Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Exhibition Review: Beatles to Bowie - 60s exposed

National Portrait Gallery - Beatles to Bowie website
The Beatles, 1964 by Robert Whitaker
Robert Whitaker Archive © Robert Whitaker (Used with permission)

Last Thursday a major new photographic exhibition Beatles to Bowies: The 60s exposed opened at the National Portrait Gallery and runs until 24 January 2010 before going on tour to Newcastle and Norwich. It includes 150 photographs of the 1960s including rare portraits of The Beatles, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones. Over 100 of them are being exhibited for the first time.
Beatles to Bowie: the 60s exposed will illustrate how image, music, fashion and performance combined to make these musicians the leading icons of their time and London the world's most important cultural capital.
Pink Floyd, 1967 by Vic Singh
© Vic Singh (used with permission)

I went to see the exhibition on Friday evening (which is late night opening). I was brought up short when reminded that 1st January next year marks the 50th anniversary of the start of the sixties. However I didn't object in the least to being reminded of images of people who were an important part of my youth.

Here's a few of my mental notes of what stood out for me
  • some stunning large images by David Bailey on the back wall - technically perfect with a huge aesthetic impact as well. It made me realise why people have had such a high regard for Bailey.
  • the exhibition includes the actual proof sheet of the film which includes the famous 1963 photograph of The Beatles leaping into the air for the cover of their Twist and Shout EP is also featured in the show. There it is with a red line cropping in to get the famous image
  • 10 showcases of 150 items - displaying the graphical art and photography used for record sleeves for albums and singles - plus illustrated sheet music, advertisements, flyers and magazine covers. I was instantly transported back to being a teenager in the 60s when I spotted a Petticoat front cover!
  • a Pop meets Fashion section - including photographs of Mary Quant and all the other famous designers of the sixties. There's also a display of dresses by Mary Quant, Ossie Clark and Biba(?) on Adel Rootstein mannequins which were designed to look like Sandie Shaw, Twiggy and somebody else whose name I forget. Interestingly the Mary Quant design seems to have stood the test of time.
  • Pete Townsend looking very respectable in a very well cut and tailored clothes in a photo of The Who!
  • I was a fan of Scott Walker so paid particular attention to that photograph!
David Bowie, 1966
by David Wedgbury
National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

I think anybody who lived through the 60s in the UK will remember quite a few of the photographs very well indeed - I know I spotted a significant number which were familiar to me. It was a revelation to see some of them as photographs rather than album sleeves! There's also a quite a few "Oh - I remember him/her!" moments to be had for the lesser known singers and musicians!

A range of photographers are involved with the exhibition from people I hadn't heard of then or since through to some very famous photographers.

The exhibition website has tabs for each year of the sixties. This part of the site is very short on images - but provides a good overview of what happened in each year.

Miffed by how few images there were I started to look a bit further and finally found a link to the commercial part of the site which is selling prints of photographs. Not the limited editions ones by David Bailey I might add! However, for those unable to visit, it gives you a much better impression of the sort of images which are in the exhibition. Plus if one of the images takes you back to your youth - such as an early image of Eric Patrick Clapton (who knew?) you might even want to order a print!



  1. The 60s were 50 years ago? How is that possible? It must seem as irrelevant to young people today as my parents' era did to me in the 60s.

    I have an original 8x10 photo of John Lennon and Paul McCartney chatting on a couch sometime in the 60s. For sure it's never been shown anywhere. It was given to me by the photographer who I met when he asked to take my picture on the beach in Santa Monica beside the wreckage of an amusement park that had burned down. I've hung onto the photo all these years. It's stamped on the back with the photographer's name and the magazine he was shooting for at the time. I wonder how I'd find out if my photo has any value, given this exhibition.

  2. I guess there's a market for these things. I'm not quite sure which auction house specialises in it though.


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