Life & Culture

A Quick Photography Tutorial from Blondie’s Chris Stein

Preview Stein’s new photography book, Point of View, which features beautiful images of Warhol, Debbie Harry and 70s and 80s NYC

Before New York’s New Wave, there was the click of a shutter. Blondie co-founder, guitarist, producer, and co-host of cult cable show TV Party Chris Stein began shooting in 1968 and hasn’t put the camera down since (just ask him about the nightmare of archiving). It’s all there on film: Warhol, Debbie Harry, the cast, the city – and its his documentary of the Big Apple throughout the 70s and 80s that remains just as looming a character in his photographic archive. Beyond music, it’s photography as social document, a capsule of what was and what isn’t any longer, literally and figuratively, from the man who was in the eye of his own moment but moved with the relentless authenticity of a native New Yorker. Though Stein was born in Brooklyn, and decamped to other neighbourhoods throughout his life, he remains committed to the city.

Stein studied at the School of Visual Arts, and in the great modern tradition, music stole him away, as it does the best characters. In 2014, recognising 40 years of Blondie, he had an exhibition at Somerset House, which included the atomic photo that would continue collecting political meaning: Debbie Harry, in a beret and black leather reading a copy of The Sun, complete with the front page headline ‘Women Are Just Slaves’. A book, Negative, accompanied the show.

Now Stein has paired up with publisher Rizzoli again, collecting his city photography for Point of View. Aside from New York in classic street photographer style, Stein’s images are punctuated with some of the most lyrical notes, carrying on that sense of time travel further. With every turn of the page, you become his accomplice.

Celebrating the book, Stein offers his advice to getting the perfect shot.

1. Be Composed

“I’m always fascinated by old pictures of [New York City], the time travel aspect of it is something I always keep in mind. Composition is my main thing and I always shoot full-frame.”

2. Be Courageous

“People ask me about approaching people on the street. I don’t know if I’m a fly on the wall, you just have to be courageous – nobody ever attacked me for taking their picture. The worst that will happen is someone will tell you to fuck off or give you a dirty look. There’s not a tremendous risk in taking pictures of strangers.”

3. Stay Cool

“There’s not a lot of pre-thought, it’s about trying to make the image nice. If there’s good energy it’s so much easier to take a great picture. There’s a moment where you push the button and if the subject’s comfortable you see it.”

4. Work with What You’ve Got

“I have an iPhone X that’s got a 12 megapixel camera and I have a little Leica digital camera that’s also 12 megapixels but it’s great because of the optical lens. There’s a huge range of cameras out there, but everyone’s got one. You see some amazing pictures on Instagram that people take very casually, maybe not even knowing they’re taking good pictures. My daughters both take great pictures with their phones.”

5. Get Filing (With Help)

“Do I have archiving tips? Oh shit, no I don’t! I had an assistant to help me with it a bunch of years ago, and since I’ve done the two books everything’s gotten really scattered because I pull stuff out of the binders and it has to all be correlated all over again. It’s a pain in the ass.”

Point of View by Chris Stein is out October 23, 2018 via Rizzoli