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Punk photographer returns to Wales with rock exhibition

The Clash are one of the rock bands featured in the exhibition. Photo: Chalkie Davies

The punk and rock era is brought to life in a new exhibition in Cardiff - "Chalkie Davies The NME Years".

It features legendary musicians from the 1970s and 1980s by Welsh photographer Chalkie Davies who worked for the New Musical Express from 1975 to 1979 - it also coincides with his 60th birthday.

The retrospective features a largely unseen collection of 64 black and white images of many important bands and musicians including The Clash, The Specials, Sex Pistols, Elvis Costello, David Bowie, Thin Lizzy and The Who.

Chalkie Davies – the NME years will be shown at the National Museum Cardiff from 9th May – 6th September 2015.

The Clash on the cover of the NME in 1977. Credit: Chalkie Davies

Born in 1955 and growing up in Sully, south Wales, Chalkie was drawn to the hub of the music industry in London at the age of 16 where he discovered a passion for photography.

Success followed when he photographed David Bowie on his Ziggy Stardust tour and by 1975 Chalkie was employed as a staff photographer for NME. He photographed all the key players in this ground-breaking musical era.

Chalkie preferred to pose his subjects, often using carefully chosen backgrounds from around the globe. He followed his subjects, frequently visiting America, Europe and even Asia, working with artists like Ian Dury, Debbie Harry, Elton John, Keith Richards and Paul McCartney.

Elvis Costello. Credit: Chalkie Davies

After leaving the NME in 1979, Chalkie went on to contribute to a new music magazine called The Face.

At the same time he was photographing record covers for The Specials, The Pretenders, and Elvis Costello, and subsequently moved into the studio where he shot LP sleeves and formal portraits for artists like Pete Townshend, David Gilmour and David Bowie.

By the mid-1980s, Chalkie felt the need to change his focus and headed to the United States of America to pursue a new career as a still life photographer.

Before leaving the UK Chalkie put all of his work for both NME and the Face into a vault, deciding to leave them unseen for 25 years, wondering what cultural relevance they may have when he finally decided to reassess his work.

Sid and Nancy. Credit: Chalkie Davies

Music was the one thing that really interested me when I was a teenager in south Wales, that and electronics, I had this dream of working for a band, but I never had any aspirations of being in the group itself, I also borrowed my father’s camera, and used to go off taking pictures at Barry Scrapyard, this was where all the steam trains were sent to die.

I am very humbled that National Museum Cardiff is hosting my photography in this retrospective. This exhibition brings together my work from a special time in the world of music. It is a mixture of documentary work for the NME and a collection of unseen studio portraits of people like Suggs, Ian Dury, Joe Strummer, Chrissie Hynde, and Paul Weller.

– Chalkie Davies
Lemmy Kilmister, London, 1982. Credit: Chalkie Davies

Janice Lane, Director of Learning, Exhibitions and Digital Media, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, said, “The name ‘Chalkie Davies’ may not be familiar to everyone but his images are widely recognised.

“We hope visitors to the museum enjoy this unique display which documents a relationship between popular music and photo-journalism that no longer exists.”