Anarchy in the UK: punk's early years

Sheila Rock's fascinating photographs of punk, which have been turned into a lavish book, document the scene in its thrilling infancy. Nearly 40 years on, she explains why she never dreamed her work would prove so significant

'I was simply in the right place at the right time," says Sheila Rock of her archive of early punk photographs, which, having sat in a box in her garden shed for years, have been turned into a beautifully designed, limited edition book entitled Punk+. Having just arrived in London from America, Rock was invited to see the Patti Smith Group's now legendary performance at the Roundhouse in May 1976 by her friend, Lenny Kaye, Smith's guitarist. Kaye also told her about a punk group called the Clash, who were playing a few months later at the ICA. Intrigued, Rock went along with her camera and started snapping.

"I became a photographer there and then out of curiosity, and the photos I took add up to a kind of reportage of the early punk scene in London, though I had no idea that is what I was creating back then. I just drifted into the scene and was immediately struck by the creativity and style of these young people. In 1976, you could tell something was happening and these kids were at the vanguard of that change."

One of Rock's first locations was the Acme Attractions shop on the Kings Road, where she came upon the famous "Bromley contingent" that followed the Sex Pistols and included Siouxsie Sioux and Steve Severin, who would soon form Siouxsie and the Banshees. She was present when Acme's owner, John Krivine, relaunched the shop as Boy, lining the walls with black bin bags and creating a window display of fake burnt body parts. After complaints from the public, the police raided the shop and confiscated the offending items.

Sex Pistols - Pretty Vacant on MUZU.TV.

Further down the Kings Road, Rock also chronicled the early days of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood's boutique, Sex, where shop assistant Jordan dressed head to toe in PVC. Quiet and unassuming, Rock became an insider on the fledgling London punk scene, shooting the Clash and Subway Sect in their shared Chalk Farm Road rehearsal studios as well as lesser-known bands such as Eater. "I recorded the trajectory from punk as a creative cultural upheaval to punk as a tabloid spectacle. Like the punks, I was making it up as I went along. Often, I'd go to the lab praying the photos would come out. I wasn't thinking about posterity, I was just going with the flow."

Punk+ is available to buy at

A selection of Rock's photographs will be included in Punk: Chaos to Couture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York next month


Sean O'Hagan

The GuardianTramp

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