Celebrated reggae photographer
Clarks Originals: Adrian Boot Interview

Adrian Boot is perhaps the most prolific and celebrated reggae photographer alive today. It was through their mutual love of this music that he was put together with The Clash for a series of sessions; the locations would vary from war-torn Belfast, Camden Town rehearsal spaces and the blues dance decay of seventies Notting Hill.

His ideal subject in a career that has spanned four decades was William Burroughs. His work has appeared in The Times, The Guardian and countless other publications, and he has acted as chief photographer for Live Aid, and Nelson Mandela – Freedom at 70.

His photographic books include: Babylon on a Thin Wire and Jah Revenge (both with Michael Thomas). With collaborator and friend Chris Salewicz: Bob Marley - Songs of Freedom; Firefly - Noel Coward in Jamaica; Midnights in Moscow - in the USSR with Billy Bragg; Punk - History of a Music Revolution and Reggae Explosion - The Story of Jamaican Music.

So what kinds of styles have you noticed in 1970s Jamaican dancehall culture?

The Clarks shoe thing was always part of that ‘rudeboy’ vibe in Jamaica. The [clientele at dances] always used to wear fairly formal trousers, which were striped – and that tended to be torn at the bottom. There would always be the ubiquitous towel hanging out of the back pocket, and there would be striped socks or something, and Clarks shoes. I took lots of photos of those kinds of these characters, rudeboy-type characters. This is in the mid-70s.

People didn’t wear jeans in those days so much. I guess they would buy trousers, almost like school trousers and put on the stripes. Having the belt undone on the trousers was much later. There was always the vest, of course, and the trousers, and the Clarks shoes, which were always immaculate. Everything else was completely wrecked, but the shoes were immaculate.

Was it reggae that brought you and The Clash together?

Well part of the reason that they chose me in the first place was because I was into reggae – back then it was quite cool to have spent time in Jamaica – whereas it probably doesn’t mean anything now.

What was your impression of them?

The Sex Pistols were around, and I photographed them and I found The Clash to be a much more intelligent version of a punk band – I mean they were all ex-art college, and there was a different type of social category than the Sex Pistols and co - they were more of a thinking man’s punk band than the Sex Pistols.

Were they tough characters to shoot?

No not at all they were great fun, very cooperative, very photogenic. There were never problems. Not like the Sex Pistols when you were always waiting for Sid Vicious...

Who was the most photogenic of The Clash?

Joe Strummer was quite good, so was Mick Jones, I think that was obvious. The other two less so. It depends – live Simonon was always good – but to me, he seemed a lot more awkward in the line up.

You went to Belfast with them. What were they like there?

They were quite understanding - they knew the situation that was dangerous – in fact it was me who got them into most of the trouble, because I insisted on putting them in a taxi and driving them around Belfast photographing them. It wasn’t until afterwards that we all got told off because it was such a dangerous thing to do – because we went down the Falls Road and various IRA tourist spots! [laughs]

Words by Miguel Cullen

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