Named after an Orange Juice single from 1984, What Presence! started life as an exhibition in Glasgow gallery Street Level Photoworks late in 2011 and has since toured to Dunoon and Dundee. It opens tomorrow in the Clydebank Museum and Art Gallery, where it will remain until the 26th of October.
What Presence! the book was published in April this year by Polygon with a foreword by Peter Capaldi and an introduction by Ken McCluskey of The Bluebells, a man crucial to the exhibition being mounted in the first place. In fact, it might never have happened but for an electrical problem in his house that required a qualified spark to sort out.
The spark happened to be Jimmy, the younger brother of his old pal Harry Papadopoulos. Ken had lost contact with Harry and was informed by Jimmy that Harry had suffered a brain aneurysm in 2002 that meant he required full time care.
Ken went to visit Harry and, as he wrote in his introduction, ‘It was great to see him again but it was obvious that his illness had had a profound effect.’ During the visit, Harry wanted to show Ken some of his old prints and contact sheets. ‘It was immediately obvious that this huge body of work was in urgent need of physical preservation and cataloguing.’
This proved to be no small task, with McCluskey spending night after night digitising around 10,000 of Papadopoulos’ prints before contacting Street Level’s director Malcolm Dickson, who immediately saw the potential in the work for a major show.
A self taught photographer, Papadopoulos began snapping visiting rock stars at local Glasgow venues and quickly earned a reputation for himself as one of the country’s finest rock photographers. By the late 70s, Harry secured a post as a staff photographer for Sounds and continued working there until 1984.
His photos helped define what could loosely be called the Post-Punk and New Pop era and if you enjoyed Simon Reynold’s book Rip It Up and Start Again, this is maybe the nearest thing that you’ll find to a visual accompaniment: there’s Vic Godard, The Slits, ABC, Scars, Simple Minds, Siouxsie, Cabaret Voltaire, Gang of Four, Dexys, Altered Images, Madness and Magazine to name only some – although there’s also a smattering of international superstars like The Rolling Stones, Marvin Gaye, David Bowie and even novelist Stephen King.
It really is very enjoyable show and publication – look, there’s a young Alan McGee looking snotty while bass player with The Laughing Apple, there’s a very fresh faced and floppily fringed Edwyn Collins ice skating, Dreamboy Peter Capaldi in his Frank Spencer tank top – what would Malcolm Tucker think of that?
Many of his compositions have a neat but satisfying simplicity about them, Clare Grogan holding a white umbrella diagonally so that its outer tips at both ends divide the photo in two, a little visual trick also utilised for another shot of Edwyn Collins, the singer standing in front of what looks like pages of a Letraset catalogue stuck to a wall and it’s his guitar this time that divides the picture.
Formally many are conventional images, though often with a twist, like some stripes of light playing across half of Bernard Sumner’s face as he plays guitar. Few are overly stagey, although when they are, like Aztec Camera puffing away on pipes, they tend to be comical – three teenagers from the new town of East Kilbride attempting to mimic some old fogeys from the shires.
In his pictures of Vic Godard and Kevin Rowland, Papadopoulos shows a fine appreciation of composition: it’s not just the subject that is important to him, it’s the space surrounding the subject.
Like (most of) the musicians he shot, Harry obviously had a great sense of timing and as another photographer Mick Rock once observed, ‘Photography is about timing, very much about timing’. Both Rock and Papadopoulos certainly had the knack of capturing the moment. One of my own favourites is an extraordinary photo of Mick Jagger pouring a bucket of water over himself on stage at the Glasgow Apollo in 1976 that, by the looks of things, even took Ronnie Wood by surprise.
By all accounts Harry possessed another quality vital to the successful portrait lensman – the ability to put his subjects at ease. As Josef K’s Malcolm Ross explains in the book, their early photo sessions had been ‘tortuous ordeals’ until being shot by Harry (I know the feeling, even stepping into a photo booth is tortuous for me nowadays). Harry, though, put the band at their ease to the point where they would all forget they were even involved in a photo session.
OK, I might be slightly biased and some of the pleasure for me in seeing these photographs comes from the fact that I was part of the audience when a good number of them were taken, like the infamous and very violent Clash gig at the Glasgow Apollo in the summer of 1978; the Rock Against Racism event at Edinburgh’s Craigmillar Park a few months later; Iggy in 1979, again at the Apollo and the1980 Loch Lomond Festival; I think Harry even included me once in one of his photos that thankfully isn’t included here (myself and others behaving rather badly at a Sham 69 gig at Satellite City if you must know) but I’m sure that anybody paying a visit to the What Presence! exhibition or looking through the book would appreciate the man’s fantastic talent.
What Presence! The Rock Photography of Harry Papadopoulos
Clydebank Museum and Art Gallery
October 2nd – 26th
Opening Hours: Monday to Saturday – 10:00 am to 4:30 pm
* An earlier version of this piece was published in the e-Fanzine Positive Noises.