Sheila Rock is what you might call a talented and prolific photographer. The US born London based artist has work in the National Portrait Gallery, and since her career took off after a commission from FACE in 1980, has snapped for everyone from Vogue to The Sunday Times. Her latest book PUNK+ is a collection of 119 of her favourite photographs that capture the mood of the early punk period, 1976-1978. Live performances, rehearsals, fashion, boutiques, behind the scenes and on the street, this a recollection of the excitement of the early punk movement and its impact on society, music, culture and style. I thought I would ask more…
The book does not focus on either music or fashion, but sees the two as inseparable. What for you is the relationship between music and fashion?
In the UK, I have always felt that music and fashion are interlinked. They are mutually expressive of one another and often relate to TRIBES that associate themselves with a particular music movement. For young people, it is a way of belonging but also expressing their individuality and making choices.
Is it individuality, or part of being a fan, to absorb the look and feel of the sounds you hear?
Absolutely. It’s an affirmation of the music or movement . You identify with this by wearing a badge or a colour or dressing up. With Punk it was the most extreme and brilliantly expressive.
How long have you been taking photos?
I always thought I started taking pictures in 1980 when I began working for the Face. Before then I would never dream of saying I was a photographer. I was young and inexperienced and didn’t know what I was doing. Except I had an interest and energy and was never someone who sat on the couch. But I guess with these photos, you can say I started taking photos in 1976. The time of Punk.
Either you have a natural skill, or have clearly learned something. Likely a combination of the two. What for you creates a good image or portrait?
Many things make up a good picture. Composition. Strong graphic shape. An honest expression. A caught moment. Trying to get beneath the surface is where you need to focus the lens.
1976-9 seems a very niche time period. Can you explain what was so cataclysmic about it?
Grey England and economic hardship predominated. Something interesting came from this flat time…. Punk. It was an attitude; a way of being individual. I think it was a very creative time.
You talk to a number of great artists and commentators of the period – Chrissie Hynde, Tony James, Don Letts, Glen Matlock, Chris Salewicz, Jon Savage etc – who was particularly enlightening and had some good stories to tell?
Everyone had some interesting stories to tell. From the “Conversation”, you understand that it was an exciting time and influenced all of us. It was everyone’s beginning and a humbling time. We all made a lot of noise…..
That was then. What is on your ‘record player’ at the moment?
David Sylvian. Verve. Placido Domingo. I love to mix things up.
Punk+ is out now, published by First Third Books.