Fittingly it’s Deborah Harry’s opening line in the programme notes that sums it best.

”I had no idea that Chris was a voyeur when I met him”

Currently running til 25th January 2015 at Somerset House to mark the 40th anniversary of Blondie, Chris Stein/Negative: Me, Blondie and The Advent of Punk is a showcase of unpublished photographs by Chris Stein, the hugely successful 70’s band’s co-founder.

Blondie were undoubtedly one of the most influential bands of their generation with a sound encompassing punk, new wave, hip hop and reggae and in Deborah Harry happened to have one of the most iconic front women of all time. It is no accident that Harry is regularly cited as heroine by so many indie and alt rock musicians that followed.

Unsurprisingly she dominates the work on show and her beauty, sensuality and good old fashioned star quality is the exhibition’s main selling point. There is a mix of candid outtakes, a snapshot taken backstage with David Bowie a particular highlight and unseen pictures from magazine shoots. This is no one woman show however. Images of other figures from the NYC punk and new wave scene such as Iggy Pop, The Ramones and Joan Jett loom large. At it’s best Stein’s work is stark and unsentimental, documenting the people and places he knows well with the sharp eye of an insider.

Perhaps the most haunting portrait on show is of writer William S Burrows, taken in the late 80’s. Conservatively dressed, arms folded and with head cocked, he radiates defiance and fierce intellect.

The exhibition also serves to chart the progress of Blondie from their formation in 1974 to the huge international fame a few years later. But while the band travels to Europe and beyond, they remain rooted in New York. A series of city street scenes and urban landscapes show that Stein is as interested in the harsh beauty of the city as the people that populate it.

There is a high possibility that anybody vaguely acquaintanced with Blondie’s music will rush home to play Parallel Lines on repeat for the rest of the day. And that is no bad thing. But the power of this exhibition is in capturing a time long past but that still has a hand in shaping alternative pop culture hugely today.

Find out more visit Somerset House

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5 November 2014 – 25 January 2015

Daily 10.00-18.00 (last entry 17.15)

Open until 21.00 (last entry 20.15) on Thursdays from 27 November

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24 & 31 December 10.00-16.00, 25 & 26 December-closed, 1 January 12.00-18.00

East Wing Galleries, East Wing

Free admission

About the author: Richard Glen
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