Monday, 29 December 2014

Christ Stein/Negative at Somerset House

To celebrate Blondie's 40th anniversary Somerset House has put on an exhibition of Chris Stein's photographs from the 1970s-80s called 'Chris Stein/Negative: Me, Blondie and the Advent of Punk'. Chris along with Debbie Harry formed Blondie all those years ago and helped to change the face of music.

Chris has taken photographs along the way and this exhibition celebrates a series of previously unseen photographs from the mid-70s to early-80s, many, of course, featuring Debbie.  There was a glittering launch to the exhibition when it opened with people like Ray Davies and Marianne Faithfull all showing up but I've only just got round to seeing it.

In part, the exhibition is what you'd expect with snapshots of Debbie here and there, on this tour and that, and with various famous people like David Bowie, Andy Warhol and a lovely one with Joey Ramone. There are also photos of Blondie contemporaries like Richard Hell, David Byrne and Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers (yes, the Thunders who injected Viv Albertine with heroin).

There are also photos of Debbie in strange situations, like being in a posh hotel and not knowing what to do with herself, of Debbie cooking in an evening gown with a flaming pan in her hands and Debbie smoking a joint with Joan Jett.

Some of the best photographs are the least expected. There's a strange photo of the first line-up of what became Blondie with long hair - now, Chris, I can imagine with long hair but Clem Burke? Where is he underneath that mop of long wavy hair? Ah yes, *there* he is… That was a shocker. And a lovely photo of the original Ramones which is even more poignant because they've all gone now (but at least I shook Tommy's hand in the mid-00s in New York).  There was also an atmospheric photo outside Chris's apartment on First & 1st with snow on the ground and part-covering a weather-beaten car. That's the old art student showing through in the photos but it does make for interesting viewing.

There's also a lovely photo of Debbie on one of Blondie's UK tours in which she's reading a copy of The Sun with the headline 'Women are just slaves' and you can see how un- phased she is by that headline from her expression. Being a slave isn't even part of her conceptual universe. It's also good that she's wearing black leather, including black leather gloves to hold the toxic newspaper. That photo says so much about - or at least my perceptions of - Debbie Harry.

The soundtrack accompanying the exhibition is also interesting with lots of Blondie, of course, but also their New York contemporaries. While I was there we were also treated to the war cry of 'Oh Bondage Up Yours!' by X-Ray Spex which was a delightful surprise. There are no pics of Poly or the Spex but at least they're part of the soundtrack to the exhibition.

It's an interesting exhibition and well worth the time if you're near the Strand with an hour to spare. It's free so pop along if you can.

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