Sunday, January 25, 2015

Chris Stein/Negative

I thought I was too late with this, as Chris Stein/Negative: Me, Blondie, and The Advent of Punk was meant to close today, but this exhibit of photos by Stein has been extended to 8 February. Very good news for lovers of punk/New Wave and New York's indigenous contribution, the very grotty No Wave.

Best known as guitarist for Blondie, Stein has a fine eye and a long-standing practice as a documentary photographer working in black and white. As one might expect for one so engrained in the New York music scene, Stein's work provides an entree to the CBGBs crowd and their cohort, including a lovely portrait of Basquiat. But, he also captures some of the West Coast contingent, with many shots of a very young Joan Jett, including her lounging in her "notorious Los Angeles apartment", handcuffs and other accoutrements dangling above her head. "Wahey!" I noted to my friend B., a punk veteran who had seen pretty much everyone in the bygone era and was thrown into many a reverie, including one recollection of time spent at Jones Beach under some influence, ahem.

My eye was taken by a shot of a handsome blond head spied from across the room. "Oh, Billy Idol!" I thought. But, no. On close inspection, it was none other than The Avengers' Penelope Houston, looking more androgynous than usual. Sadly, the caption identified her band as hailing from Los Angeles, rather than San Francisco, which led to much tsking on my part.

In addition to the star names, there are many shots of long-gone and not so well-remembered figures, many dead from HIV or drug abuse, which illustrates the other side of 1970s New York. While many rhapsodise over its magnetic and creative qualities, I well remember the city as being pretty seedy and grim in many ways. One shot shows Debbie Harry reclining on a car. The caption notes the hood (bonnet) is sealed with a lock to prevent battery theft. Yes, really.

Debbie Harry by Chris Stein
I hadn't mentioned Harry up to now, but she is the undisputed star of the show. Not surprising, as she and Stein lived and worked together back in the day. And he obviously found many opportunities to work her into photos. And, let's be honest, who wouldn't? There's Debbie standing by a window, backlit like a Bond girl. Debbie on a train somewhere on tour, looking amazing in a beret. "A classic look", observed Bev. And she's on quite a few postcards, too. "Picture This", indeed.