I managed to sneak away from the beach during Easter’s family visit to Swanage and popped round to the Photographers Lounge. After fifteen minutes or so of chatting with Kate, apart from leaving with the usual inspiration to grab the camera and go be creative, I also learned some exciting news…
The Philip Townsend Archive, a collection of photographs taken by celebrated 60s photographer Philip Townsend, documenting Sixties London in full swing and capturing some of the most iconic faces of the era, will make a rare public appearance at the Photographers Lounge in Dorset throughout June and July 2009. His unique collection of shots includes rock stars, society darlings, models and the political movers and shakers of the day. The rescued works, hidden for forty years, are now being sought by magazines and newspapers throughout the world, by galleries like the National Portrait Gallery, and by collectors. The reason is simple: Philip Townsend’s pictures are the Sixties.
While other photographers took portraits, often closely cropped, Townsend instinctively widened his frame to include backgrounds, landscapes and the sheer feel of the period. A fine example is his portfolio of the fledgling Rolling Stones, including their first ever photo sessions in March 1963, when they were broke and hungry, without a recording contract: a band not yet on the run. Townsend bought the young band barbecued chicken and set about fostering the semi-delinquent image which they still cultivate today: through his percipient lens, we see the Stones slouching in an underpass, unsmiling and menacingly backlit, or tilted at a surreal angle against a wall, or inhabiting beer benches outside a pub in Earls Court.
As the Sixties swung and Britain subverted the old order, Townsend continued to record all the prime people of the time. He moved effortlessly into this nascent world, photographing the Beatles many times, most memorably their first encounter with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1967. He documented the peacock gear they wore, the sleek cars they drove, and the aeroplanes that flew them to fresh horizons.
At the age of 20, based in the South of France, Townsend photographed the beautiful people who wintered and watered on the Riviera: Prince Rainier and his Hollywood wife, Princess Grace; a rare photo of Sir Winston Churchill with Aristotle Onassis; Marlon Brando and Joan Fontaine. Years later, when the sixties were losing their swing, he returned to capture a memorable shot of a visibly out-of-love Richard Burton at a party with Elizabeth Taylor. Other celebrities of the era who received the Townsend treatment were Twiggy, then a very young ingenue model in the hands of her manager and boyfriend Justin de Villeneuve; Charlotte Rampling, cool and miniskirted; Princess Alexandra dancing with Marlon Brando; comedian Frankie Howard on a skateboard, and Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space.
The exhibition of limited edition silver gelatin prints is also timed to co-incide with the release of Townsend’s first published book, ‘Sorry You Missed the Sixties: A Collection of Limited Edition Photographs from The Philip Townsend Archive 1960 – 1970’. The book chronicles much of Townsend’s archive, and is an impressive reflection of not just his work but an observation on the 60’s pioneering optimism.
The photographer will be present from 12.00 noon at The Photographers Lounge on Saturday May 23rd for the launch of the exhibition and book-signing.
The exhibition reinforces the growing reputation of the Photographers Lounge, a commercial gallery situated on the Dorset coast in Swanage. The Photographers Lounge is established as one of the UK’s foremost photography galleries, and it exhibits work by both emerging and established photographers, as well as stocking a wide range of photographic prints, cards and books. It also curates and hosts the Open Shutter competition, where upcoming photographers can win the opportunity to have their work exhibited in the Photographers Lounge gallery.
“A treasure trove of rock history” The London Times
“An amazing archive of evocative images that have been hidden for 40 years” Sunday Express
“One of the World’s most celebrated showbiz photographers”
The Daily Mirror
“Philip Townsend, one of the era’s most acclaimed photographers” Yorkshire Post
“Philip Townsend, world class portrait photographer” GQ