Chris Stein/Negative: Me, Blondie and the Advent of Punk at Somerset House
The stunning surroundings of Somerset House currently play host to Chris Stein’s exhibition of works from the dawn of Blondie, the band he founded with Debbie Harry while studying photography and the punk scene. Through it one gains a great sense of family, that they were all supporting one another in their self-discovery. His descriptions of each shot tell a story that further brings them to life.
Upon entry, the viewer is transported into this world brimming with excitement that did not yet know of the influence it would have on music, fashion, art and social beliefs. These are just young people caught in moments of leisure, but delve deeper and you will find themes of unity, hope, wonder, creativity and freedom of expression.
Images of the band depict a vulnerability and tenderness that could only have been captured by an inside member of that family. They are a team, both as subject and artist. Portraits of Debbie Harry form sharp contrast to the flawlessly sensual star we are familiar with, showing instead a young woman forging her way in the world, but refusing to be defined by it.
There is a sense of sadness that tinges many photos, which cloys of unfulfilled promise by bright artists, some of whom never fulfilled their brilliant promise. He speaks of musicians, artists and designers who died young, through drug abuse, cancer and HIV. The viewer cannot help but miss a world that they never experienced; these images are a grateful homage to the impact of those who did survive.
This is not only a retrospective of the people that shaped the band and the scene, but the places as well. Some of the most poignant photos are those that feature not people but the city of New York. In the exhibition description Stein speaks of the city and “the heat of the streets, the fog, the violence, and the desolation; yet the hope in the midst of it all”. This mood is perfectly captured in several photos that depict the streets, slushed with melting snow and abandoned buildings. Yet in those bleak images, there is still beauty to be found in the fact that they have been chosen by Stein as a moment to preserve.
Me, Blondie and The Advent of Punk is at Somerset House until 25th January 2015, for further information visit here.