Exhibitions English Candies

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The Independent Online
It's 20 years this month since the last great British pop revolution was heralded with a roar of hatred and despair by the ultimate punk band, the Sex Pistols. Love, peace and hippies and the glam rock of Gary Glitter, the Sweet and Mud - glittery, star-studded and ultimately hollow - were shoved aside by the likes of the Clash, Stiff Little Fingers and the Undertones in the stampede to shock the establishment. Never before had a musical movement been so angry, so radical, so charged with political and social overtones and so much a product of underprivileged white youth.

Now, in the shadow of the inevitable media nostalgia trip there's a quiet little show going on in Derby which is no less affecting for its gently contem-plative, contemporary slant.

At first glance, Manchester-based photographer A J Wilkinson's exhibition, ironically titled English Candies, shows little sign of being a trip down punk's memory lane. But look closer and you'll pick up the clues in these subtle portraits of 33 thirtysomethings whose lives were touched by the movement.

The show makes compelling viewing and not just because the photographer was himself caught up in the scene in 1975. The then archetypal white, working-class 14-year-old-waiting-for-something-to-happen remembers: "I had two brothers who were each into their own thing. One was a soul boy who went dancing on Saturday night, the other was into Black Sabbath and Led Zep. I wanted to get in on the Black Sabbath scene - then punk turned up. Suddenly I had my own thing. "It joined everyone together," he says. "And it wasn't just about the music. It was about a new and exciting way to dress."

For someone who was affected primarily by the visual possib-ilities of the punk revolution, it's understandable that after years of bumming around on building sites, Wilkinson took up photography as a subject for serious study.

"I'm interested in angles and pictures that tell a story. I only ever really watch films for the visual effects," he says.

And it's the artful combination of visual effects combined with "collected information" that makes English Candies work so well. Wilkinson has self- consciously attempted to tease punk's familiar forms out of the people who have grown up and on since that time. In some images the clues are staring you in the face - like the picture of a mother and child photographed with a "God Save the Queen" banner strung up behind them.

More subtle is the image of a woman in a crouching position on a child- size chair, beside a piece of dolls-house furniture (right). As Wilkinson explains, "This is an ex-punk, now a respectable housewife who named her child Siouxsie (after Siouxsie and the Banshees). I wanted to use this information so I brought in the dolls-house furniture as a reference to the song "Happy House".

Elsewhere, a man is perching naked on a baby grand piano: "He was and still is an anarchist," Wilkinson says. "To have him naked on a status symbol like a baby grand seemed to be appropriately disrespectful."

Punk chronicler Jon Savage wrote the introduction to the catalogue although he initially turned it down. "He gets fed up of the 'he was there, let's ask him about it' tag," Wilkinson explains. But Savage's assessment of Wilkinson's body of work is spot on. As he puts it, "There is much unfinished business left in punk ... for a brief moment you thought you could do anything - an unpopular notion in a society where resources are severely limited, indeed patrolled - and, although it very quickly became clear that you couldn't, that vision stayed with you to be integrated somehow into everyday life."

A J Wilkinson's 'English Candies', Arbor Art Gallery, Arboretum Lodge, Arboretum Square, Derby (01332 299049) from 11 Aug to 10 Sept

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