Blondie Guitarist Chris Stein Shares His Secret Photographs of the 1970s and 1980s | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
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Blondie guitarist Chris Stein shoots a selfie before the word was even in the dictionary (c. 1976-1977). (Photograph by Chris Stein from the book Chris Stein/Negative: Me, Blondie and the Advent of Punk)
Note the refection of photographer Chris Stein in the Blondie lead singer and Debbie Harry’s aviator sunglasses. (Photograph by Chris Stein from the book Chris Stein/Negative: Me, Blondie and the Advent of Punk)
Blondie drummer Clem Burke and Blondie lead singer Debbie Harry walk down 14th Street in New York City (c. 1976). Though Debbie is making a warbling sound on a water-filled plastic bird whistle, Stein believes that the stares they’re receiving “are just based on the fact that no one looked like they did at the time.” (Photograph by Chris Stein from the book Chris Stein/Negative: Me, Blondie and the Advent of Punk)
Debbie Harry and Joey Ramone from "Punk" magazine's "Mutant Monster Beach Party," photographic comic or fumetto, New York, 1978. It was the second epic fumetto (a comic-style photo story, a orm made popular in the 60s in Europe/Italy and South America) from Punk magazine. It was shot by several photographers, mainly Roberta Bayley and Chris Stein. The story is vaguely Romeo and Juliet about rocker bikers and surfers at war. Joey Ramone and Debbie are the stars, and it features cameo appearances by artist Andy Warhol, John Cale (of the band the Velvet Underground) and music journalist Lester Bangs. (Photograph by Chris Stein from the book Chris Stein/Negative: Me, Blondie and the Advent of Punk)
Debbie Harry on camera or a monitor during the video shoot for “Picture This,” c. 1978. Debbie was constantly asked, “How does it feel to be a sex symbol?” Literally exactly that question, over and over again. (Photograph by Chris Stein from the book Chris Stein/Negative: Me, Blondie and the Advent of Punk)
Debbie Harry photo shoot for CREEM magazine, 1976 (Photograph by Chris Stein from the book Chris Stein/Negative: Me, Blondie and the Advent of Punk)
Debbie Harry and David Bowie backstage during the Idiot tour, 1977. Stein only managed one shot of Bowie on the tour. (Photograph by Chris Stein from the book Chris Stein/Negative: Me, Blondie and the Advent of Punk)
Debbie Harry at the Bowery in a Stephen Sprouse dress, one of his very early creations, mid-seventies. This shot was taken in the Bowery loft, the scene of numerous impromptu gatherings. “Even then, I was aware of the contrast between the environment and the attempt at glamour that was going on here,” writes Chris Stein in his book. (Photograph by Chris Stein from the book Chris Stein/Negative: Me, Blondie and the Advent of Punk)

Blondie Guitarist Chris Stein Shares His Secret Photographs of the 1970s and 1980s

Hearken back to the era of punk and new wave music with these snapshots

smithsonian.com

Chris Stein was at the center of the burgeoning punk/new wave scene in 1970s New York City as the lead guitarist for Blondie. Cutting edge bands such as Talking Heads, the Ramones and Television were establishing their sound at clubs like the now-defunct CBGB. And as a member of one of the leading groups on the scene and a recent photography graduate of New York’s School of Visual Arts, Stein was uniquely positioned to document the musical pioneers of that time and place. 

After attending art school in the late 1960s, Stein was drawn to a fertile downtown music scene of New York City. Sonically creative as well as visually, he met his musical soulmate Debbie Harry in the short-lived glam punk band The Stilettos. Following that group’s demise, Stein and Harry went on the form Blondie in 1974, with Debbie Harry serving as the group’s sultry frontwoman. They’d achieve their first commercial success by their third album, Parallel Lines, in 1978, thanks to their ethereal disco-tinged hit single, “Heart of Glass.”

With lyrics inspired by conversations Debbie Harry had with her ex-boyfriend, and the musical collaboration of Nigel Harrison and Jimmy Destri, "One Way or Another" rocketed up the charts.

The rising new wave/punk scene of that time provided ample subject matter for Stein’s lens. He had special access to his fellow musicians, shooting portraits of performers including Joey Ramone, Iggy Pop, Joan Jett and of course, Debbie Harry. And many weren’t just colleagues–they were his friends. “There was a glamour in the decay that we were all in…you look back at the rot and decay with a sort of envy,” Stein told the Los Angeles Times. He used a kitchen that he shared with Harry in New York as a makeshift dark room to develop these photos.

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Blondie, Chris Stein is releasing his treasure trove of his photographs from the New York City music scene of the 1970s and early 1980s in his new book, Chris Stein/Negative: Me, Blondie, and the Advent of Punk.

I caught up with Stein via email just before he left on Blondie’s European tour to support their new record, Ghosts of Download.

I’ve read that you were serious about visually recording what was going on during the early days of Blondie. Was that because you had a sense that something special was happening?

I don’t know how ‘serious’ I was, but there was an immediacy to everything with little view of the future. We are now frequently asked about any views we might have then had about still working many years in the future; I think everyone was very much ‘in the moment.’

How did you find time to shoot in between practice, songwriting and gig obligations?

Maybe a little selectivity. I often would choose between bringing a camera or just being involved with whatever I was doing. Unlike today’s climate of mass recording of everything I would usually choose to watch a concert rather than photograph at it.

You ended up having access to famous people before they became famous. Who did you enjoy photographing the most, and why?

I don’t know if I had any preferences. I of course always liked photographing Debbie. I wish I had a camera when we met Liz Taylor. In retrospect I’m glad I have images of Andy [Warhol], [William] Burroughs, the Ramones, etc.

How do you think your interest in photography influenced your songwriting style, and vice versa?

Maybe there is a similar relationship between the audience and the photographer/musician, though the effects probably react on different aspects of perception. I think visual and auditory stimuli are, as the hippies used to say, “the same but different.” Directly, being in the midst of the music scene, I just was excited to capture images from it. Early on, people did see images of Debbie before they heard the music.

Ever get any regrets that you became a rock star and didn’t become a professional photographer, in the traditional sense?

As Glenn O’Brien writes in my book, “Everyone was multitasking; had several ‘jobs.’”

Who are some of your visual influences?

As far as photographers go, I am enamored of [Diane] Arbus, Weegee, etc.­–the ones that were able to impose their personal psychology on the viewer and the subject of the picture.

You’re stranded on a desert island that happens to have a working record player. What are the three albums you bring with you?

Well this posits that I would be listening to the same hour and a half of audio for all eternity more or less so it’s a tough call. Maybe things that are less defined and song like and are layered and ambient like Moondog, Metal Machine Music and [Richard] Wagner’s greatest hits.

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