s.

Her second book, ‘PUNK+’, out on the 29th April, is a collection of some 200 photographs taken between 1976 and 1980, and features images of groups like The Clash, The Jam, The Buzzcocks and Siouxsie and the Banshees alongside candid glimpses of the designers, scenesters and raptured audiences that helped to make punk such a vital social and cultural force. As well as the photography, the book is annotated by Sheila Rock’s conversations with Chrissie Hynde, Tony James, Don Letts, Jeanette Lee, Glen Matlock, Chris Salewicz, Jon Savage, Steven Severin, Paul Simonon, Jah Wobble, giving a real and very personal insight into a particularly fertile time for British music.

We’re pleased to present a small preview of ‘PUNK+’ here at Dummy (in the gallery below) and asked Sheila a few questions about the thoughts and processes behind it.

The book is a selection from your own personal photograph collection, how did you go about picking the images you used?

Fabrice, the designer, has a wonderful eye. I trusted him to go through my archive with Sarah Simonon to make the initial selection. Of course, I had my favourites, but they found unusual photos I would have never had considered. They focused on candid shots and found some magic moments from that time .

Which are your particular favourites from the set?

I love the photographs of Subway Sect. They were young and innocent but had a profound sense of their image as a band: eccentric & individual. Rob Symmons remembers I visited the Camden rehearsal studios to shoot the Clash but they weren’t there. He says I was disappointed but decided to photograph the Sect instead. I guess I took these pics of Subway Sect as second best, but I love these photographs. I also enjoyed revisiting the candid shots of the crowd – the kids who were at the gigs & on the street. It’s interesting how they expressed themselves.

Would you say the book is as much focused on punk fashion as it is punk music?

I’ve always thought music & fashion had a strong connection. The photographs in ‘PUNK+’ express so much about youth culture and how music and fashion merge. 

PUNK+’ is tied to specific moments but you also say that “punk was all about changing and surviving”. Do you think the spirit is most alive in any particular place or scene today?

I think Berlin has an exciting energy where there is much experimentation and trying out of new ideas in all areas of cultural life. It’s a place of artists.

PUNK+’ is available to pre-order here and work from the book will be exhibited at a launch opening at Browns on South Molton Street on 25th April and a signing and Q&A session at Rough Trade East on 29th May.