Chris Killip – The Station

Review by Melanie Chapman

Who doesn’t love the smell of sweat, stale beer, and vomit? Who doesn’t fondly remember the danger of getting your eye poked out by the spikey hair of an amped up punk thrashing around in a mosh pit? Not you? Well then move right along Granny; this aint your book.

But for those of us who were, or perhaps still are, fans of the mid 80’s punk rock scene, who wore safety pins as fashion accessories and liberally “borrowed” their mother’s Aqua Net and heavy black eye liner in order to look like the cool kids, who risked life and limb to get as close as possible to the front of the stage, deafness be damned, The Station is everything.

Can a photobook have volume? This one does, and it is loud! Very f’in loud! Just the way we like it.

Shot in economically depressed Newcastle circa 1985, Chris Killip’s 4×5 black and white photography documents the visceral energy of a former police social club turned into a collectively run punk rock venue. Large borderless images pull you right into the scene, as up- close as one could ever hope to be, so close it feels hot, and dangerous in the best sense of the word. The Station was a place where local bands gathered to play music and support each other’s music. But it was obviously much more than that. A nearly all-male scene, (props to the few young ladies who appear at the edges of the frame) the joy of smashing up against other shirtless testosterone fueled torn jeans lads makes a lot of sense if you understand most of these young men had no jobs and no clear futures. Everything was in the NOW; only this moment, this song, this pint, this band mattered. 

It is amazing to imagine Killip, a self-described thirty-nine-year-old in a suit, (who later became a tenured photography professor and department chair at Harvard University) wielding a medium format camera and “hefty Norman flash”, being able to get past the club bouncer let alone taking such up-close dynamic photos, but somehow, he did. This was decades ago, before everyone and their mother had a cel phone and an Instagram account, before every single thought or fart became commodified, when the biggest “influencers” in their lives were Margaret Thatcher and the coal miners strike. 

These kids, and by kids, I mean Brits in their late teens and early twenties with tons of energy and nowhere to go, found community in a place that ironically (if you believe in such things) had once been the clubhouse of their very oppressors, and if their heads were still getting bashed in, at least now it was of their own choosing. These punks would do the bashing, the thrashing, the moshing and mashing on their terms, thank you very much. Like the skateboarders of Dogtown in rundown Venice Beach California, the punks in The Station made their own rules and then promptly broke them. Killip’s photographs provide an excellent opportunity to be back in that moment, to get your aggressions out, to drink with your mates, and scream “F OFF!!” to a world that doesn’t give a sh*t about you. 

Postscript: Only after completing this review did this writer learn of Killip’s recent passing, in October of 2020 from lung cancer, at the age of 74. Without knowing him personally, this was sad news indeed. As a young man, Killip discovered photography through the work of Henri-Cartier Bresson and pursued it as a means to escape his hometown. He later returned to the Isle of Man and documented the beauty and simplicity of an environment he knew well, and the disenfranchised working-class people he had genuine respect for. 

In a 2017 interview for 1854, the British Journal of Photography, Killip said: “The working class get it in the neck basically, they’re the bottom of the pile,” says Chris Killip. “I wanted to record people’s lives because I valued them. I wanted them to be remembered. If you take a photograph of someone they are immortalised, they’re there forever. For me that was important, that you’re acknowledging people’s lives, and also contextualising people’s lives.”

For those of us who unfortunately missed the opportunity to study with Killip at Harvard, and quite frankly never even wanted to attend Harvard until learning that Killip had taught there, we are fortunate that he shared his understanding of life through his beautiful and unflinching photographs. He graced us all with his compassion and lack of cynicism. Rest in Peace Mr. Killip; you existed, and you will be remembered. You deserve nothing less.

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Previous Photobook Journal Reviews of Chris Killip’s photo books: Seacoal, In Flagrante Two

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The Station, Chris Killip

Photographer: Chris Killip (Born 1946 in Douglas, Isle of Mann, died 2020 in Boston, Mass.)

Published by Steidl Verlag, Germany, copyright 2020

Text: English

Hard Cover book, clothbound, sewn binding, black and white images, ISBN 978-3-95829-616-9

Book design by Pony Ltd., London

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Articles & photographs published on PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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