Arriving in London in 1976, photographers Karen Knorr and Olivier Richon met at the Polytechnic of Central London (now the University of Westminster). While still at school the duo indulged in their shared fascination with punk, one of the city’s burgeoning subcultures, and set out to capture portraits of the youth in rebellion that were on their way to defining a generation. First exhibited at the Photographers’ Gallery in 1978, Knorr and Richon’s series, Punks, has now been released as a limited edition monograph by specialist photography press, Gost.
Knorr, born in Germany and raised in Puerto Rico, and Richon, born in french Switzerland, spent time throughout 1977 at popular punk night clubs, where they captured the sweat, safety pins, and swastikas that were the physical manifestations of the desultory drive associated with this dissident aesthetic and worldview.
The black and white images have an almost balletic quality, and were taken at the Roxy in Covent Garden and the Global Village in Charing Cross. In their introduction, Knorr and Richon explain their decision to photograph their subjects in these environments. They write: “The street and the clubs are the stage upon which the everyday is transformed into an expressionist phantasmagoria.” Or to put it more simply, it was here that punks were most likely to be found in full regalia and full swing – engaging in a dance of identity with each other and for the camera.
“The street and the clubs are the stage upon which the everyday is transformed into an expressionist phantasmagoria”
The photographers also provide their original statement of intent, explaining the staged nature of the images. “Our starting point was to get away from the candid photography strategy of the invisible but truthful hit-and-run photographer,” they write. “We chose a direct confrontation with our subject. This is why our pictures are posed, affirming our presence instead of eluding it. We attempted to achieve such a formal approach in order to emphasise Punk symbolism and to make it more readable.” Punk, itself about confrontation, is here presented in stark shadows and light; an approach that foregrounds both the subjects’ anti-beauty stance and their bold aesthetic intent.
Punks is available now from Gost Books
Text by Ananda Pellerin