Working in striking black and white, British photographer Pennie Smith has captured some great moments in rock ‘n’ roll history. Among her subjects are The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Jam, The Smiths, to name a few. But she is probably best known for the iconic photo of Paul Simonon smashing his guitar to The Palladium stage during a show in New York City in 1979. The shot distills the power, energy, fury and excitement of rock ‘n’ roll in one image captured at the speed of light.
I could argue that this is the greatest rock ‘n’ roll photo of all time and I’m sure it would be a very lively discussion. These things are highly subjective. I remember first seeing this photo on the cover of London Calling the day the record came out. And I, like many folks back then and now, found the image as exhilarating as the album itself and a perfect example of form being an extension of content. Simonon is stamping out the flames of a city on fire with the only weapon he has: his guitar.
Like Bob Gruen, Smith is less concerned with technique than capturing a moment that communicates something essential about what is being photographed. In this case, Smith was also so close to the action she was in jeopardy of becoming a part of it:
“I remember thinking something was wrong, realising Paul was going to crack - and waited. The shot is out of focus because I ducked - he was closer than it looks”
Here’s a short but sweet film on Pennie Smith. (I have no idea from what larger documentary this clip has been excerpted from and would appreciate feedback from our readers who might know.)
The narration in the video begins in French but the rest is in English.