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Dead Horse Flogging With Sid Vicious at the Camden Stables Market
The Quietus , July 4th, 2008 00:00

Brighton based lensman Greg Neate casts his eye over two North London photo exhibitions: Sid Vicious: No-One is Innocent and Snap! - Mencap's 2008 photo competition winners at Proud Gallery, Camden

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In his piece for the Quietus on The Joy Division industry, Chris Roberts observed that after the death of Ian Curtis in 1980, a pattern of reissues was set that has culminated in the current glut of book and film product about the glum Mancunians, despite their making just two albums proper. Perhaps that’s not so surprising though given that their mythology includes being inspired by attending an early Sex Pistols gig; a band whose own posthumous album of previously released singles blatantly acknowledged 'Flogging A Dead Horse' soon after a band member’s death (a year before Curtis) and despite making only one album.

But while Curtis’ lyrics and performances were central to Joy Division and his suicide ended their existence (at least as a performing band), the contribution of Sid Vicious to the Sex Pistols was solely his spiky haired punk look and reckless, ruinous reputation. His death neither caused their break-up, nor has it prevented two recent reunions with the band member whom Sid (it feels churlish to refer to such a damaged individual as Vicious) originally replaced because he suited the band’s image better. Strange then that the collection of photographs of the “most infamous and tragic of punk icons” on display at Proud Gallery Sid Vicious: No One is Innocent lacks any actual photographic iconography. As such, it is unlike the instantly identifiable, bleak Northern urban imagery bestowed upon the Factory-label band by then budding photographers, Anton Corbijn and Kevin Cummins.

While the exhibition claims to “shine new light on Sid’s chaotic life in the spotlight” what we get - along with well trodden scenes of contract signing outside Buckingham Palace, TV appearances and band promo shots against brick walls - is countless similar images of Sid looking vacant whilst eating, drinking and sleeping. And though we’re spared any more intimate bodily function shots you will be yawning too at the live photography which - nevermind his lack of musicianship " nearly all rely on him holding a bass guitar with all the vaguely threatening manner of a confused drunk hanging on to a bar rail for support.

In case there’s any doubt that these less than pretty images were victim to camera shutter gremlins, this seemingly ad hoc selection of photographers confirm Sid’s pitiful presentation with such insightful observations as: ’Sid was not in a good mood’ and ’he seemed depressed’. In particular, Eileen Pollock recalls; ’Sid kept saying over and over again that he was hungry and asking us to buy him food so we bought him two kebabs’. An understandable gesture and not a bad return on one’s investment should there be any takers for her limited, signed, archival digital black & white prints of Sid viewed from behind, sitting on a curb and with his head on his knees going unframed for £425 ex VAT.

John Simon Ritchie was only a Sex Pistol for less than a year before their last gig (nevermind the reunions) and the range of photographs here are similarly limited in any sense of development of the man during his time with the band. That is except to say that things look bad during the Queen’s jubilee, worse on their ill fated American tour and downright disastrous by the time he’s being encouraged to do solo versions of ’My Way’ and is accompanied by the equally wretched with ’No Future’, Nancy Spungen; both of whom would die by the age of 21.

There’s nothing here of the famed wit and humour that endeared him to former reform school mate John Lydon, which he and others recall fondly. No images for instance of Sid cracking a joke, getting a round in or simply smiling for the camera. But then perhaps that would be inconsistent with the sanitised culture of anarchy and death that is on sale in the surrounding tourist market stalls dedicated to a commercial blancmange of goth, metal, punk and new age rebellion. Or as seems more likely for Sid; being a Sex Pistol really was No Fun.

Curiously, opposite the doom and gloom of Sid, is Mencap’s annual Snap! competition featuring photographs taken either by or of someone with learning disabilities. Here are images relating to people facing significant daily challenges and who undoubtedly include individuals prone to violence and self-harm themselves with little awareness of a world outside their own peer group. But rather than being exploited, this exhibition demonstrates the democratisation of photography which acts as a medium for communication and towards attaining a kind of normality for those in society who often live outside it. What the photographs lack in professionalism and commercial value, they undoubtedly make up for in the meaning they give to the person and their families. Clearly a noble and generous gesture by Proud Galleries, whose director Alex Proud was among a judging panel that included Rankin.

And yet until July 3rd there was no mention of Snap! on their website, despite its rightly proud display on Mencap’s. Proud Gallery manager Sam Talbot described the omission of the ’most fantastic project’ he’d been involved with in over two years as ’an oversight’ as their website was hastily updated to include details of an exhibition that opened two weeks ago. As for the unfortunate scheduling coincidence which led to Snap! running alongside No-one is Innocent, this arose when they stepped in after the original venue fell through. Still for their actual hosting and provision of a platform for Mencap’s efforts towards social inclusion, Proud Gallery deserve congratulations, particularly as they intend to continue their involvement in the future.

Meanwhile the Sex Pistols industry rolls on as the band are touring again, collecting awards for who they were and promoting their reunion DVD, There Will Always Be An England; which at least suggests an ongoing determination to exist even if they don’t actually live here. On the other hand, Proud Gallery’s Sid exhibition includes preview clips from a rival film Who Killed Nancy? which exhumes a dead double tragedy with the unpleasant whiff of a possible conspiracy / miscarriage of justice surrounding the poster boy of punk and chief murder suspect.

How fitting then that should you wish to see ’a true Sid Vicious evidence’ about the decline and fall of ’an icon’ who in all likelihood murdered his girlfriend, was filled with self-loathing and eventually killed by Horse, that you can now do so in a multi-media converted stable.

Sid Vicious: No-One is Innocent runs until August 11th Snap! has been extended at Proud Camden to July 12th

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