Johnny Rotten, lead singer of the SEX PISTOLS, on his roof
Gelatin Silver Print
50.5 x 40.5 cms (19.85 x 15.92 ins)
Caroline Coon's photographs of the early Punk bands, including the Sex Pistols and The Clash (whom she managed from 1978-1980), reflect her own status as intimate and insider. She has earned a unique place in British Culture: a counter-culture activist in the 1960s, a leading protagonist in the early years of British Punk and a photographer and painter. Coon also continues to work as a feminist agitator, political activist and social campaigner: particular causes include the legalising of drugs and of prostitution.
Here the Sex Pistol's Johnny Rotten is photographed with underpants worn round his neck and a swastika logo on his clothing. A calm matter-of-fact presentation belies the provocation of the styling.
The swastika frequently appears in Punk imagery as a provocative and ambiguous symbol and epitomises Punk's uneasy relationship with racism.
Certain bands allied themselves to the far Left and to the Rock Against Racism movement, among them The Clash and the Sex Pistols; others made comments that allied themselves to certain skinhead and racist bands; and others still appropriated the swastika and made ambiguous statements in their lyrics and interviews that suggested that this flirtation with Nazism went beyond a desire to shock their elders.
Malcom McLaren typifies the use of imagery designed to shock. The manager of the Sex Pistols, and his designer girlfriend, Vivienne Westwood, ran a clothes shop on the King's Road, and included designs that incorporated a swastika. Indeed McClaren, despite being Jewish, collected Nazi memorabilia, including Nazi Youth badges, gold SS wedding rings and swastika hankies.
Whatever the intentions, the use of the swastika was divisive. On the day this photograph was taken, The Clash's manager, Bernie Rhodes, prevented Siouxsie and the Banshees from using The Clash's equipment at the 100 Club Punk Festival because he took exception to their then drummer, Sid Vicious's T shirt with felt-tipped swastikas and Siouxsie's swastika armband.
British Photography / The Hyman Collection