Leee Black Childers: Drag Queens, Rent Boys, Rockstars & Punks
Leee Black Childers is one of the finest living photographers alive today; part of the old guard who shot the world around them, bringing the beauty and absurdity of the characters to life with glorious, timeless images. Childers, along with the great John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins, was part of the Andy Warhol’s Factory entourage of creatives that were intrinsic in documenting the Rock and Roll scene of the late 60s and 70s. His long overdue first exhibition, ‘Drag Queens, Rent Boys, Pick Pockets, Junkies, Rockstars and Punks…’ launched last night at The Outside World Gallery in London.
Leee arrived in New York in 1966 fresh from Kentucky, where he soon discovered an underground world of drag queens; pick pockets and self-proclaimed superstars that would become the focus for his work. Soon becoming part of Warhol’s inner circle, he became close friends with the outrageous Warhol Super Stars; Jackie Curtis, Holly Woodlawn and Candy Darling.
Hanging out in the hotspots of the 70s alternative music scene, CBGB’s, Studio 54 and Max’s Kansas City, Leee took to his camera and photographed the star-studded revelers that included some of the finest musicians of their generation. Debbie Harry, Iggy Pop, The Ramones, Patti Smith, New York Dolls and the Heartbreakers all had the Childers treatment.
More than a photographer, Childers worked as the stage manager on Warhol’s erotic musical ‘Pork’ in London that led him to meeting a young David Bowie. Leee then turned to music and was instrumental in David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust alter ego, becoming his and Iggy Pop’s tour manager from 72 and 74.
Never far away from his trusty camera, Leee kept on documenting life around him in the days where sex, drugs, rock and roll, where in its heyday, days would turn into nights and then weeks with parties and gatherings that could tell a thousand stories.
Last night saw a host of those stories brought to life as rockers from that era descended on East London’s Redchurch Street to remember the glory days and don their old Sex Pistols leathers once more in what felt like a vigil to yester years. Childers took centre stage in a typically elaborate jacket, which had every image in his show on badges strewn across his lapels. Telling me what he learnt from Andy Warhol, Childers said, “Andy Warhol told me to find your spot, grab a chair and let them come to you”. Leee stayed true to Warhol’s doctrine and sat regally on his chair and indeed, they did all make their way to him and hang on his every word.
With the crowd all enjoying a light refreshing Pernod Absinthe Green Beast cocktail by leading mixologist Charles Vexenat; the stories of debauchery flowed through the air like a typical Iggy Pop wail. Just standing in the middle of the gallery I felt like I was transported into a off-highway motel enjoying the late night antics of a room full of Bowie, Childers and Iggy… some of the stories were, well I think you can guess. One story stood out though, Steve Walsh one part of punk band Fouls of Romance, saw himself in one of Childers shots, a Christmas dinner in 76 with Sid Vicious, Viv Albertine and Caroline Coon. Childers who said “I have had a crush on you for over 30 years” didn’t name him in the shot, but reunited once more Walsh reminisced on as he called it; “the strangest Christmas I ever had”.
A brilliant photography exhibition married with real-life stories and a host who orchestrated the crowd like Sir Simon Rattle at his best at the Royal Albert Hall. Don your leathers, skinny jeans, Doc Martens and spike your hair up and head to the show before it heads off around Europe.
Leee Black Childers ‘Drag Queens, Rent Boys, Pick Pockets, Junkies, Rockstars and Punks…’ is on now at The Outside World Gallery, London.