"I don’t go into a session intending to make any kind of statement. I’m looking for the mysterious, how to explore the unique enigma of the situation. I think photography is as much about concealing as it is about revealing. The resolution lies in the art of freezing. The thrill is to seize the magic
“I don’t go into a session intending to make any kind of statement. I’m looking for the mysterious, how to explore the unique enigma of the situation. I think photography is as much about concealing as it is about revealing. The resolution lies in the art of freezing. The thrill is to seize the magic moment.” –Mick Rock, 1981
Don’t you think that’s the perfect way to think about comic panel composition? Fuck cinematic. Photographic is the word. “What’s happening in this scene?” is a question that tricks the viewer-creative gaze into focusing on the progression of their understanding of the meaning of the panel. It asks them to forget that they’re interpreting, and produce a description of the end product of their interpretive journey. How is the narrative impact effected through concealment and revealment? How does the image freeze the magic moment.
This quotation is blazoned across the top of the first double page spread in Mick Rock’s Blood and Glitter; a photobook collection of his artistic journalism during Glam. 1972-1975, mostly London. There’s a lot of Bowie. But the book begins with anonymity: a pair of feet.
Starting strong with an impeccably matched photo/caption combo. This picture encapsulates everything Glam is, and the quotation puts it all out in plain sight: Glam is doing it on purpose. Glam, as opposed to glamour, never intended to hide its working; three decades before YouTube let building fame and sociability on the back of makeup tutorials become a glorious possibility — naked face to full-face, filmed all the way, and joke’s on your “trust issues” memes — Mick Rock was taking ten billion pictures of Bowie staring into a mirror, dabbing gold onto his forehead or pink above his brow bone. “This should be registered” was felt, and acted upon, by the man’s own camp. Remember Brian Slade saying give a man a mask?
“To be honest, the make-up and clothes have always been a way to attract attention. Image is obviously important and I’m prepared to do whatever it takes. But it’s just a way of getting people to listen to the music.” –Steve Harley, 1974
“What I’m into is mindlessness. I just empty myself out, so what people see is just a projection of their own needs. I don’t do or say anything.” –Lou Reed, 1975
These shoes the book begins with are the best start possible because they are anonymous. They “could be anybody’s” shoes and so the determined accessibility of Glam is pinpointed. Who are you? Save up and buy a little pair of platform kicks, dye your regular trousers purple. Get yourself some lurex socks. They won’t be that expensive. The smallest detail can turn a regular life Glam; only one of the glittering socks shows here, a saucy wee reveal (and, counterbalancing, a mysterious concealment: who knows what’s on the other ankle) that says, play it safe or not — you can do it. Your fabulous self can bubble up from deep within and permeate every layer of your outfit, your outward expression. The shoes — can I take a moment to say a prayer for shoe construction in 1972? Bite your lip right through, they knew how to stack a wooden sole and craft a sturdy leather footglove — are scuffed on the white, gummed a little on the dark lower section of the sole. That’s Glam: so you’re an angel with a dirty face. You’re still an angel, darling.
The purple of the trousers is rich and welcoming, the silver satin behind them doesn’t pin the shot to any particular setting. This could be anyone, and it could be anywhere: Glam can come to you. Glam can come from you. You can apply Glam right to you. You can become anything.
Of course if you read the whole book through you’ll see the rest of this outfit (or this outfit, replicated? Unlikely). You’ll see it on Bowie, zapping all of that possibility right through the heart. Because anybody could be Glam, sure, technically — but what’s “could be” when you have to contend with safety from violent masculinists? Or finding shops that sell satin. Or battling your own education in what’s allowed; what you personally can “really pull off”? Glam’s a liar, dropping hints, laughing. A flirty, tempting danger.
Like a lot of charismatic wolves, Glam’s something of a misogynist, actually. #alltheyoungdudes
“Bowie made people so much sexier. I mean, men in make-up, aren’t they much sexier? It’s a pity he’s made women look like male impersonators, but he has brought glamour to the streets.” –Lindsay Kemp, 1974
These quotations are all from the book. Kemp’s words exist in literary juxtaposition with candid shots of teenaged girl fans, all shined up like their glittering idol. There’s no voice in their corner.
Debbie Harry, perennial Honorary inclusion and essential hostage of her classic beauty, gets to command a page and benefit from a narrative in Blood and Glitter. Women otherwise appear as The Girl In The Gang (via Angela Bowie) or on double page splash collections, snaps from particular parties or momentary scenes. Whether in a visual history of Glam or the pages of Country Life, Who Was There montages do approximately nothing for the profiles of the capital-p Personalities who populate them. They, like the parties in the first place, are strength exercises for the host brand. In the version of history that Blood and Glitter proposes, Glam uses woman as accessories, as well as women’s accessories. Yes, you can see the Pointer Sisters, Luciana Martinez, Molly Parkin, Barbara Hulanicki, Sheila Rock, Patti Labelle, Patti Smith, the women of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Marianne Faithful (whose portrait even takes one full page for its own). These women are captioned in miniscule text, with minimal detail; if you don’t know who they are, you can look them up later (on your own dime & time).
Debbie gets her due, in block-font text snippets, descriptive dialogue, photo story sets. American Debbie Harry in her Punk, New Wave band, who is granted the umbrella of Glam aside from all that too. Here’s a list of the men of the English Glam scene, who get the same reverence, care, and active introductory textualisation:
David Bowie (obviously). Iggy Pop. Lou Reed. Queen, and Freddie Mercury. Steve Harley, Mick Ronson, Lindsay Kemp, Bill Gibb, Pierre Laroche. Syd Barrett! Mick Jagger! Andy Warhol! Even Johnny Rotten, in the after-Glam section that ends the book a little weirdly. Frank N. Furter’s not even real, and his focus is far tighter than that on his creator, non-binary Richard O’Brien. You might ask why-
“Frank is absurdly masculine.” — Tim Curry
But where were our women? Does Blood and Glitter present a landscape as it was — or as Rock, the photographer and photojournalist, saw it? Where were the AFAB British artists messing with gender and theatricality, living large, winning record deals on the backs of the fabulous sartorial contortions they made to front their weird heavy sounds? Two obvious answers: they were right there, doing their thing and their best; and
they were right there
just outside of the frame.
“I think photography is as much about concealing as it is about revealing. The resolution lies in the art of freezing.” — Mick Rock
Glam came from our wicked world, from the boring norms it rebelled against and flouted for impact. The Glam we tend to valorize (and Blood and Glitter certainly does) was a men’s rights movement, essentially, without relying on increased oppression of women — there’s space to question the sexual entitlement of glam, here, and it’s place in underage groupie culture — or the denigration of women’s things. “Let’s do fun glamorous things as men, and have a good time and touch each other, and look beautiful and exciting! And… girls can do it too? Yeah, no reason why not.” It’s sub-perfect, obviously, like anything branded but not trademarked can be expected to be, but in retrospect it’s not half bad on the whole. In patriarchy a lot of us like to be like men. If men can be like anything, then we too can be like anything, and still remain ourselves. For me, an ex-girl and current woman, Glam is a route to “feminine satisfactions,, a bypass over the need to grapple with the reflexive horror of feminine requirements that causes me to put that phrase in scare-quotes. Valuing glitter and satin and makeup and peacocking has a certain amount of entrenched gender trauma, for people of all sorts. Glam gave that a bit of a very obvious kicking. It still echoes forty years later.
Glam is a con, just flim-flam. It’s cracked up trash history and you don’t owe it anything. Blood and Glitter’s not a bible: it’s a media textbook. Use it! To steal back your joy, from anyone who took it. Taking the mask of a light oppressor to dress your own face in swags, wreaths and sparkle — that’s glam. Wham Bam.
“One overriding and mischievous satisfaction that I still derive immense pleasure from is remembering how many hod-carrying brickies were encouraged to put on lurex tights and mince up and down the high street, having been assured by know-it-alls like me,that a smidgen of blusher really attracted the birds. This, of course, was true. And has always been since woad.” –David Bowie, foreword to Blood and Glitter, 2001