These pictures, on show at London’s Ancient & Modern gallery alongside the Vorticist-inspired Vortographs of Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1904), comprise a portrait of a lost 1970s and early 1980s London underground scene. They were shot by photographer Jane England who moved to Britain from her native Melbourne, Australia, in 1973 and stayed ever since. She set up her west London art gallery England & Co in 1987. England immersed herself in the era’s post-hippie, proto-Punk subcultures that gravitated to the Portobello Road (chiefly, its ultra-hip extremity Golborne Road), Butler’s Wharf (which housed a colony of artists, including Andrew Logan) and the King’s Road, site of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s forbidding Punk boutiques Sex and Seditionaries. ‘London was hit by IRA bombs, strikes, protests,’ recalls England. ‘My memories are of grey, freezing winters and almost no central heating. There was a grim side to the city, but it had a real edge. It was a genuinely alternative time.’ Her pictures chronicle a period during the mid-1970s recession, prior to Thatcherism and the 1980s ‘style revolution’, when potentially incompatible subcultures – including Punks and gays – fraternised by dint of a shared outsider status, something they gloried in. Indeed, there’s a defiant glamour in their cross-dressing and adoption of extreme dress – typified by gay trannie Jasper in her 1950s Hollywood drag or Sex shop assistant Jordan with her platinum beehive and Batgirl make-up. Though seemingly ‘reportage-y’, these images reflect England’s love of stylised cinema – film noir and expressionist flicks like The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. She claims, ‘I didn’t see my pictures as documentary. There was usually a complicity between the subjects and myself’. Underlining this is these freaks’ playful, preening exhibitionism.
Alvin Langdon Coburn and Jane England runs until 17 May at Ancient & Modern, 201 Whitecross Street, London EC1