What Presence! – The Rock Photography of Harry Papadopoulos (5 stars)

Stunning exhibition of post-punk music photography

What Presence! – The Rock Photography of Harry Papadopoulos

Harry Papadopoulos is the great unsung documenter of post-punk, who, between 1978 and 1984, captured a crucial era in pop history in all its geeky glory. Having started out taking snaps for Bobby Bluebell’s fanzine, The Ten Commandments, and orbiting around Postcard Records’ extended family of jangular mavericks who would go on to define themselves as the Sound of Young Scotland, Papadopoulos became a staff photographer on music paper Sounds. Where contemporaries on the NME such as Anton Corbijn and Kevin Cummins have been rightly lionised for their work, Papadopoulos’ canon has been all but airbrushed from history. So the significance of this major excavation of a huge body of work cannot be understated.

With more than 300 images on show, the fertile Scot-pop scene inevitably dominates here. A gangly and giggly Orange Juice-era Edwyn Collins skates on thin ice. Josef K vocalist Paul Haig poses like a nouvelle vague matinee idol. A tweedy-looking Aztec Camera chew on pipes like elderly uncles before their time. A demented Davy Henderson of Fire Engines roars into a microphone, his face taut with urgent, sinewy contortions. A fragrant Clare Grogan perches on a park bench looking, well, lovely. Co-curator Ken McCluskey’s band The Bluebells pack into an open-topped sports car.

There’s a wonderfully gawky naturalness to this fabulous archive that pre-dates celebrity culture during a time when politics and pop were inseparable. A striking portrait of Gil Scott-Heron is set next to one of Tom Robinson, Bronski Beat’s Jimmy Somerville and future Erasure vocalist Andy Bell lining up for a gay rights march. Jerry Dammers and The Special AKA squeeze into frame at the bottom of a stairwell. The Clash are captured in full barricade-manning flight. With a series of events to accompany the show, What Presence! is an unmissable history lesson from a major artist. Publication of a bumper-sized coffee-table book would be an even more essential purchase.

Street Level, Glasgow, until Sat 25 Feb.

What Presence! The Rock Photography of Harry Papadopoulos

Glasgow-born Harry Papadopolous was a staff photographer for Sounds magazine from 1979 to 1984, in which capacity he photographed countless post-punk icons from The Associates to the Birthday Party. This retrospective exhibition takes in his entire career.


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