First published, with photography, by T Magazine on 23 June 2016
“Punk itself was about being on the cutting edge of anything new,” says the photographer Anita Corbin, whose portraits of women in the punk scene are on show at the Photographers’ Gallery in London this weekend. “So if you could shock people by wearing ripped tights and piercing your mouth — that would be a great statement to show the authorities that we were young and we weren’t too innocent anymore.”
Corbin’s “Visible Girls” series is part of a digital presentation during the gallery’s “Punk Weekender”: a three-day event incorporating exhibitions, a screening of Derek Jarman’s film “Jubilee” and a performance by the post-punk all-female band the Raincoats. The weekend is in turn a nod to Punk London, a yearlong, sprawling celebration across the capital’s galleries and performance spaces, marking 40 years since the subculture’s birth.
Corbin is among several photographers showing at the “Punk Weekender,” and though the event offers a broad overview of the scene, it gives particular insight into the women of punk. Her color-intense images — which also document the new-romantic, skinhead and mod tribes — show women in tight-knit pairs, scowling at the camera or teasing height into their hair. Derek Ridgers’s photographs, on the other hand, capture the performative nature of the scene: a fierce Debbie Harry and Siouxsie Sioux are each snapped on stage in 1977, while young punks on the streets of Soho pout and pose for the camera.
Photographs by Janette Beckman, now the New York editor of “Jocks & Nerds” magazine, include one of the Raincoats, rehearsing in a cluttered garage in 1979, a mattress shoved against the wall. But of all the images, Shirley Baker’s (taken farther north in Manchester) leave the most vivid impression of the creativity that went into being a female punk: Her girl subjects, full of youthful defiance, have pink hair, studded dog collars and razor-blade earrings.
Corbin, who was a 22-year-old “soft punk” when she began photographing the subculture, says she found the scene liberating and empowering. “You felt there was a mix-up of style, because punk had opened that opportunity really — that anything went,” she recalls. “I’m not saying it wasn’t sexist, because I’m sure there was sexism within it. But because it was about fighting against authority, I do think it gave both women and men an equal chance to do that. And expression, self-expression, you know — to be the person you wanted to be.”
“Punk Weekender” is on view through June 26 at the Photographers’ Gallery, 16-18 Ramillies Street, London, thephotographersgallery.org.uk.