Ken Pate's Roquette Rockers
Nothing makes me happier than uncovering a long forgotten gem. I found one such jewel two months ago when I was doing research at the Institute for Contemporary Photography's library- I was searching for something on the top shelf and when I pulled away one book I saw another that had fallen back. It was covered with a layer of dust but just by the cover I knew it was worth looking at. This rather remarkable book, Roquette Rockers, is a collection of photographs by Ken Pate of rockers hanging out around the rue de la Roquette in Paris. It was published in 1975 and the photos are contemporary, showing a rare glimpse into a subculture that never died but had become more marginalized since its heyday in the 1950s. Though I do not know how to ride a motorcycle (I can't even ride a bike!), I've always been intrigued by the culture and the style. These photos are raw and unedited, and while these bikers may not look as rough as some of the Hell's Angels you see in photos of classic American bike gangs, they have their own charm and unique spin on the look. There appears to be no information on this book or the photographer online, and I was not able to find out anything from ICP- they weren't even sure how the book came to be in their possession. I am still on the lookout for more information on Ken Pate so if anyone knows anything I would love to hear it- all of the photos suggest an artistic and sympathetic eye so I hope that he continued to shoot after this project.
The book includes a preface by Carole Naggar, the photography historian, artist and co-founder of Pixelpress. This was written quite early in her career, but it quite vividly hits right out at us, the viewers, forcing us to look beyond our presuppositions and instead at the photos themselves:
"For you voyeurs, here are snapshots in every sense of the term, exploitative photos of shots. Here's the surprise: the thugs give them the same image you imagined. Let us avoid the vague attitude of pseudo upper sociologist who observes with curiosity and some disdain an unknown species; avoid the clichés of exoticism easy (they live in PARIS? Ah, I thought LONDON OR NEW YORK AMSTERDAM or) a change of scenery with it. Ken Pate live like them instead of the Bastille, and he knows them, they posed for him with pleasure, even complacency: the appearance is important to them So we will know them and their lives that they want to deliver: the foam and foil, leather and metal, makeup and dressing, the skin. "