Photographing Icons of Popular Culture – Subjective Takes

A few days ago I was walking in Frith Street in London’s Soho. London is gradually easing out of lockdown and cafes and restaurants are preparing to open on July 4. As I approached a long-time regular haunt, Bar Italia, I saw the door was partially open so I peeped in. They were in the process of restoration work, and the surfaces were covered with films of plastic. The vintage poster of boxer legend Rocky Marciano was also covered for protection, giving the image sfumato feel – a painterly soft blur:

I started thinking about the various photographs I’d taken featuring icons of popular culture and my motivation for taking them. There’s a connection to seeing them afresh in way that piqued my interest, something jarring or surreal perhaps.

In the image below, taken in Christmas 2013 in New York’s Little Italy – a tableaux of actors who’ve portrayed gangsters, Godfathers and various Mafiosi family members are juxtaposed with seasonal red poinsettia plants:

Next, a nice souvenir from a trip to Paris crystallised in a photo. My husband’s hand holding cinema tickets featuring square portraits of Chaplin and Steve McQueen:

A lenticular image of Marilyn Monroe seen in London’s Golborne Road caught at a moment when her face is doubled:

One of the earliest in my Lightroom catalogue was this picture of Elvis Toast, taken in 2005. I think I’d seen it in a small gallery window but I cannot find any reference to it to credit the artist. This appeals to me as I often see faces in things – a phenomenon known as pareidolia. It also has resonances with mystical sightings – people who see the face of Jesus in everyday objects.

The next image was taken in Havana, Cuba in 2008. It’s part of a shop window, displaying paintings. I like it because of the juxtaposition of Cuban music icon Compay Segundo with a version of The Last Supper. One could argue these are representations of deities in their own right:

More music icons in different guises. At a bus shelter in East Finchley, an advert featuring Beyoncé is fused with reflections. The intricate tree branches add a layer of complexity to the surface. I see them also as veins and capillaries, and they further her status from pop goddess to tree goddess:

Still in East Finchley, a charity shop contains amongst its bric a brac and texts a black and white drawing of Freddy Mercury tucked behind a glass vase. The resulting illusion combined with the graphic black lines of reflected trees is suggestive of an abstract, cubist collage:

More found abstract art – a rusty bridge in Paris is the backdrop for this graffiti stencil of Jimi Hendrix. In a different context – a gallery for example – I would definitely stop and admire this multi-layered, textured artwork:

And finally a couple of sightings from the Lower East Side in New York City – in the first a black and white photograph of John Lennon in his round sunglasses is propped up in a window next to a Menorah, a ritualistic candelabrum and symbol of the Jewish Festival of Chanukah:

Christmas 2019 at The Ludlow Coffee Supply. Michael Jackson’s BAD album on vinyl – an old favourite but now controversial choice following allegations of child sexual abuse – for me is the punctum* of the retro backdrop:

*The punctum is a concept described by Roland Barthes in his book Camera Lucida referring to what is personally unique to the viewer in a photograph. He writes, the punctum of a photograph is that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me).


Also published on Medium.

4 thoughts on “Photographing Icons of Popular Culture – Subjective Takes”

  1. So great to follow your work. I used to frequent Bar Italia in the 80’s and early 90’s when I lived in London.

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