Photographing The Punks

Photographer Casey Orr, whose portraits of people involved in the Pendle punk explosion of 1979-80 will be exhibited as part of  Sick of Being Normal – Pendle Punk – 40 Years  On, gives an outsider’s perspective on how the physical and emotional landscape of East Lancashire played its part…

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I’ve lived in the North of England for 25 years and in that time I’ve regularly travelled from Yorkshire over the Pennines to visit my in-laws in Burnley.  I’ve run on the hills and explored the towns of East Lancashire. As a photographer I’ve worked there and know many people from the region. I’ve lived with one of these punks for over half my life so you’d think I would have understood a bit more about how punk changed the lives of people coming of age at that time and the ways in which this creative explosion reacted with British culture and specifically Northern small town communities.

I just did not get it until sitting in on the interviews for this project and listening to these people talk about that time and how it transformed their lives forever.

The smaller worlds we all inhabited in the 1970s are so alien to us now in the 24/7 interconnected nonstop reality we live in. There was less visible choice of who we could be, of what lives were possible. When we come of age and are looking for clues to guide us these chance meetings and sightings often come from culture, from music.

Forty years ago I was 11 years old and watching Saturday Night Live in my family living room in small town USA. David Bowie was carried onto stage in a plastic tuxedo by performance artists Klaus Nomi and Joey Arias. The performance changed my life forever. My whole self woke up to the possibilities of what my life could be.

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The people photographed here, I photographed 12 people for the project, spoke about these moments too, moments that changed everything. They were young adults when punk exploded, full of energy, just stepping out of school and family life and in a position to seemingly make anything and everything happen. They were from the same place, from a shared culture and often a shared lack of opportunity. All of this bonded these creative kids and made a community through the music, art, fun and freedom that punk offered. They were in it together. Everyone talked about this.

The interviews and days photographing these people also showed me how important and integral the landscape of East Lancashire is to the people from here. There are hills to be seen everywhere, hills to be climbed and hills to look down from. Towns can be climbed out of, horizons are negotiated by what can and can’t be seen. The land is undulating. There are rocky outcrops to sit on, gardens to tend, paths to walk down. There is the changing sky, the clouds, the rain.

And then there is the wind. It blows through your coat, past your ears, up your pantleg. It sneaks around every corner. It isn’t quiet!

These people are a part of this landscape. The outside and inside are connected, the person, the hill, the wind. They are the 1970s punks but they are of this place – part of this landscape that predates us all.

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Casey Orr is a documentary photographer, researcher and lecturer at Leeds Beckett University.  Her long running project Saturday Girl, which in 2019 won an award at Format Festival, will be the subject of a new publication in 2020 from Bluecoat Press.
Click here to find more information, and buy tickets, for the Sick of Being Normal event on Saturday 8 February 2020 on Eventbrite.

One thought on “Photographing The Punks

  1. Pingback: Photographing the Punks (via the Rebel Pen Club) | Mid Pennine Arts

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