Blondie’s founder Chris Stein chronicles a lost punk New York in his new book.
For the (very) few that may not be familiar with Blondie’s extensive catalogue of music – three words. Heart of Glass. But fabulous New Wave tunes aside, there’s no doubt that the band (named after the most common catcall Debbie Harry received when she went peroxide blonde) were instrumental at ushering in the next generation of pop music in the late 70s.
At the helm was magnetic punk icon, Harry, and right by her side was co-founder, bandmate and former partner, Chris Stein. Throughout the years, guitarist Stein – who was also an avid photographer – documented the meteoric rise of Blondie, in gorgeous candid shots.
These images – ranging from relaxed candids of Harry, to street images of a lost New York city, and high-profile mates, including David Bowie, Iggy Pop and The Ramones – have been encapsulated in a new photo retrospective, Point Of View: Me, New York City & The Punk Scene.
We caught up with Chris Stein on his new book, memories of a New York, and his favourite photo of Debbie Harry…
How did you and Debbie first meet?
I went to the first ever Stilettos show in a bar on 24th street, a band we were both in early on in our careers. We didn’t really speak then, but soon thereafter I started playing with those guys.
When did you first pick up a camera? What drew you to it?
I took pictures when I was a kid using those little box cameras, and then I met this kid in my neighbourhood who was this great photographer even at 17 years old. He was a big inspiration for me. In the early days as a kid, I loved the time-travel aspect of it. I would see a photograph in a magazine, it would be very evocative and it would stir things up in me.
What kind of photography are you into to?
I’m drawn to naturalistic stuff, street photography and just taking pictures of real-life.
What’s your favourite ever image you’ve ever taken of Debbie?
There’s one I had recently forgotten about. It was a picture I had taken of her at the top of the World Trade Center, which is poignant because of what it means, nobody knew what was going to happen. The photo was taken in 1975 or 76.
How do you choose your moments to shoot?
It varies. Most of the time I would ask and other times I would just take a picture. Most of the people were interesting or cool, and I was always attracted to street fashion – I was always interested in things that were decaying and beat-up.
Did you always ask when you took Debbie’s photo?
She always knew. There were a couple of moments where I’d take a picture from behind or I guess she might not have known, but generally she was always really aware of the camera. I was always really respectful.
As much as you were chronicling Blondie, you were also chronicling a now lost New York. When did you start witnessing a change?
The change has been ongoing for forever. It’s changing constantly. I could go on with all the political aspects.
You shot a lot of rock royalty. How do you feel when you look back at images? Sad or nostalgic?
Yeah, sure. I was always drawn to the decay and funkiness. With Soho and New York, it’s really sad what’s gone on there. You ever see that Scorsese movie After Hours? It’s really great and was shot in Soho – now it’s just a high-end shopping mall.
As the founder of Blondie and now 40 years after recording the debut album – did you ever imagine you’d still be creating music (with your 11th studio album last year)?
We never thought about it back then. In the moment, I don’t think anyone gave too much thought about the future.
Point Of View: Me, New York City & The Punk Scene is out on 23 October. Find out more here