Colorful mohawks styled alongside safety-pinned leather jackets, an aversion to establishment is proclaimed in no better way than with a hard drum beat and straightforward lyrics: "There is no future / in England’s dreaming."
There was once a time in London when you could walk down any street and get a front row seat to some of the key moments in music history. Whether it was a Sunday night at the Lyceum Theatre with Sid Vicious and The Sex Pistols, or The Pogues down at Water Rats, London’s explosion onto the punk scene helped developed the genre, both sound and style, into what became a voice of a generation with a distinct spirit that lives on today.
Giving nod to these moments, London this year celebrates 40 years of punk in a calendar of events, gigs and exhibitions, aiming to chart its subversive heritage.
Jill Furmanovsky, a renowned British rock photographer, can easily look back, having been there documenting punk when it was at its height.
“I didn't know, none of us did, how far-reaching its influence would be,” she tells The Creators Project. “It was a 'can do—have a go' time,” she explains. “That was true for all the creative people who were inspired by it, from musicians to designers, fashion to photography and writing too. It was a generation influenced by that energy.”
In 1998, Furmanovsky founded Rockarchive, a platform for rock photographers and visual artists like herself to exhibit their work in a public platform. With over 50 photographers included in this rock art collective, their body of work comprising of live concerts or album cover shoots, each has a defyingly unique style. For Furmanovsky, it was more about who she was shooting rather than any photography technique.
“It was mainly the musicians that defined the style,” she says. “But I have an ability to cut to the essence of what I'm presented with and make something that may seduce visually but has some deeper level, or so I like to think!”
Helping celebrate punk’s anniversary, Furmanovsky is opening the Rockarchive in a one-off display at the Barbican Music Library, presenting a visual slice of an era of loud, riotous expression.
“Good photographs are like portals,” says Furmanovsky. “If you look carefully, tune in, it can really give you the feeling of what it was like to be there. I could only show a small part of my punk archive in the small space but I made the prints big, and mainly live, to give people a chance to experience the sheer energy of punk. It was a powerful thing.”
The punk rock movement wasn’t the only thing of interest from this period. As Furmanovsky rightly points out, the present-day digital environment has changed photography, in some ways for the worse.
“During the film era, making images took longer and took some skills that had to be learned,” explains Furmanovsky. “That gave it value. Perhaps this is why there is such an interest in the past. Strange times.”
Need more punk? See what other events London has planned here.