The Sex Pistols live in Sweden, 1977. (Dennis Morris)

Very few people can say they were on the same stage as the Sex Pistols during a live set and were able to emerge from the hijinks unscathed–or at least without getting a little spit on their sleeve. Long-time British rock photographer Dennis Morris recalls his own year-long “Almost Famous” moments of being the photographer for the infamous band in his newly-released book “The Bollocks: A Photo Essay of the Sex Pistols.” The images were featured in a exhibition at famed Los Angeles contemporary arts gallery Known Gallery earlier this summer and he will be taking its show on the road in the coming months. “The Bollocks” takes its cue from a colloquial term for “the real deal” — one among many meanings.

The photographer who become synonymous with rock photography set out originally wanting to be a war photographer. “I wanted to be a war photographer in line with the greats like [Robert] Capa,” Morris told In Sight. Before his career led him onto stages around the world, Morris began photographing daily life among black Britons in his native Hackney. Years later, he turned it into the critically-acclaimed book “Growing up Black,” and the photos now reside in the permanent collection of the Hackney Museum and the esteemed Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Morris was just a high school student when he began photographing Bob Marley in the early 1970s, a move that would change the trajectory of his career forever. Shortly after gaining notoriety for his backstage and everyday photos of Marley, Morris was approached by Johnny Rotten, lead singer of the Sex Pistols, and asked to be the band’s official tour photographer in 1977.

Morris’s ability to capture those “decisive moments” of the kind he so fondly remembers from photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson lay in his entire approach to a subject. He used his skills as a photojournalist to shoot the Sex Pistols on stage, up close and personal like an insider. During one of the early stage performances, Morris recalls having to suit up in a hooded sweatshirt to protect his camera from the band’s signature form of initiation: throwing spit. “You had to be a part of the show. I remember stepping out and trying to get photos of the crowd and just having spit come from all angles. That’s sort of how I gained the trust of the band. They saw I was going to keep up with them and get in the mix.”

The band came and went with a fury that matched their live shows. Morris’s photographs from one wild year capture its intensity at the height of its fame and the lasting essence of its influence.

“The Bollocks: A Photo Essay of the Sex Pistols,” with text by Billy Idol, Shepard Fairey and Dennis Morris, comes with two signed limited edition prints. A limited 200 copies being are available through Zero + Publishing.


Sex Pistols band members Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten in Coventry, England, 1977 (Dennis Morris)

The Sex Pistols in Tokyo, 1977, (Dennis Morris)

Johnny Rotten backstage at Penzance, England, 1977. This photo became the cover image of Morris’s book “The Bollocks: A Photo Essay of the Sex Pistols”. (Dennis Morris)

Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious live at Marquee Club, London, 1977. (Dennis Morris)

Guitarist Sid Vicious during a warm-up session. Vicious joined the band in early 1977 after the previous guitarist left. (Dennis Morris)

Sid Vicious and girlfriend Nancy Spungen backstage at Brunel University, London, 1977. (Dennis Morris)

The Sex Pistols backstage after a show in Sweden, 1977. (Dennis Morris)

The band live at Wolverhampton, 1977. (Dennis Morris)

The Sex Pistols arrive for their Brunel University performance, 1977. (Dennis Morris)

The Sex Pistols live at Marquee Club, London, 1977. (Dennis Morris)

Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten backstage during a sound check. (Dennis Morris)

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