In May 1978 I took a £99 Freddie Laker DC10 flight to New York to spend a week with Blondie. I stayed in the Gramercy Park Hotel and shot Debbie Harry for a piece which became a cover story for the Sunday Telegraph Magazine. On that same trip I travelled with the group to Philadelphia when they were the support band for Alice Cooper, and also enjoyed photographing their one-off gig at the Palladium in New York.
My second visit to photograph the band took place a month later, when I returned to New York in late June 1978, and found myself in the Record Plant studios in New York City with them. They were in the studio recording their third album Parallel Lines. When I arrived at the recording studio for the first photo session for their record company Chrysalis – one of several planned for the week – I could sense a tense atmosphere. As a photographer, shooting in recording studios was always a problem on a technical level with period camera equipment and film stock, in what were very dark functional spaces.
Additionally, one had to work around the process of recording a record. It was soon evident that Blondie, and Debbie Harry in particular, were having issues with record producer Mike Chapman. Two conflicting forces were in play: the group’s New York punk heritage (and their one take and done attitude) and Mike Chapman’s quest for West Coast perfection. While I shot the images you can see on the contact sheet, Debbie would be singing short vocal passages which were over-dubbed time after time. This explains the various facial expressions she was making to the camera. Stiflingly boring in production for all members of the band, the album was to take six weeks to record. Despite the record companies doubts about the album, it produced hit singles and reached number 6 in the US Billboard chart and number 1 in the UK album chart. The rest is history.
In August 1978, in association with Chrysalis Records and the Telegraph Sunday Magazine, I staged the exhibition ‘Blondie in Camera’ at the Mirandy Gallery in Glentworth Street, London. It was a collection of the images from the two shoots in New York that year. The exhibition opening was to be the media launch of the latest single ‘Picture This’ and the presentation of a silver disc for the Plastic Letters album.
At 2.30 pm on 14 August the band arrived, making their way through the crowded street full of fans who had been waiting all that morning. I certainly enjoyed the event which was given serious media coverage and we were able to sell signed prints for the bands favourite charity supporting diabetes research. Over the two weeks of the exhibition, three life size cut outs of Debbie Harry and the white label ‘kissed’ LP that I used for the Parallel Lines picture disc shot all went AWOL!