A unique exhibition of the work of PTMADDEN presenting a twenty-six piece photographic artwork featuring the Sex Pistols live on stage on 3rd April 1976.
On 3rd April 1976, PTMADDEN, a young art student from Merseyside studying in London, stood with his camera a few feet away from the stage at the Nashville Rooms, London with the concept of taking a stage-framed photograph every thirty seconds to capture an entire performance of his favourite group - the Sex Pistols. He then kept the negatives under his bed for almost 40 years (so he always knew where they were), allowing only a few of the exposures to be seen in recent years. This unique exhibition presents all twenty-six surviving photographs painstakingly produced as a unified artwork for the first time.
As one of his earliest photographic works, Sex Pistols - April 1976 by PTMADDEN exists as both a unique photographic document and as an artistic equivalent of a live performance by the Sex Pistols in early April 1976.
PTMADDEN’s ‘anti-Henri Cartier-Bresson technique’ was derived from previously reading every issue of Artforum in the London College of Printing library, which led him to discover his artistic influences and conceptual frames of reference. Thus, the twenty-six piece artwork Sex Pistols - April 1976 rejects the conventions and clichés of contemporary rock photography and instead can be compared more accurately to what PTMADDEN refers to as ‘the sublimely strange photographs’ of Ed Ruscha’s Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963), Richard Long’s photographs of straight line walks, and Bernd and Hilla Becher's systematic series of works - including typologies of timber framed buildings and water towers – photographs that seemed to PTMADDEN to be ‘deliberately untechnical and purposely badly lit.’
The surviving roll of film appears as a typology of a Sex Pistols performance, and PTMADDEN regards the roll of film as the artwork - not any individual shot.
PTMADDEN had witnessed nearly all of the early public performances by the Sex Pistols including their first ever performance at St. Martin’s School of Art on 6th November 1975. From the outset he became fanatical, viewing them simultaneously as iconoclastic, frightening and hilarious. In a series of interviews with Colin Fallows, PTMADDEN explains his motivation to take the photographs:
I took photographs of the Sex Pistols at the Nashville Rooms on 3rd April 1976 because Johnny Rotten had walked offstage the week before during a gig at the 100 Club after Glen Matlock refused to engage in an on-stage fight with him. The tension between Rotten and the other band members was so strong that as Rotten made his way up the club's staircase to an Oxford Street bus-stop, Steve Jones placed his right hand under all his guitar strings and then, in one astonishing movement, he ripped them right off the guitar and stood holding them in pure and total anger like he had ripped all the hair from his head. I gasped in shock, and thought, if they split up I want something to remember them by so I can recreate this experience. I was touched with that aspect of photography that William S. Burroughs described as, 'A desire to imprison, to incorporate, a sexual intensity of pursuit.'
Sex Pistols - April 1976 by PTMADDEN is available at Wilkinson Gallery as a special signed limited edition box-set containing all twenty-six photographs, together with accompanying edited interviews by Colin Fallows.
In the introductory essay to the exhibition, and forthcoming book, Colin Fallows draws upon his in-depth interviews with PTMADDEN. Two short extracts appear below.
The Camera and Set-up
I had never used a 35mm camera before mainly because the cost of a roll of a film equalled the weekly rent of my Camden Road bedsit. I was shown the basic operation by the wonderful Bob Carlos Clarke who was my tutor at the London College of Printing. On the day of the gig he loaded up the first roll of Kodak Tri-X and showed me how to turn the ISO dial to maximise the venue's available light. The out-of-control grain in the neg’s owes some inspiration to the imaginary forensic evidence of Thomas in Antonioni's' Blow-Up. I got to the Nashville Rooms at 5pm during the get-in and asked Malcolm McLaren if I could take photographs. He was always pleasant to me, this was the fifth gig of theirs I had gone to and he had bothered to ask my name. He seemed surprised that I should actually ask permission and replied cheerily, 'Of course you can Paul.'
The Concept and Technique
I stood amongst the tables and chairs of the totally deserted audience arena and found a position where I could almost get every single member of the band into each shot. When they began playing I stood up and braced myself against the back of a chair to form an ad-hoc tripod arrangement in an attempt to steady the camera. After I took the first exposure I counted to thirty and took the second exposure. I had worked out that I could document the entire thirty-six minute performance by shooting my 72 exposures at a rate of two per minute.
With this deliberately anti-decisive-moment technique I was convinced I would capture poses that were as unusual as the band. At one point Rotten blew his nose, an on-stage action most photographers would find uninteresting – my evidence being, as far as I know, there is no other photograph of this habit of Rotten's.
Most of my photographs were taken by framing the stage and then looking over the top of the camera. I did that primarily to make sure if something weird happened I could quickly swing the camera to record it. So almost all the shots were taken 'blind' which might explain why there is one misfire, of Jones singing at Matlock's microphone. I still use this anti-emotional, anti-artistic process on the rare occasions I take a camera to a gig. For me, photography is a war against the present moment
In an interview with Jon Savage in 1988, Joe Strummer describes the context of the evening of 3rd April 1976 when the Sex Pistols were support band to Strummer’s group The 101ers:
‘… I walked out onstage while they were getting their soundcheck together, and I heard Malcolm going to John, ‘Do you want those kind of shoes that Steve's got or the kind that Paul's got? What sort of sweater do you want?’ And I thought, blimey, they've got a manager, and he's offering them clothes! To me it was incredible.
The rest of my group didn't think much of all this, but I sat out in the audience, there can’t have been more than forty people in the whole boozer, they did their set, and that was it for me. The difference was, we played ‘Route 66’ to the drunks at the bar, going, please like us. But here was this quartet who were standing there going, we don't give a toss what you think, you pricks, this is what we like to play, and this is the way we're gonna play it. Regardless of whether you like it or not. That was the difference.
… They were on another planet, in another century, it took my head off.
I understood that this was serious stuff, they honestly didn’t give a shit. John was really thin, and kept blowing his nose between numbers. The audience were shocked.’
(Joe Strummer quoted in Savage, J. (2009) The England’s Dreaming Tapes, Faber and Faber Limited, London).
Colin Fallows is an artist, curator and Professor of Sound and Visual Arts at Liverpool John Moores University. His research explores crossovers between sound and the visual arts, frequently investigating the conditions and potentialities of listening. As artist and curator, he has produced soundworks for live ensemble performance, recordings, exhibition, installation, radio and the Internet – and his artistic and curatorial projects have featured in numerous international festivals, galleries and museums world-wide. He leads the Colin Fallows Ensemble - an electric guitar trio (with Bee Hughes and Eva Petersen) dedicated to the performance of multi-layered soundworks, dense with microtones which generate numerous overtones through bespoke tuning to resonant performance spaces. The CFE performed Reverbs, a series of related compositions by Fallows for prepared and treated electric guitars, throughout 2015 at Wilkinson Gallery, London - staged in collaboration with Boudicca fashion house, and recorded in ambisonic surround-sound by the British Library Sound Archive.His large-scale curated exhibitions reinterpret previously under-researched figures and works in popular culture/counterculture including: Stuart Sutcliffe - A Retrospective (2008); Astrid Kirchherr - A Retrospective (2010); and Cut-ups, Cut-ins, Cut-outs: The Art of William S. Burroughs at the Kunsthalle, Vienna (2012) and the International Centre of Graphic Arts, Ljubljana, Slovenia (2013). He has been instrumental in the acquisition of several world-class archives of popular culture/counterculture held at Liverpool John Moores University. As curator and research consultant to these archives, he has researched and curated materials in a variety of contexts for large-scale exhibitions in galleries and museums across nine countries.
PTMADDEN studied Graphic Design at the London College of Printing before embarking on a twenty-three-year career as a freelance graphic designer working in design for print, screen and web both in the UK and abroad. In 2001 he decided to abandon the deadlines and pressures of design work in order to develop his interests in writing, painting and photography. He is influenced by the chance creative methods of Dada, Surrealism, William S. Burroughs, Situationist slogans of May 68 – and the time -space-shifting concept The Known, The Unknown and The Unknowable told by the nagual Don Juan Matus to Carlos Castaneda. In 2004 he began a series of dérives to explore, what he refers to as, The Emitscape by examining and documenting the street-layouts and architecture of London, Liverpool, Oxford, Cambridge, Avebury, Bath, St Ives, Chester, Port Sunlight and Edinburgh. This activity culminated in the summer of 2013 with a solitary four-week drift around Paris where he took over six thousand photographs in all twenty arrondissements. He discovered not just the interiors of every art gallery in the Marais but also the graves of Jim Morrison, Apollinaire and Baudelaire; all Picasso's studios; various Beatles, New York Dolls and Sex Pistols locations; the homes of Paul Verlaine, Eugene Atget, Serge Gainsbourg and the Marquis de Sade – and the Sorbonne area ghostwalls of Situationist graffiti. The photos from all these walks now form the content for his artist's book series DERIVER#. To accompany the books, he has created a series of A0 photomontages selected from the photographs taken on each walk.