Guitarist and co-founder of Blondie, Chris Stein, recently released his photography book Point of View: Me, New York City, and the Punk Scene. The work chronicles the 1970’s downtown punk scene with intimate imagery and personal portraiture. Stein spoke with me about his photographic record of the decade in this new book.
You seem to have a real grasp on the ethos of each neighborhood in NYC in your photos. What drew you to photographing the city?
I was in art school at the height of the conceptual art period in the early 70’s and I drifted more into photography, which I found to be romantic. It wasn’t so much to document, it was to make images that I liked.
You mention a great deal of change within the city over the years. Do you believe the music scene has transitioned as well?
There’s a lot of really great music and bands around now…the music scene keeps up. I don’t know how the kids keep their heads above water cause it’s expensive to live here now. That seems like the biggest different for artists. People manage to do it, though.
What do you think the biggest change has been over the past few years within the city?
The flood of corporate money and control over everything here…the small businesses are in trouble and there’s lots of empty storefronts everywhere. It was never like that before…now Soho is like a shopping mall. There are a lot of physical things that haven’t changed. We’re not in Fifth Element territory yet, but we’re getting there.
Would you say this is a sort of love letter to the city?
Yeah, sure. I mean, it was a nice period. Of course nobody then realized exactly what the future was going to be. In retrospect, yeah it was an exciting period and there’s lots of aspects I miss about it now.
How was your transition into the art world after predominantly being a musician for so many years?
Well I was doing both at the same time. I was always doing photography since 1968. It’s all part of the same thing, but i liked the photography process so it’s been nice.
What has been the major distinction between this new book and your last photo book, Negative: Me, Blondie,and the Advent of Punk?
This one is a little less flamboyant and more personal. I was really trying to convey the atmosphere of the city and what the vibe was like back then. It was such an interesting experience.
There are many shots of Debbie Harry throughout the book. Was she a muse for you?
Yeah she was always inspiring and still is. absolutely.
There’s one distinct photo of you and Debbie at the World Trade Center, and you end the book with some powerful imagery from September 11th. Can you speak to that experience?
Well I was living really close to wear it happened. We were just 10 blocks uptown from the world trade center on Greenwich Street. I don’t think I knew exactly what a big deal it was in the moment…after 9/11 everything changed in the city – for me anyway.
What was it like photographing Iggy Pop and David Bowie on tour?
Bowie was a little cautious about his images but Iggy was down for anything. I was always lucky to have that connection to people. Now, being in show business people know the band. I met Peter Dinklage at a gas station once and he knew who I was right away. So that’s kind of great, you know?
Do you identify with the punk scene of today?
Somewhat. And you know there are some really great bands now. I really like Surfbort. I think Dani is such a fantastic freak. Punk has been a lot more defined over the years as a musical form. The difference between us and the Talking Heads and Television was extreme but one thing that was linking everybody was the roughness. There’s a lot of really great bands pushing the limits and I’m all for it.
POINT OF VIEW: Me, New York City, and the Punk Scene can be purchased here