In 1986, a small diversion from my many activities came about when the Sunday Times magazine included me in a set of party-goers asked to take a camera along to any party of their choice and come up with some unusual snaps. Each of us was provided with a fully automatic 35AF2 Kodak camera loaded with Kodacolour Gold film. We had three months in which to deliver the pictures.
According to the magazine, most of those approached said ‘Great!’ to the proposal, others declined. Derek Jameson said he would love to do it, but he never went to parties. Tony James of Sigue Sigue Sputnik also said he would love to, but never came up with any pictures. Those of us who took the commission seriously produced our results from the social frontline in due course. Peter Stringfellow offered his perspective on an evening of entertainment; Elaine Page photographed a group of her own guests; Ian Botham, who was occupied with Amnesty International, found time to work the pavilion at Lords. My own choice was to cover the party for the tenth anniversary of punk at the Limelight Club in Shaftesbury Avenue.
The idea of being behind the camera in the manner of the paparazzi, observing punk in all its shapes and forms, was something I was looking forward to. I felt I had a special interest in the subject as the publisher of Val Hennessy’s definitive book on the phenomenon and also of Stefan Richter’s Tattoo. The correlation between punk and tattoo was inescapable. Each used colour and the human form to send out some sort of signal or make a statement. Each could in a way be said to disfigure the natural grace of the body by imposing outside elements to give it more impact visually and conform with an artificial tribalism. More often than not it was cocking a snook at the aesthetic of beauty, turning beauty into a freak display of weird images designed to shock and draw attention. The result was an improvised sort of wilful ugliness with no definitive characteristics of its own.
The party at the Limelight Club was not the kind I would usually have gone to for pleasure, but I had an assignment I had to carry out. To bolster my morale in an alien setting I took along two of my girls: my cook, Charlotte Millward, who was an extrovert beauty and as cool as a cat, and Amanda Tress, who was then in charge of the Quartet Bookshop; she was equally cool and had a wickedly contagious sense of humour. They dressed in the black-rubber outfits they had worn for the launch of Avant l’Amour and Après l’Amour. The suggestion was made that I, too, ought to be dressed in black rubber. I vetoed the idea and opted instead for a red silk shirt and black trousers.
Charlotte and Amanda made the most of the evening amid a neardemented crowd of young people who whirled, capered and jived to tempos hard to pick out of the ear-shattering noise. The notion of taking pictures seemed an impossible challenge. The floor was jammed and everything was happening in pitch darkness. Only the fear of failure vis-à-vis the Sunday Times induced me to keep trying. Eventually I discerned the figure of a young woman – at least I thought it was a young woman. It was extremely hard to tell the difference. The styles of youth made the sexes almost interchangeable, but the creature I targeted seemed very colourful and sexy, irrespective of gender. I managed to snap a picture, and then another face beamed out of the darkness. I clicked the camera again and and kept on clicking at random, trying to capture the mood of the party. Some of the visual effects were fascinating, but others you just couldn’t cope with. In the end I couldn’t stand any more of it.
As it turned out, my efforts were not in vain. The Sunday Times were very pleased with what I had achieved and published the fruits of my endeavours, giving them some prominence in the feature article. Among the contributors I was apparently the only one who failed to include a self-portrait in the selection. As a result, they had to find one for themselves and I was referred to for the first time as ‘the self-effacing Naim Attallah’.