Picture the leather jackets, shades, seventies brights. Unite that with the punk vibe of the Blondie soundtrack. Then imagine the cool white gallery spaces of Somerset House and a host of punk figures gathered in the photographs on its walls – everyone from Joan Jett and Andy Warhol to Iggy Pop and David Bowie. That is Chris Stein / Negative, Me, Blondie and the Advent of Punk, a photography exhibition for Blondie’s 40th anniversary.
Debbie Harry is the clear star. Andy Warhol said if he had plastic surgery, he would want to come out looking like her. A neat blonde crop frames her wide open eyes with feminist determination behind them. In one, beautifully enigmatic photograph, she stares out, defiant, reading a paper with the headline ‘Women Are Just Slaves’. It’s provocative.
This is very much Chris Stein’s exhibition, though. You can feel his curation, his artistry and his relationships at its heart. The placards next to each photograph are written in the first person – personal insights into the lives of the dynamic celebrities of the punk era he captured. One of them describes a photograph from a video shoot for “Picture This” around 1970. Stein notes: ‘Debbie was constantly asked, “How does it feel to be a sex symbol?” Literally that question, over and over again. I always thought it was kind of absurd. Debbie also likes to joke, “I wish I had invented sex – since everyone likes it, huge royalties.”
That was in the 70s. Compare this video circulating now (might want to pause Blondie for a sec here).
The video montage has been made in the wake of Amy Poehler’s #AskHerMore Golden Globes campaign. In it Scarlett Johansson asks: “Why do you get the really interesting, existential questions and I get the, like, rabbit food question?” sat beside Robert Downey Jr. It’s really cool that there was a seventies singer who was speaking out against sexism. Really not cool that we’re still fighting it today.
The exhibition is FREE but you’ll have to get down to Somerset House quick to catch it – ends Sunday 25 January.
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