Beginning this weekend through November 3, the Space Gallery (in its inaugural showing), will feature the photographic work of Roberta Bayley, former door girl at famed punk club CBGBs. Bayley's unconventional career path granted her insider access to one of Rock 'n' Roll's most fascinating eras.
Featuring candid, off-stage images of icons including Debbie Harry, the Ramones and Sex Pistols, Bayley, who also shot for New York's Punk Magazine despite having little formal photographic training, exemplified the DIY aesthetic of the genre.
Even if her name doesn't immediately conjure images of her work in your mind's eye, you've likely seen her stuff–think of the Ramone's 1976 debut album featuring the mop-top punkers, clad in leather, standing in front of a brick wall.
Born in Pasadena in 1950, Bayley grew up in San Francisco experiencing the tail end of the hippie era, eventually settling in New York as a young adult. The girlfriend of Richard Hell (of Television fame,) Bayley took a job working the door of CBGB's charging music fans $2 admission. Working in the midst of the city's nascent punk scene, Bayley sensed something worth remembering was happening. After buying a used Pentax Spotmatic from the Camera Barn near 34th Street (now closed) , she was off and shooting.
The Weekly spoke to Bayley by phone from her St. Mark's Place home and she kindly gave us some nifty anecdotes about some of her photos including stories about traveling with the Sex Pistols during their ill-fated US tour.
OC Weekly (Brandon Ferguson): This picture of Johnny Rotten reminds me of a defendant in a courtroom except for the beer can in his hand.
Roberta Bayley: If you look at most of the pictures of John Lydon that was just his look. He had this strong look that he'd turn on the photographer. It's in a lot of his photos. He had a strong stare. That was after the show in San Antonio Texas, which had been a very chaotic, crazed show. Sid (Vicious) hit a guy over the head with his bass. Everybody was throwing beer cans at the band. There were a few Sex Pistols fans there but a lot of more Texas rednecks at this roller skating rink. Annie Leibovitz was there, I don't remember seeing her but she was in the very front. It was just too crazy, I don't need that. Afterwards the show the Sex Pistols walked out into the space and there was a big contingent of British Press on the tour… (Johnny) was just sitting around talking to these journalists. He's wearing a Vivienne Westwood shirt of cowboys fucking, he's drinking a Lone Star beer and he's in San Antonio. I mean how much more Texas could you be?
OCW: This looks like Debbie with her legs up on a couch:
RB: Yeah, that's taken backstage in Las Vegas in 1979 after the show. They played at the Aladdin Casino which is where Elvis Presley married Priscilla in 1969. I always thought Debbie wore the all-white costume in kind of a tribute to Elvis. She also had this glittery cape that she wore onstage that came off pretty quickly into the set. That was a completely unposed thing that happened after the show. Her hair is wrapped up in a towel, she's soaking wet. She put her feet up, I took the picture. People were like ” oh that was a posed picture,” No, no, it was not a posed picture (laughs).
OCW: Who took this picture of you and Debbie?
RB: That's my friend Bobby Grossman and taken in 1980. It was taken at a nightclub called Hurrah which was in uptown Manhattan.
OCW: How did Joey Ramone and Debbie Harry end up in bed together?
RB: That was one of the Punk Magazine photo comics. We had this one called "Mutant Monster Beach Party.” And their parents were against their relationship. It's a long story. It involved aliens and bikers. It'll be in the Punk Magazine Book that's coming out soon. It was like they were in love and the aliens I believe kidnapped Joey, so Debbie's waiting for Joey and she didn't take her medication and she turned into Edith Massey from the John Waters' film.
OCW: Debbie and boyfriend/bandmate Chris Stein kissing?
RB: That was done in 1976 for High Times Magazine. The publisher Tom Forcade was interested in Punk Magazine and he thought punk was the next big thing. He actually hired the filmmakers who went on tour with the Sex Pistols in 1978 to film (the tour) for DOA (1980 rockumentary). And so we did this fumeti which was based on Shark and Jets clothing which I think was on Blondie's first album. And so that was one of the pictures of Debbie and Chris kissing on the Subway platform.
OCW: Can we expect to see you at the gallery?
RB: Yes, it seems I am–against my better wishes (laughing). I'll be there on the 13th.
Roberta Bayley NY 1975-1984 will run from October 13-November 3. Space Gallery is located at 250 W. Second St. Pomona, (909) 623-1694. Hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.