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At the age of 15, Chris Clunn walked out of school. He had KY jelly in his hair and pierced ears. He wore a mohair jumper, home-made bondage trousers and clogs. Under his arm was tucked a copy of Cultures Two Sevens Clash. He had no qualifications and a point to prove.
It was 1977 . High on hope and fuelled with the Punk ethos of ‘fuck the authorities – I can do this on my own terms’. Armed with a small portfolio of images of bands he had shot for school fanzine, ‘The Modern World’ plus promo shots from record companies, which he hoped to pass off as his own work, Chris headed straight to the Capital Radio Job Centre.
Within two days he had landed a job working as a tea boy come messenger for the Soho legend ‘Gypsy‘Joe Andrews of Joe’s Basement.
It was his first real ‘nice touch’.
“I know you ain’t left school legit Cat , but I’ll take you on. If you put in the time and effort , you’ll get a tenner a week as your greengages”
Joe, with his large gold earring in one ear, hearing aid in the other, silk scarf and gold teeth became Chris’s mentor. He taught him the trade and got him his first real camera – a Nikon F. He also introduced him to the sounds of Sonny Boy Williamson and Muddy Waters.
Within seven years Chris had learnt the high end archival black and white printing skills that he still uses in his darkroom today. He had worked with some of the great photographers of the past century including Bailey, Donovan and McCullin. He had been through every current fashion phase from Punk to Soul-Boy, Casual to Mod, Psychobilly to New Romantic and Indie Kid. He had owned his first Hasselblad and, perhaps most important of all, he had become a regular freelance for leading music publication the New Musical Express (NME)
His second “ real nice touch”.
By the early 1990’s, however, Chris had enough of being part of the music industry machine. Not only was it killing his love for music but he was fed up with just being just a cog in the machine.
Bands were seen as merely a product - ‘no different from a can of beans’ and he didn’t want to be perceived as a Rock n Roll photographer. The money was good though and this helped fund the other side to Chris’s work, social documentation and portraiture.
His first project ‘ Eels Pie and Mash’ (1990-1995) was a study of the eponymous shops and was initially shown at the Museum of London before touring the UK. The corresponding book sold out within months.
Bummaree (1995-1998), which Chris sees as one of his most important works to date, documented the characters of London’s old Smithfield meat market. The images were shown in London, four years later, to great acclaim.
Walking the Plank (1993-1998), a study of the seaside piers of Britain, toured the UK for four years.
Meirionnydd (2007 – 2011) featured photographs of Welsh hill farmers and toured around Wales in 2013.
Over 30 years later, after many more ‘real nice touches’, Chris has an extensive, remarkable archive of images and original silver gelatin prints, which has been widely exhibited.
His work is held in the permanent archives of the National Portrait Gallery, The National Library of Wales, The National Monument Archive, The Museum of London, The Guildhall and various private collections
He has three books published to date:
Eels, Pie and Mash, the history of London’s famous eating-houses.
Bummaree, Characters of the old Smithfield Market.
Meirionnydd, Farming in the Old Kingdom
His images have been used for films, advertising, television, books, album sleeves and many magazine covers.
Chris is currently working on various long-term folio collections including Semana Santa Marinera - a study of the Easter celebrations of Valencia, Y Ring- the historic cattle market of Dolgellau, Viva Cabanyal and World Trade Centres- Street Traders around the globe.
And 38 years after walking out of school, he still listens to his original vinyl copy of Culture’s Two Seven’s Clash and he still wears clogs.