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MUSIC THEMED PHOTO BOOK REVIEWS FOR DECEMBER 2013 - BY LEE, PHIL & MEL

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge (First Third Books)

“Because tonight, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, THIS IS YOUR LIFE.”

In effect, the book is a family album – a picto-biography – but with Genesis Breyer P-Orridge the photos are considerably less run-of the mill than most.  The book commences with an informative interview with Mark Paytress, in which Genesis outlines h/er vision and justifies (and in some cases reassesses) h/er work over the years. An interesting point raised is that of the Industrial Records logo – which famously was a photo of Auschwitz – where Genesis says the decision to use this picture in a mischievous way would not be taken now, as one has to mature as an artist.

The book is segmented by topic rather than chronologically. The opening pictures are what you may expect given Breyer P-Orridge’s history, fame, notoriety, call it what you will.  Opening with the tell-all section title “Flesh, Nudity, Sex, Ritual” – there are no actual hardcore pictures but the shots range from explicit piercings, Genesis displaying h/er new pandrogenic physique, and views of h/erself and Lady Jaye (h/er late partner) adorning various types of kinky uniforms. Many of the photos amuse rather than titillate – but the overall impression that Genesis leaves with all of these photos is that the nature of one’s opinion isn’t necessary - or particularly warranted. The motive behind this entire book seems to be one of upfront honesty. There is no room for a “best side” in these pictures – whether flattering or not, all sides to the character are included – and it is up to us to whether we opine, question, admire, ignore.

The second section is a touching tribute to Lady Jaye. Polaroids ranging from the saucy to the ordinary feature – giving a glimpse into the life of someone who was assuredly fun-loving and who shared Genesis’ desire to experiment in all forms. The picture at the end of this section for me is the most compelling, as it raises many questions. The picture is of Genesis at Lady Jaye’s funeral. The other mourners stand in the background – a woman is comforted in the arms of a grieving man. Genesis is in the foreground, crouching, head bowed, one hand on Lady Jaye’s coffin as it is about to be lowered into the ground.  This takes the viewpoint of people publicly living their lives to a new level. The advent of technology has seen a paradigm shift in society’s attitudes. People broadcast every gory detail of their lives on social media. People have loud arguments in the street on their mobile phones – no shame exists and others roll their eyes and ignore them. Having a picture taken at the most touching moment of the funeral of a loved one is something I personally would not be able to adhere to, but seeing the shot here I would be loathe to suggest there is anything inherently wrong with it.  This is a picture not cursed with brashness. It encapsulates the raw emotion of a truly emotionally seismic event.  It invites empathy and receives it immediately. If any picture were to carry on Genesis’ raison d’etre of questioning, re-shaping, and debating the foibles and attitudes of society as a whole, this intimate study is the ultimate example.

 

All aspects of h/er artistic career are featured – from the beginnings with COUM Transmissions – where some of the shots of a bearded P-Orridge in the early 70’s somehow resemble the glory days of Roy Wood.  The Throbbing Gristle contributions include Genesis posing by posters of the infamous “Prostitution” exhibition, a suitably macabre holiday snap at the entrance to Auschwitz, and many poignant photographs with the late Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson.  The bitter recriminations of the final break-up of Throbbing Gristle just prior to Christopherson’s death in 2010 still hold firm, as there is no room whatsoever for Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti in these pages. This is inherently sad but is backed with an understandable justification – as Carter and Tutti refuse to acknowledge P-Orridge’s contribution to the collective now, and have replaced all of P-Orridge’s original vocals with an array of guest contributors to the final album - Throbbing Gristle’s  re-interpretation of Nico’s “Desertshore”.

A section of Genesis and Lady Jaye conveys a candid love story – one replayed the world over, but one of course that ended with Lady Jaye’s untimely death from a heart attack at the age of 38. Pictures that are warm reminders of a time now regrettably past.  This spirit is echoed in the pictures of Genesis’ family – as a child holding the pet rabbit, in adulthood attending to h/er elderly mother, and some amusing shots with Genesis and h/er young daughter. 

The longest sections allude to pandrogeny – the attempt by Genesis and Lady Jaye to become one - physically ,spiritually and mentally. The depictions of the surgical process are in a couple of cases definitely not for the squeamish, and some of the post-surgical revelations are not the most convincing ways to advertise the practice -  more ensuring that you would admire anyone who has the bravery and dogged determination to see this through – because the pain in these procedures is visibly highlighted.

As a visual summation of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge’s life, this is a relative success. If you were to be shocked by these pictures, chances are you would not be familiar with h/er art and recorded history anyway – but the pictures not only consolidate a life devoted to stretching boundaries, confounding traditions and inciting debate, some of these continue that process in their own right. The level of art provocation that constituted a raid in 1991 by Scotland Yard is now sold as a high-art photography book in 2013, but there is still room in these pages to challenge and inspire.- Review by Lee McFadden

Set In Stone – Ian Tilton & Claire Caldwell (Omnibus Press)

This is described as Ian Tilton’s complete photography of the Stone Roses and at 192 pages, it’s pretty comprehensive.  If you’ve ever seen a photo of the Stone Roses (and who hasn’t) then you will already be familiar with Ian’s work as, basically, he took the lot.

Right from their very first shoot in his studio in Chorlton in 1987, right up to the crowds gathering outside Manchester HMV to purchase ‘The Second Coming’, they’re all here and I’m not going to count how many.

The book’s commentary is very factual and doesn’t show a lot of opinion, but it’s good to remember that this is a documentary on the band visually and not a ‘where did it all go wrong’ (or even where did it go right…).  It also forces to show that Ian wasn’t merely a photographer who shot from the outside, he was part of the bands inner circle and also played a part in creating the cool image they portrayed, whether in photos, film, or live presence.

At times the book shows the band to be vulnerable and unsure and shows them become the confident live performers they were right up to their famous Spike Island appearance. A must for any Stone Roses fan, but will also be appreciated by photographers too. - Review by Philp Howe

Elvis 1956 - Photographs by Alfred Wertheimer (Omnibus Press)

Elvis Presley, is the star of this glossy vintage photography book, which are all taken by freelance photographer Alfred Wertheimer in 1956. Here are some of the most amazing black and white photographs of a twenty one year old Elvis, an incredibly handsome young man, on the cusp of stardom. 1956 was to be the year of firsts for Elvis, the first record, first TV appearance, plus a movie career. Alfred the young photographer was assigned to capture it all, and its the first time some of these photos have been published anywhere. The photos are here to tell a story reflected on by short essays and quotes from the photographer, descriptions of what was happening when they were taken. He followed Elvis during the most exciting period in his life, and he captures these special times onstage and off stage, family time, recording and some personal moments. I especially like the unguarded, natural shots, for example deep in thought whilst travelling on a train. I think one of my favourites in the book is a candid shot of the young heartthrob and his female companion in a corridor locked in an embrace, totally oblivious to the photographer.

Rock n’ roll in the 1950’s was seen as the devils music, corrupting the youth and something to be fearful of. Elvis the pelvis was called vulgar, and rebellious, even his management wanted him to contain his wild pelvis move on stage, but as the book says “Once he got on stage, he always did it his way”. If you love Elvis, vintage photo journalism, or music photography this book is well worth splashing your cash on. The book has 72 Tritone photographs. - Review by Melanie Smith

Sex, & drugs & rock n roll -  Chris Charlesworth (Omnibus Press)

Still on the theme of rock n roll moments in history, we have a book which claims to give us over 400 X-Rated photographs. Originally published in 1985, claiming to be a shocking celebration of badly behaved rock & pop stars throughout music history, in the days when things were truly rebellious. Are we shockable anymore? That is debatable, its all been done before, and probably captured in this book. Most of the black and white images are taken from those early heady politically incorrect times. What do you get for your money in this newer edition? Two editions into one volume, uncensored, un photoshopped images, in which some are scrapping the barrel for a bit of titillation. One section is for example called ‘Copping A Feel’ its all a little silly and adolescent, featuring a series of groping shots of various artists from Bob Geldof, to Dave Lee Roth contemplating several backstage nubile young women with their asses in the air. We see the dreadfully tanned face of Gary Glitter with a young woman sat on his lap wearing a bizarre underwear garment, looking very bemused, further on he is photographed peering between ballet dancers legs. The following section is just as crazy, ‘Boys will be boys’ and here we have men like Lux Interior, with their todgers out, or semi naked blokes behaving silly rather than badly. We even have a few pages dedicated to ‘Feeling scratchy’ where we are entertained by several crotch grabbing male rock stars, this theme continues with ‘The Hosepipe Syndrome’. I kid you not!

In ‘Festival Fun’ we see more breasts being sprung out of their bra straps by young women lost in the live festival scene. The bulk of the images in the book are not ‘professional’ shots, they are mainly paparazzi shots, or taken by a party reveller backstage. Rock stars in the bath, on the tour bus, on the toilet, drunken behaviour, smoking joints, party capers, naked festival goers, mooning. I have to admit one series of photos made me laugh out loud, of a very young Paul McCartney in the ‘Bondage’ section posing with chains down by a wharf. There is a small section on 'punk and of course her majesty the queen of pop 'Madonna', not particular shocking in 2013, but due to the saturation of naked imagery freely available we are now desensitised by it all . 

I don’t think this book has any intention of being taken serious,(I'd hope not) or indeed for any other reason than to amuse the viewer. There are no accompanying stories to these images, it might have made it a little more interesting though. It’s a tacky ride through some questionable and dodgy behaviour from the early days of music to around the late nineties, the most recent shots featured on two pages ‘The Trials Of Boy George’. I found I couldn't really immerse myself too much into this book, plus it’s a little dated,  rock stars don’t behave this way anymore…....do they? - Review by Melanie Smith

Glam - 'An Eyewitness Account' -  Mick Rock (Omnibus Press) 2006

Welcome to the early work of Mick Rock, if you are any sort of music photographer worth your salt you should know who he is. He is known as “The man who shot the seventies”, and responsible for all those archived images from the early career of David Bowie, during his Ziggy Stardust phase, in fact he was Bowie's official photographer. The images scream out the hedonistic, glamorous, hot and sticky world of rock and roll, in the time when the lines had become blurred between male and female and being peacocks were considered outrageous.

He shot amongst others Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Queen, The Sex Pistols, Syd Barrett, Roxy Music, The Ramones, Blondie and more. Hell you probably have some of the albums in which his photographs grace the cover. For example Lou Reed’s  albums ‘Transformer’, ‘Coney Island Baby’, and ‘Rock n’r Roll Heart’, Iggy Pop & The Stooges ‘Raw Power’, Queen’s ‘Queen II’. In addition to his extraordinary live shots (way, way before digital cameras and photoshop) he also shot many portraits of artists during the glam rock period, and indeed is still a working photographer. There are a great many photos in this book featuring David Bowie, and he also writes the foreword to the book. Lot’s of other artists from the 1970’s feature in this book, from Freddie Mercury, Steve Harley, Lindsay Kemp, Mick Jagger, and Iggy Pop. The enigmatic Debbie Harry alongside Blondie, have a small selection of photos in this book, but if you want to see an extensive range of Mick’s work with Blondie then grab yourself a copy of ‘Picture This’.

Mick was the chief photographer on the movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show, starring Susan Sarandon and Tim Curry, and here in the book we see some of those striking images.

The book is littered with sample quotes from Mick Rock, I particularly like this one “I smell pictures more than I see them. And I hear pictures more than I smell them. It’s very habit forming”. I love some of the short stories which weave themselves around the photos, which give you an insight into just how powerful and influential his images have been.  

Do yourself a favour, buy the book, be inspired, then go and then visit mick’s website for further updates, or check out his photos down at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas where Iggy Pop’s backward stage crab graces the men’s toilets  - Review by Melanie Smith

review to follow....

Madonna Style by Carol Clerk / Stacy Appel (Omnibus Press)