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Thursday, 5 July 2012

Metal postcards from an exhibition

What to make of Simon Barker's Punk's Dead photo exhibition? Well, it's interesting. Photos of punk - photos of anything - are often evocative, moving, sad. TIme lost, time frozen. People trapped in their youth and gawky beauty.

These are like that, then overlaid with three and half decades of cultural commentary. It's a wonder they're not more crushed. Generally, though, they're not. The smiley photos of Susie Hickford, Tracie O'Keefe and the ever-likeable Poly Styrene suggest an un-punk breeziness. And, as others have noted, the rich colours also depart from the more usual punk-era black and white template (of both the contemporary press photos and the typical choice of record sleeve).

In this sense the best of the photos show Jordan in a sunny outdoor setting with a bank of green foliage behind her. It's so un-punk and "exotic" that, paradoxically, it reminds you of the anti-normalness of original punk. By contrast, a look-at-me shot of Billy Idol at The Vortex shouts "classic punk" and is instantly forgettable.

The costumed vampery of Siouxsie is a key part of this little show (it's a snapshot of punk comprising a few pix from a small number of occasions). She's stern, apparently self-conscious, probably short of confidence (I've always read her Grundy appearance that way). But she looks great and knows how to try out styles. But the star of the Barker photos is clearly Jordan, whose geometric face paint - almost wine-stain deforming in its application - is still amazing and provocative a third of a century on.

Jordan, putting on the style

So, yes, check it out (though it ends on 7 July in its current location). And yeah, revel in the punk pix nostalgia if you must (well, I did). But not too much. Every time you go to a photo exhibition about musicians you could, er, go to see a bunch of real-life in-the-present musicians instead (well, if they're both on on the evening but ... oh, you get the point).

And a funny thing happened on the way to the gallery...

The exhibition is in a part of Spitalfields that's the equivalent of Carnaby Street for the modern generation: money, leisure, youth (shades of the Bromley Contingent perhaps). I saw Gilbert (of Gilbert & George fame) pacing by in the street and mentally (re-)registered its new status. It's not a particularly appealing area. But shortly before this I'd also seen a young woman outside an art-cum-music event in a converted Shoreditch brothel and got a glimpse of her striking make-up. In particular, a deep-blue clown-type painted mouth. Pretty good! As Simon Barker says, punk's dead - killed by money, fame and the media - but it also lives on. Jordan's and Siouxsie's legacy is everywhere. Keep painting those lips blue ...

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