Ken Pate – French Bad Boys

Ken Pate in Paris

Except for the fact that he’s from California, the Ken Pate story is typical of most artists. For every artist making a good living, there are 100 starving,… especially photographers. Ken Pate was that 32 year old starving artist living in Paris across the Seine, in Bastille. It was a place of crooks and thieves,…and cheap rents. Not a tourist attraction. When he was not photographing theatre and ballet to pay the bills, he was in the local bar. It was this bar that got taken over by “the rockers”.

Ken Pate
© Ken Pate

Since he was actually an “illegal alien” at the time, this built a sort of camaraderie with these guys when the cops came around. So although they were a bit younger than him, this provided the credentials he needed. They trusted him and his camera. They pretty much let him shoot what he wanted.

The Book

But how did this unknown photographer find a publisher? Well, he didn’t,…they found him. He was borrowing a small darkroom owned by the publisher Claude Nori to develop his prints. Well, Claude was starting Contrejour, saw the prints, and a bit later decided to publish a book of them. It was Claude’s  first book! Nori was still in an apartment with a mattress on the floor in those days.

Ken Pate
© Ken Pate

While Contrejour eventually went on to publish over 170 books, including Lartigue, Doisneau and even Sebãstiao Salgado.

Not Teddy Boys

While he did make a couple of bucks, he returned to America a few years later. He drove a cab while photographing things around him. But NYC is a harsh place, filled to the brim with artists and photographers. So after 3 years it was back to France, where he had become comfortable as an expatriate. When he took those pictures, people originally thought they were just a copy of the British Teddy Boys or Bruce Davidson’s Brooklyn Gangs, but in fact, they were totally isolated from what was going on elsewhere. They were true French originals.

Ken Pate
© Ken Pate

Today, Ken Pate is still keeping a low profile and shooting digitally,…for himself.  Unfortunately, that was his one and only book.  So it’s a surprise to him that people now admire his work and are fascinated by the book. Almost as if it evokes extreme feelings of nostalgia for people. When you look at the photos now, you find a naiveté and honesty missing from work in today’s era. As if photographers are blatant in crossing the line of being self-conscious and self-promoting.

Ken Pate
© Ken Pate Roquette Rockers Book Cover

A Rare Masterpiece

The unassuming directness of the pictures are what draws you in. Here’s a guy with no pretense of jumping into a high paying magazine or advertising gig. Just a real guy, making real pictures,… for himself,…and a book. They say that “in the land of the blind, a one-eyed man is King”.  Ken Pate is now living in France and just may be that one-eyed man. Kudos may be a little late, but kudos nonetheless. Released in 1975, the book is now very rare, and I doubt you can find it at Barnes and Noble. Try Ebay,…you may get lucky. The most we can hope for is a raised awareness leading to a re-print. The book below includes Ken Pates’ work, along with other under appreciated photographers. It’s actually well edited and a great book in general. In the meantime, the cheapest Roquette Rockers I’ve found is in France, used and is 287 Euros! I said it was RARE! Find Nikon F2

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