Snapper's delight

Roger Sargent's shots of the Libertines proved that he could capture more than just a group's faces: he got the full story. As his exhibition on new bands opens in London, the photographer gives Dave Simpson a guided tour
See highlights from the Future Legends exhibition

Very rarely, certain rock photographs define not just the subject in the picture, but the era they document and the photographer who takes them. Classic examples include Pennie Smith's famous London Calling "guitar-smashing" image of the Clash, and Anton Corbijn's work with U2. Now, the same is happening to London-based snapper Roger Sargent. The official photographer to the Libertines, he has been called "the UK's most important music photographer" for his work documenting the most exciting new bands around. He is snapper du jour to the likes of Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand.

Although Sargent has photographed Britpop stars such as Oasis for NME for many years, his close-knit work with the Libertines captures something more - the complex love-hate relationship between Carl Barat and Pete Doherty and sense of brilliant chaos: a modern Shakespearean drama.

So is Sargent the new Anton Corbijn? "It's a nice thought, but it's not why I do it," he says. "I love finding a new band, getting in there early and watching them grow."

This has become Sargent's oeuvre, and new bands now seek him out in the same way they send demos to record companies. His exhibition of Future Legends collects images of bands he says "don't have to be playing Madison Square Garden in a week's time, but for whatever reasons will remain in our collective psyche".

Some photographers (notably Corbijn, whose grainy, monochrome trademarks dominate most of his work) impose themselves on the artists. Sargent allows his photography to be dictated by his subjects. His expertise lies in capturing characters, from the Others' wild-eyed dementia to the Kaiser Chiefs' playful schoolboys vibe, which he actually shot in a playground. The Zutons didn't want to do "five blokes against a wall. So we went for something slightly odd. I liked the idea of making everyone look completely different within the picture but the same."

Sargent has no qualms about creating an environment to stage a picture but the Libertines' famous second album sleeve was "just grabbed". In the shot of Babyshambles, Pete Doherty looks distracted by something outside the photo, while soon-to-exit drummer Gemma Clarke looks slightly worried. "Someone had just ridden past on a scooter," remembers Sargent, "and Pete just leapt on it. Most of the time if you're in a band with Pete you have to be vigilant, or worried! That was the last we saw of him that day."

· Future Legends is at Proud Camden Sony Ericsson, 10 Greenland Street, London NW1, until May 25. Details: 020-7482 3867.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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