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Posted by Mia Besorio

Liz Ham was born in London in 1975. It was the very year that Malcolm McLaren exported the sounds of the New York underground into the unsuspecting cultural landscape of Great Britain. 1975 was the year that punk broke, commercially at least, with Malcolm’s calculated formation of the Sex Pistols. Although Liz Ham was too young to catch the first wave of punk music’s cultural impact, her artistic parents would inevitably introduce her to punk music and the creative lifestyle that came with it. When Liz and her family migrated to Sydney in 1980 she soon found herself immersed in the local music and arts scene. She picked up her first camera at 14 years old, an act that would span a multi-decade long creative career shooting across editorial, advertising, and exhibiting in group and solo exhibitions. Liz Ham’s latest effort is a publication containing over 100 portraits of female and female-identifying subjects shot over the last five years. Punk Girls is a celebration of punk attitudes, and Liz Ham’s testament to the strength, spirit, and solidarity of women in punk living their most authentic lives.

 

Who are some of your punk girl idols? I personally always gravitated to Vivienne Westwood, Siouxsie Sioux, Bebe Buell, and Kim Gordon.
All four of those women are amazing. Kim Gordon and Siouxsie Sioux were really important to me as a teenager, and I remember reading Bebe’s book in my twenties and just loving her spirit. My personal faves are Patti Smith, Poly Styrene, and Nina Hagen.

What about locally? Who are some punk girls that you’re intrigued by?
We had an incredible local punk named Carmel Strelein in the late ’70s here in Sydney. She fronted a band called the Screaming Abdabs and had the fiercest aesthetic—so much so that she was photographed by Norman Parkinson when he visited Australia. Those images were used in Val Hennessy’s incredible In The Gutter’ as well as Parkinson’s own monograph Sisters Under the Skin’. In contemporary terms, I am just so intrigued by each and every person who sat for a portrait or let me into their worlds even briefly when I was out and about. My subjects were so generous of their time and open about their thoughts around punk. I feel incredibly lucky to have been given that insight and inclusion.

Where did the inspiration to create Punk Girls stem from?
Initially, I was infusing a lot of my fashion work with punk aesthetics. I didn’t actually conceptualise why that was happening, but perhaps I was subconsciously picking up on the fact that we were nearing the 40th anniversary of punk. Plus there seemed to be a lot of feminist politics happening around that time, which I felt was very tied up with punk ideologies and queer theory. I was looking to start a portrait series with a new custom large-format camera I had my eye on. One day spotted Emily Badsville, a local punk girl and thought it would be a wonderful project to embark on. I decided to make a small zine and collect the subjects’ stories, as well as make large format portraits with them. It just kind of snowballed. Suddenly I was aiming for 100 portraits, so self-publishing a zine sort of went of the window.

Do you feel there is a shift in gender balance within the Australian punk music scene? When I was active in the scene around the mid-2000s, I strongly felt that we had a long way to go when it came to equality and opportunity for women in music and art. I still feel this way, but I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the matter.
I think we are getting there—but very slowly. The fact that it is finally being discussed is a great thing, but there is so much work to be done. This was actually a huge motivation for Punk Girls. I was increasingly disappointed in the gender imbalance not only at gigs but also when I was researching women in punk historically for this project. It just felt that there was so little noted about the women themselves. It was even hard to find images or stories that were of anyone other than the usual suspects like Westwood, Soo, Jordan, Debbie, Patti. Viv Albertine had to hand scrawl the true history in that punk exhibition in London last year because The Slits were left out! We still have a situation where definitive lists of punk songs in history are published that exclude women entirely. There are still few festivals or lineups that feel inclusive of not only women but also people of colour, non-binary folk, and other marginalised communities. This entire project has been fuelled by this need to balance this all out.

What do you hope to achieve with this publication? What is the message you truly want to convey to your readership?
I would love to see Punk Girls continue. There are still so many more people to photograph just here in Australia. It would be marvellous to take the whole project overseas and continue shooting and collecting stories. I’m not sure its something I could ever put to bed. The overarching message is really that of equality and liberation, and most importantly—freedom. I really just wanted to convey the immense power and strength inherent in these women, who not only push back against society in general but at the same time battle with misogyny not only in the broader sense but within their own scenes at times. If we can empower one young person, who feels confused or unsure of themselves, and give them a Plan B—then job done.

Punk Girls by Liz Ham is available now via Manuscript.

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