Picture This: Blondie’s Chris Stein Reflects on Documenting the ‘70s NYC Punk Scene
By Etan Rosenbloom, Director & Deputy Editor, Marketing & Communications • January 25, 2019
While the punk subculture that gestated in lower Manhattan in the ‘70s is best remembered for the revolutionary music it produced, the visual aesthetics of NYC punk are just as indelible. Think of the iconic album covers of The Ramones’ self-titled debut or Patti Smith’s Horses; Richard Hell and The Dead Boys’ gritty fashion choices; and many of the bands’ associations with pioneering New York artists, from Andy Warhol to Robert Mapplethorpe.
Punk/new wave legends Blondie (ASCAP members since 1977) knew better than most how to leave an unforgettable impression with their sound and look. So it should come as no surprise that Chris Stein, the band’s co-founder, guitarist and co-writer of many of their biggest hits, is a marvelous photographer. In fact the treasure trove of photos he took in the ‘70s is one of the finests documents we have of that golden era of punk, and a terrific body of work in its own right.
To celebrate the release of Stein’s second book of NYC punk photography, Point of View: Me, New York City, and the Punk Scene, we asked him to reflect on some of his favorites.
“Debbie Harry, Suzi Quatro, and Joan Jett in a studio in Los Angeles, where Suzi was recording with producer Mike Chapman. This may have been our first meeting with Mike. Suzi was a hero of Joan’s but was much more restrained and moderate, if you compared her lifestyle to that of the Runaways. I thought this made some distance between them. Suzi, of course, was one of the first female hard-rock instrumentalists.”
The Ramones: “Dee Dee and Joey in front of CBGB. I vividly recall those summer nights spent on the street in front of the club.”
Debbie with Suicide: “Debbie with Martin Rev (left) and Alan Vega (right) at someplace, maybe around Times Square, back when that area still had soul. Suicide were revolutionary genre inventors, even predating the New York Dolls by a year or so, starting around 1970. They were pioneers in experimental electronica.”
Debbie and David Bowie backstage during The Idiot tour, 1977: “Bowie was really gracious with us, and he proved to be the consummate professional. However, not knowing about my photographic skills, he was more wary than Iggy about photo-taking and so, at the time, I only got this one shot of him. I suspect he was very careful of his image and what went out. We had many encounters with him over the years, and he was always a gentleman.”
Debbie with The Buzzcocks: “Blondie toured Europe with the Buzzcocks in 1978. From left to right: Steve Diggle, Pete Shelley, Debbie, Howard Devoto and Danny Farrant.”
London Tea Party: “From left to right: Chrissie Hynde, Pauline Black (then of Selecter), Debbie, Poly Styrene (then of X-Ray Spex), Viv Albertine (then of the Slits), and Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees, 1980. One of the UK music papers set up a sort of summit with the top rock women of the day. Kate Bush was invited but didn’t show up. There was an interview conducted, which was later published, but mostly I recall the girls socializing and having fun.”
In the studio, c. 1981. “Nile (Rodgers) and Bernard (Edwards) confer about something during the production of Debbie’s first solo album, KooKoo. We loved the band Chic and approached Nile to work on something together. We wound up being the first in a long line of people outside of Chic that Nile (and Bernard) worked with. Bernard died in 1996. His playing was part of the foundation that has evolved into modern hip-hop—and pop in general. Nile and Chic’s influence can’t be easily conveyed in a few lines. Nile’s career is unprecedented in that he’s managed to stay so exquisitely relevant for such an extended period of time.”
Chris Stein is the co-founder, songwriter, and guitarist of the iconic punk band Blondie. His photographic work has been featured in galleries and press around the world, and published in the successful book Negative: Me, Blondie, and the Advent of Punk, published by Rizzoli. Beyond his era-defining music with Blondie, he has collaborated with a host of artists over the years, from Shepard Fairey to Glenn O'Brien and Andy Warhol. Find out more about him at chrisstein.nyc