A collection of rarely seen photos of The Jam in concert and behind the scenes have gone on display in the Barbican’s music library for a few months.

They’re all by Derek D’Souza, who got his break as the band’s photographer after sending in some photos to the band’s fan club, and Paul Weller’s mother, Ann, who ran the club, asked if he could photograph them for their next single, Absolute Beginners.

That reply resulted in spending a day in the grounds of Chiswick House, culminated in one of the bands more famous album covers, and an entry in the National Portrait Gallery.

Absolute Beginners Photo session (c) Derek D’Souza

Since that career-defining moment, D’Souza has shot hundreds of images of The Jam, The Style Council and Paul Weller. The exhibition features many of these shots. Which D’Souza said at the exhibition opening is something he could never have expected to happen after sending in some photos to the fan club.

As an exhibition, it’s as much about the photographer as it is about the photos of a famous group and their member’s subsequent careers. The exhibition is a mix of items, not just the usual band photos in concerts, but very much more a look at behind the scenes of what it takes to be a photographer at a concert.

Several cases are packed full of the sort of ephemera that any hardened music fan will recognise from their own box of ticket stubs collected over the years. But more than that, as here’s the stuff that fans would not normally see, the photography passes handed out to those officially permitted to take photos, letters to and from the band, small collectables not usually seen, entry tickets, signed documents.

A copy of his first cheque, paying £29 for photographing the band is in there, and the Midland Bank logo will be familiar to those of a certain age. It cost him £21 to do the shoot, so this was never a lucratively paid role for the fan turned photographer. In many cases, he was invited in as an official photographer, but quite often he came in as a fan and slipped a small camera into his jacket.

There are some remarkable challenges to the job, from the shot he had seen an opportunity for at a previous concert, but could only be taken by lingering by the front of the stage longer than was officially permitted, to get just the right effect of spotlights and performers, to the time he had to climb up a rear balcony to get a wider stage shot.

The exhibition also shows off early drafts of some album covers, highlighting the design process that goes into the end product. Oh, and the cluster of Stingray and Thunderbirds in the exhibition? They’re just mementoes from when D’Souza was growing up.

As such, it’s not your usual pop photo exhibition. It’s much more personal than that, as much about the bands as it is the photographer.

Chair of the City of London Corporation’s Culture, Heritage and Libraries Committee, Wendy Hyde, said “These photographs are extraordinary glimpses of an astonishing band who, almost 40 years after their break-up, still have a huge influence and loyal following.”

The exhibition, True is The Dream is open at the Barbican Music Library Monday to Saturday until 16th May 2022. Entry is free.

There’s also a 40th anniversary photography book out this year.


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