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Topic: Pennie Smith exhibition opens in May in Belfast. Return to archive
04-19-03 01:40 PM
CS Hey Gazza this is for you!

Putting pictures to music
Photographer Pennie Smith has captured some of rock music's best-known images. Her first solo exhibition opens in May in Belfast. She spoke to Una Bradley

By Una Bradley

Photographer Pennie Smith has covered some of rock music's best known images

A TIRED, London twang putters down the phone line. The woman at the other end has good reason to sound jaded.

Now in her fifties, Pennie Smith has toured with the likes of Led Zeppelin, The Stone Roses, and Oasis, over a 30-year career.

Her claims to fame include sharing a bus with The Clash for four months, getting dirty looks from Debbie Harry, and creating one of rock 'n' roll's most enduring images - subsequently used as the cover of The Clash's 1979 album, London Calling.

Smith is, to many in the industry, rock photographer extraordinaire - the closest thing Britain has to Rolling Stone snapper, Annie Leibovitz.


The Clash on stage: recently voted the most famous rock image ever

Around 40 of her most celebrated prints - including The Clash shot - will hang at the Waterfront Hall between May 5 and 11, as part of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival.

She's finding it tough whittling down the selection out of thousands of possibilities but it will include intimate encounters with The Rolling Stones, Paul Weller, Iggy Pop, Marianne Faithful, David Byrne, Primal Scream, The Manic Street Preachers, Tim Buckley and Marvin Gaye.

Her first commission was to capture Led Zeppelin, on tour, for NME, in 1973.

Was that not a bit scary?


The Stone Roses on tour in Belgium

"They were total gentlemen," she giggles. "They couldn't believe this young girl had been sent along.

"They were the ultimate in good manners."

Six years later, her reputation was copper-fastened with the live-action photo of Paul Simonon, of The Clash, smashing up his bass guitar in a fit of on-stage pique.

The image has become definitive and continues to win awards; Q magazine recently voted it 'best rock image ever'.

Despite her being one of the hottest photographers on the circuit, Smith insists she's more of a "hippy" than a go-getting careerist.


Mick Jagger in 1994

She still uses a relatively basic Pentax camera and will only work in black and white.

"I'm not even a fully fledged photographer," she sighs. "I'm more of a gut-reaction type.

"I'm lazy. I'm not into the latest gadgets.

"I like the rogues and the vagabonds. I tend to work with the same bands - The Stone Roses, Black Grape - over and over again.

"I could wake up tomorrow and decide I want to be an engine driver instead - and that would be fine."

After graduating from art college, in the late Sixties, she started out on an underground fanzine, with the well-known music writer, Nick Kent.

Soon, the two of them were securing bylines in all the top music-press titles.

Perhaps strangely, Smith is not remotely interested in music.

Although there are certain bands she "feels at home with", the sound they produce tends to wash over her.

"I'm like a sniper," she says. "When I'm working, I'm just concentrating on the visual. Nothing else distracts me.

"I'm seeing shapes, not hearing."

Neither can she name a favourite photo, or subject, from her name-dropping back-catalogue.

"It's a moveable feast," she explains. "My tastes change as I go along. Certain pictures have different associations so sometimes it's the memory, rather than the picture, you like."

She cites Debbie Harry as the most photogenic person she has worked with.

"The day we met, she was having a terrible day," says Smith. "I think there might have been a strop before I arrived.

"She gave me these three dirty looks, really quickly, and that was it over, but the pictures came out really well."

Is being loved by the camera always linked to physical beauty?

"Not at all. In my opinion, someone like Harry looks better in pictures than in the flesh.

"I think it's more to do with knowing who you are.

"It's people who know why they're on this planet and who have a good sense of themselves - they're always the ones who take the best photo."

- For more information on the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, see www.cqaf.com
04-20-03 03:33 PM
Gazza first I'd heard of this. Excellent! I'll be checkin' that out - its just around the corner from my work,too!

thanks for posting

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