Art & Photography

PUNK: Anarchy in the UK

We meet the curator behind a new photography exhibition in London celebrating 40 years of punk in Britain

Four decades ago, London was turned on its head by the arrival of punk youth culture. This summer, London’s Michael Hoppen Gallery celebrates the anniversary with ‘PUNK’ — an exhibition of vintage prints that document the rise of the influential subculture. The photographs on show depict the disillusioned youth that rebelled against the ‘system’, challenged the status quo, and expressed their dissatisfaction by means of the clothes they wore and the music they listened to. With the impetus of designers like Vivienne Westwood (captured with Johnny Rotten in one of the photos on display), and bands such as The Clash and The Sex Pistols, punk spread across the English capital and was in full swing by 1976. Located on Kings Road, the Michael Hoppen Gallery brings it back to Chelsea, where it all started.

Johnny Rotten, Jordan and Vivienne Westwood (1970s) by Ray Stevenson, courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

“I think the photographers in the exhibition were trying to capture the energy of a movement in its infancy. Whereas Punk now represents an aesthetic, in the 1970’s it was an anarchist movement,” explains, Clemency Cooke, gallery director at the west London space. “We see these photographs as capturing the experimentalism and revolutionary zeal of Punk prior to it becoming commercialised and neatly pigeon holed in the annals of fashion.” The exhibition showcases some of the most iconic images of the movement, including photographs by Ray Stevenson, who captured punk in all its authenticity and radicalism.

Punk (1970s) by Ray Stevenson, courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

“We chose these specific photographers as we believe they captured the irreverent energy of punk in the 1970s. They are all vintage silver gelatin press prints and we love that their scarred and distressed quality mimics the aesthetic of the movement they portray,” adds Cooke. “Their backs are on scribbled and inscribed with notations from the time. They remind the viewer that these were images used by the press to depict a movement when it still had the ability to shock and disturb it’s audience.”

Interview by Cécile Fischer

PUNK runs until 26 August 2016 at the Michael Hoppen Gallery