Sheila Rock created some of the most iconic images from punk to pop, with an impressive career that now spans 5 decades.
“Some people think of punk as being downbeat,” says Rock. “But to me, and to many others, it was a celebration of something exciting and positive.” — Taken from an interview with Vogue.
American born and Boston University educated, Rock moved to London in 1970 and never left. Initially famed for her powerful images recording the emergence and birth of Punk and New Wave in the 1970s and 80s, she then moved onto a wider spectrum of popular music genres.
Her successful career photographing music is diverse: from Debbie Harry, The Sex Pistols, Billy Idol, The Damned, Siouxsie Sioux, The Jam, Chrissie Hynde and The Clash - to key figures in modern and pop music including Bob Marley, Sade, U2, David Bowie, The Cure, Duran Duran, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Sting and Morten Harket from A-ha.
"When I came to London from New York in the 1970s, I was blown away by the creativity around me. Yes, there was poverty and high unemployment, but out of this impoverished Britain came a new rebellious movement – punk" says Rock.
Rock unknowingly recorded events that were to shape the musical landscape for years to come, photographing Punk in it's thrilling infancy.
"The early punk photos were taken with no idea that I was documenting some important cultural movement. I was working in an innocent and free way. I was not a professional photographer, learning my craft as I went along. I was just an inquisitive young girl with a second hand camera." says Rock
Working alongside Nick Logan and Neville Brody, in 1980 she became an influential force shaping the look of legendary creative magazines like 'The FACE', which she says launched her career as a photographer.
She has worked for numerous record companies and her editorial portraiture and fashion work has appeared in key magazines, including: Vogue, Time Magazine, Elle, Glamour, Rolling Stone, and the Sunday Times.
"Punk was such a cultural force that it allowed all these young people to do things they would not have dreamed of doing, like forming a group and playing at the Roxy while you were still at school" — Sheila Rock interview with The Guardian Newspaper
For someone who proclaims that she was just initially "...in the right place at the right time," Sheila's career as a photographer excelled. She began to be a regular contributor at Vogue Magazine and from Punk music she began photographing all other music genres throughout the 80s, 90s and 2000s, boasting many iconic cover-images amongst this work during that time.
"Now I look back and realise that my photos captured the zeitgeist of the time. Punk changed the face of fashion and music, and I feel privileged to have been a part of it." Sheila Rock
The Clash 1978:
"These guys were a dream to photograph – so visually cool and good looking. You couldn’t take a bad picture of them." Rock from an interview with Marie Claire Magazine.
"I met them at their ICA gig in 1976 and went to Chalk Farm to photograph them soon afterwards. They look cool and lean and hungry. They had iconic status even then. The look is down to Paul Simonon. He did the clothes, the backdrops, the Jackson Pollock splashes on the shirts. Mick [Jones] and Joe [Strummer] wrote the songs, but Paul was the artist. I photographed them a few times in 1982, when the cool punk band had become a cool rock band". Sheila Rock interview with The Guardian Newspaper.
Siouxsie Sioux 1977/78:
"What I remember most about Siouxsie was how quiet and well-mannered she was. Her personality wasn’t huge but, once she got on stage, she was this crazy dominatrix. I took this shot while she was rehearsing." Sheila Rock.
Billy Idol of Generation X, 1977:
"Billy was beautiful and cocky. He looked a bit like the guy in Thunderbirds. Generation X ... were middle-class boys, Billy and Tony James, even though they gave out this punk attitude. There was really nothing unruly or yobby about them. A lot of punk bands played on that, but they were quite friendly" Sheila Rock interview with The Guardian Newspaper.
Rock's images are included in many key permanent collections including: The National Portrait Gallery, London, UK, The William Benton Museum of Art in Connecticut and The Houston Fine Art Museum, USA & The Ralph Lauren Polo Collection.
Rock's lavish, limited edition, signed book 'Punk+: a Document of Punk from 1976-1980’ is also available at ElliottHalls Gallery. "This book is a great photographic record of a major shift in British street fashion", says The Clash's Paul Simonon.
The accompanying exhibition 'Punk' has been exhibited in Tokyo, Shanghai, Singapore, London, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
A selection of Rock's photographs was also included in the major Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition 'Punk: Chaos to Couture' in 2013.
Sheila now divides her time between London and Hawaii.