The ‘punk’ Sheila Rock

The lady herself, Sheila Rock

On Thursday 25th April, I was invited to the preview and book signing of Sheila Rock’s (photographer extraordinaire) new book, ‘PUNK+’.

I’ve now known Sheila for nearly six years and in that time we have become good friends. Sheila is literally an amazing photographer - she won’t mind me telling you that! She has a gentle and creative nature, is a consummate professional and always tries and achieves the very best in her photography. I first worked with Sheila on the ‘Renaissance’ shoot for Magazine 44 back in 2008. Kaffe Fassett and Brandon Mably recommended her work to me and I’m so pleased that they did, as Sheila has been responsible for some of Rowan’s most beautiful shoots such as ‘Renaissance’,  ‘Illusion’ from Magazine 49, ‘Wildwood’ from Magazine 50 and ‘Hebridean’ from Magazine 52.

Sheila has been a professional photographer for many years and started to become interested in photography in the mid to late 1970’s, the time when the music and fashion sensation of ‘Punk’ became well known. Sheila had a circle of friends that enabled her to meet and socialise with some of the most iconic people and bands of the time; the amazing Vivienne Westwood, Don Letts (the influential owner of ‘Acme Attractions’ on the Kings Road, Chelsea which clothed the likes of Debbie Harry, Patti Smith and Bob Marley) and bands such as The Clash, Siouxie and the Banshees, The Damned, The Sex Pistols, Blondie and later The Jam, The Cure (one of my particular favourites) and John Lydon and Public Image Limited. If you were a teenager in the late 1970’s like me, then this is the most astounding and enviable list of people to have known!

Sheila was at the forefront of the emergence of this inspirational and creative movement and she took her opportunity to photograph and record this amazing explosion of youth culture. She captured the essence of Punk; it’s energy and it’s enthusiasm. It’s quite ironic to think that at the time Punk was considered to be anti-fashion but it went on to heavily influence fashion over the decades to the present day. 

Sheila first became well known for her photography when she shot three of the first ten covers of the iconic music and style magazine of the day, ‘The Face’. She then went on to become a fashion photographer and regularly exhibits work internationally. She has a permanent collection of photographs at the National Portrait Gallery in London and ‘PUNK +’ is her second book.

The book signing was held at ‘Browns’ of South Molton Street, London – in the menswear store. The front window was given over to a huge photograph of The Clash and many of Sheila’s PUNK photography collection were displayed in the store, on the ground floor and up the stairway. I went there with my friend Frances Prescott (who happens to be one of our much talented hair and make artists). There were a lot of people attending and it was hot inside as it was one of the first warm April days and many people had spilled over onto the street. There were many vaguely familiar faces, but I just couldn’t place them. I’m sure many were aged Punks from some of the bands! Unfortunately Vivienne Westwood was not there but Don Letts was and was the DJ for the evening. The music was a bit too loud for Frances and I (a sign of age!) as we couldn’t hear each other or hold a conversation!

I managed to speak to Sheila and prise her away from many of her adoring fans to sign my own copy of her wonderful book.  She wrote: “To the girl with pink hair and a creative heart” – a reference to my coloured hair during my first year at Leicester Polytechnic in the early 1980’s. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the pink colour was a result of a mistake experimenting with hair dye!

The book was published to coincide with a major exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. PUNK: Chaos to Couture runs from 9th May – 14th August 2013.

PUNK+ by Sheila Rock

Published by First Third Books

ISBN: 979-10-90892-01-9

by Marie Wallin

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