Many of the exhibitions celebrating the 40th anniversary of punk rock in 2016 have displayed a tendency towards depicting this movement as a largely testosterone fueled tribal youth culture. Reflective and knowledgeable of this subject, Sheila Rock’s photographs instead insist on a more sophisticated reading of her subjects, allowing and revealing a far more nuanced collection of portraits. By exploring her subjects outside of these established contexts, Rock has photographed some of the more gently subversive aspects of punk (sub) culture, through attire, environment and attitude.
Central to installation at CHELSEA space are a series of new portraits of the female punk icon, Jordan, commissioned especially for this exhibition. In the forty years since Sheila Rock first photographed Jordan both have developed and evolved; the new portraits are a powerful photographic statement of undiminished beauty and the empathy between photographer and subject.
Jordan is synonymous with Malcolm McLaren and Vivien Westwood’s shop SEX, however, her influence was far more wide reaching, as she inspired not only fashion, but was also the muse for artists including Derek Jarman. Her performance as Britannia in his 1977 feature film, Jubilee, and in the Super 8 films Jordan’s Dance (1977), Jordan’s Jubilee Mask, (1977), Every Woman For Herself and All for Art, (1978) and Jordan’s Wedding, (1981), illustrate her innate power and poise. Interviewed in the publication ‘England’s Dreaming’ by Jon Savage, Jordan states, ”I started ballet when I was about four and carried on until I was about eighteen. It gives you a sense of physical confidence when you’ve done a tight discipline like that. I liked to treat myself as a painting”.
Also accompanying the exhibition are a selection of recent photographic portraits from the series entitled Tough and Tender, that were made in seaside towns around England. Although initially interested in the aesthetics of seascapes when starting on this series, Rock’s dignified and stoic portraits reflect a quiet politics, documenting subjects and environments on the economic margins of the early 21st Century.
Sheila Rock came to the UK from America in 1970, and began a series of successful careers; firstly as a primary documenter of the punk era, then as a successful commercial photographer in advertising and editorial and more recently as the author of photographic books featuring works of her own private passions. The Face magazine launched her career, and she later contributed to a variety of diverse titles including German Vogue, Elle, Glamour, Architectural Digest, Sunday Times, Telegraph Magazine, Brides, Time Magazine and Rolling Stone Magazine. Her book PUNK +, published in 2013, is a document of the London 1970s punk scene that was also accompanied by a series of exhibitions in London, Paris and Berlin and later, Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Jordan (Pamela Rooke) is from Seaford, East Sussex. She was a model and actress noted for her work with Vivienne Westwood and the SEX boutique in the Kings Road, London in the mid-1970s that formalised the punk movement in terms of its style and attitude. Manager of Adam and the Ants in 1977, Jordan also starred in various films made by Derek Jarman, including Jordan’s Dance (1977) and Jubilee (1978).
Image: Sheila Rock, ‘Jordan in doorway of Sex 1977’, digital print. Photograph © Sheila Rock Photography