Youri Lenquette — Punk Nuggets, Original Artyfacts 1977-1985
Punk Nuggets, Original Artyfacts 1977-1985
Past: November 19, 2013 → February 22, 2014
Robert Capa, the famous war photo reporter, used to say: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”. Youri Lenquette has always been close. In the paranoid universe of back stages and of band entourage, he arrived where the rest performed a somehow brutal retreat. As if he had released waves, or had emitted ultra sounds showing the musicians he was one of them.
Without making a fuss about it, Youri grew up on his own. Soon he had seen, lived and experienced more than most of his future colleagues. We were still fantasising about the “rock way of life”, while in certain regards Youri had already tested it. Perhaps it was this, after all, that the musicians could feel. While having the privilege of being admitted to the other side of the barrier, around the bonfire, his experience, his instinct, and his guardian angel always made him keep the right distance. “Close enough” for the picture to be good, but not too close to the fire, not to get burnt. Many travel companions of these bands were carbonised upon contact. Youri is still here, safe and sound, for exposing and testifying.
In 1981 he was the London correspondent for the monthly magazine Best. His first assignment coincided to my first trip for Rock&Folk: a miserable concert of Adam & the Ants, but I have reasons for not regretting it, among others because that is where Lanquette and I became friends. In the following years I saw him growing professionally. Photography, which at the start was an engaging hobby, and, once a journalist, a way for completing his articles, soon became a profession and also an art. But always, regardless of what happened, being “close enough” for Robert Capa to approve it.
Laurent Chalumeau : Which are the criteria on the basis of which you selected the pictures?
Youri Lenquette : The documentary interest, as much as other possible graphic qualities. For instance: the photo of Mick Jones, Captain Sensible and Bernie Rhodes sitting in a circle. It’s nothing astonishing but it captures a moment: six months later, the verdict was released, the Clash were part of a totally different league. But there, everybody is still at the same level, chatting and smoking pot. Other times, the picture is interesting or picturesque, but it represents perfect strangers. And then, sometimes, you are lucky : it is well framed, well composed and it says something about one of your favourite artists.
LC : From your pictures, stand out spontaneity and a lack of pretension that fit well your subjects. How do yow consider them today?
YL : At the time, I saw them as souvenirs, as something that could help me remember, as a stolen moment. Later, as illustrations able to give life to my articles. There still is not a precise thought behind. It is mainly photography from someone passionate about music more than mere photography. Luckily the musicians I photographed are still interested in music thirty or thirty-five years later, and were back then quite photogenic. And then, as I kept taking pictures, I realised that, even if correctly written, my articles stood no chance of developing an artistic dimension of their own and they would have always been dependent on the work of someone else. Whilst my photographs, I believe, were at least something I was making myself, even if I was just at the start. It was more stimulating.
LC : Some of your pictures give the impression of being shot by a member of the band.
YL : Considering the environment of a punk concert of those times, being in front of the stage with a camera was mission impossible. The only way for not being knocked over, was to be on the stage. On the condition, of course, that the band accepted to have you around.
LC : Indeed, two things always struck me: the way you could immediately establish proximity with the artists and the way they would grant you complete access, while distrusting the other journalists and photographers. How would you explain this?
YL : I don’t know. The honesty of my enthusiasm was probably obvious. Also, it might have been that I tried to be myself as much as possible. In fact the good attitude is not to have an attitude. The limitation is, in the end, that you get accepted as a member of the band because you know when you are supposed to stop taking photos. There are, sometimes, things that you regret you couldn’t shoot or grab. For instance, I recall an after-concert with Motörhead which was a condensed version of whatever you might read or fantasise about the excesses of the “rock & roll way of life”. We headed with some bikers towards their quarter, then, we went with them to a diner where it nearly ended up in a fight, then again to a brothel in Marseille, all this in a sequence of transgressions, but also in a friendly light-hearted atmosphere. And of course, no chance of using my camera.
LC : Speaking about bikers, you reckon that the times spent with a club of the French Riviera taught you to ride quite well.
YL : Maybe. But it is mainly the interest in motorbikes other that the Japanese ones that made a good contact point with the musicians. If the guys saw you getting to the interview or to the shooting on an interesting engine, that could distinguish you from your colleagues. Or if the conversation touched the subject of what kind of motorbike I liked, soon that would turn into a shared interest, it would create complicity. For sure other journalists had this with football.
LC : These pictures show nearly ten years. Looking back, what do you think they say about you, or about the evolution of your gaze?
YL : It is the passage from an enlightened amateurism to a profession. Exactly as the punk artists I used to shoot or hang out with. We had the same age, they grabbed a guitar, I grabbed a camera. But if you say punk in the meaning of twenty year old, arrogant kids overfilled with energy and craving for living fast, here and now, well, it is obvious : during those years they, just as myself, were punk. Later, we all had a better vision of what we were doing. This is the good news. The bad one is that, all of a sudden, we weren’t twenty anymore! This is the evolution, the passage to a more experienced shot, but necessarily to adult age. As I said, I was lucky that the subjects of my photos have aged well and that many times, my camera and I, found ourselves in the right place at the right time.
Opening Saturday, November 16, 2013 6 PM → 9 PM