‘It’s harmony in my head’: A very particular set of circumstances

I sometimes enjoy taking photographs of the gear onstage or the roadies completing sound check. The aim of these photos is to check that my camera settings are appropriate, especially in terms of exposure and white balance. But invariably I end up really liking these photos because they give a different mood and view on artists. However, I am aware that these photographs do not necessarily represent artists the way they are traditionally represented in the media. If context usually informs interpretation of an image then I must argue that, for me, context can distract the interpretation process.

Take for example a concert of The Buzzcocks I attended and photographed in 2013. They had a Union Jack over one of their guitar amps. I photographed it before the band came onstage. Needless to say, the flag is undeniably laden with more meaning and symbols than one can list: racial issues, jingoism, the Queen, religious hatred, the armed forces, the mobs, Brit-pop music, Cool Britannia, sporting achievement, allegiance and loyalty to the Crown, imperialistic dominance, the Jubilee, the National Front, the Labour Party, etc…

I agree with David Hurn (2008: 39) when he says that ‘the only factually correct aspect of photography is that it shows what something looked like – under a very particular set of circumstances. But that is not the same as the underlying truth of the event or situation.’

Of course some punk bands have used the flag in a contemptuous manner; The Sex Pistols being one of the most famous examples. So, I have gone back to my archives and retrieved the photograph of the Union Jack I took just before the Buzzcocks concert. One look and I notice that the said flag has been custom-made: ‘Steve Diggle’ written on the left and CND logo on the right.

Those well informed will know of the connection between Steve Diggle, The Buzzcocks and CND through the independent label New Hormones. Both symbols (Union Jack and CND) are not contradicting in any way theoretically, although in the early 1980s, supporting CND meant disapproving of the politics of Prime Minister Thatcher. Yet, one question remains: why link both together when in those days, the Union Jack was a right-wing symbol and CND resolutely leftist? I cannot answer this question, and as such I do not expect my viewers to know it either. Hence, I have not published this photograph alongside my other photographs of The Buzzcocks.

I don’t know the band well enough, and I am not an expert on punk. Hence, it would be wrong of me to let any viewers interpret this image in their own terms, without me having thought it through beforehand. Moreover, today, our understanding of punk is not only inconsistent but also conflicting. What was once provocative is now celebrated as chic fashion. What was once artistic détournement is now cultural recuperation and media appropriation. What was once bohemian and satirical has become self-important and plush, loaded with monetary worth.

The imagery of the Union Jack has seeped into popular music for decades. Freddie Mercury wrapped himself in it, and so did The Who and The Spice Girls to name but a few I’m aware of. So why my reticence to publish this photo alongside the other Buzzcocks photos? Because I am uncomfortable with the political incongruousness represented in the image. Publishing this photograph would deny the ‘very particular set of circumstances’ within which it was shot and bring a different kind of truth to this image. Furthermore, and equally important, I wonder what underlying message I would be sending my audience? I don’t know the answer to this question, but I am pretty sure that it is unlikely to be the same message as the one intended by Steve Diggle – that ‘underlying truth of the situation’.

These are the reasons why I chose to withhold the image.

‘It’s a harmony in my head

It’s a harmony in my head

It’s a harmony in my head

It’s a harmony in my head’

(Diggle, 1979)

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References

Diggle, S. (1979) Harmony in my head. London: United artists.

Hurn, D. (2008), On being a photographer: a practical guide. Anacortes: LensWork Publishing.

Ryzik, M. (2013), Haute Punk. [Online]. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/28/arts/design/punk-chaos-to-couture-at-the-mets-costume-institute.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0. [Last accessed 12 August 2013].

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