Punk revolutionised British culture. The fact that the movement went mainstream, however, undermined its very existence, and although the photography of Danny Boyle and Derek Ridgers is well known, they're not the only figures whose lenses are accredited with witnessing Britain's Punk explosion; artist and activist Caroline Coon was there, too.
Despite being there from the very beginning, Coon's photographs tell the unlikely story of how the Punk movement became enveloped by the New Wave scene at the end of the 70s, as proven by her documentation of bands like The Clash, Sex Pistols and The Slits which can now be seen as part of Centre For Photography's upcoming exhibition Nothing to Lose: The Punk photographs of Caroline Coon.
The exhibition's title also lends itself to Coon's three boxed sets comprising her photographs which double up as time capsules from a bygone era. The three sets are The Clash: A Relevant Rebellion, Punk: A Very Contemporary Significance, and Word and Image: Personal and Political Statements, and there will be just 10 of each set made available, all revealing behind-the-scenes moments with some of Britain's most beloved bands.
Speaking of her need to record the movement's heady early days, Coon said in a statement to press:
'In 1976, I saw the Sex Pistols perform their second gig, and immediately, I recognised a galvanising new expression of sub-cultural revolt. Urgently, I upgraded the Kodak Instamatic I used for my painting to a Nikon F2 SLR. As the early days of the dramatic punk scene evolved - created by bands like the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned and The Slits - I photographed and interviewed musicians and fans. The national press was critical and the music press didn’t want to know. The music critic of The Sunday Times pronounced punk “the latest musical garbage... Punk will fade... its apologists are ludicrous... when it dies it will not be mourned”. But I knew it was necessary to record what was happening.'
Record Coon did and although she received little appreciation at the time, it wasn't until the 1990s Coon's photographs started to take on a life of their own thanks to people's renewed interest in recognising the cultural significance of punk. 'Unfortunately, the darkroom where my films were developed had moved, and many of my negatives were lost', Coon stated. 'The photographs in this exhibition, some from negatives and others restored and printed from scratched contact sheets, are a glimpse of what has survived from this revolution moment.'
The Centre For British Photography exhibition marks the very first time Coon’s celebrated punk photographs have been editioned, with a percentage of sales going towards supporting the gallery's work with grants, open calls, workshops and other public projects. Sets one and two will be split to allow collectors to get individual prints, which are priced at £650. Full box set prices start from £5000.