Screen sirens and rock rebels: Terry O’Neill exhibition ~ Proud Chelsea (until Jan 22)
Golden morning: Terry O’Neill’s portrait of the newly crowned Queen of Hollywood, Faye Dunaway – at her home the morning after she won the Best Actress Oscar (shown) in 1977
To a retro enthusiast like myself, the free-admission photo exhibitions seemingly forever held at the two Proud galleries of London’s Camden and Chelsea – a recent one featuring rare images of The Beatles and a future one promising portraits of rock’s infamous ’27 Club’ – would be something of a must, you’d think. But, truth be told (and I’m not quite sure why), the latest one at Proud Chelsea focusing on the work of tog titan Terry O’Neill is the first I’ve had the pleasure to visit.
Terry O’Neill is, of course, a portrait photography legend. Like his working class contemporaries David Bailey, Brain Duffy and Terence Donovan, he broke through in the heady atmosphere of mid-’60s Swinging London, where he immediately came to prominence capturing the likes of The Fabs and The Rolling Stones in still-form, enjoying the sort of access to these fast-becoming icons the like of which their adulating fans could only dream. He had a brilliant eye for catching them not just in candid moments, but also for intuitively snapping them in unique, eye-catching and imaginative scenarios.
The clash of the old and the new: The Rolling Stones on the move in 1964 – leaders of a dynamic, new age passing an anachronistic, Victorian-esque vegetable cart in London’s West End
It was this talent he would go on to nurture and develop when he broadened his scope to other movers and shakers of the scene including model du jour Jean Shrimpton, her then boyfriend Terence Stamp and his one-time flatmate Michael Caine and, later still, when Hollywood came calling and he became a go-to-man for shooting the likes of Brigitte Bardot, Raquel Welch and Audrey Hepburn, all of whom became favourite subjects of his.
Despite its relatively slight exhibition space (just two high street shop-sized upstairs and downstairs rooms), the gallery crams in the canvasses on its walls. Upstairs focuses on the screen sirens; downstairs on the rock rebels. Highlights of the Hollywood crowd include O’Neill’s famed close-up of Shrimpton and Stamp; Shrimpton again posing with dolls in a London ‘doll hospital’ (many of whose faces somewhat resemble hers and vice versa, it must be said); Audrey Hepburn cavorting in a swimming pool while filming Two For The Road (1967); and Raquel Welch inexplicably posing in a Chelsea FC strip on location for Hannie Caulder (1971).
Quelle Raquelle!: Raquel Welch made the filmmakers of One Million Years B.C. (1966) cross by getting up on one at O’Neill’s suggestion – to symbolise her ‘crucifixion’ by the media of the time as merely a body without acting chops; the film’s publicists passed on using the image
Downstairs you’ll find Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page caught on-stage in 1977 playing his guitar with a bow, as well as an early ’70s Keith Richards posed wonderfully – and not a little ironically – next to a Seattle Airport sign calling for travellers to be patient while customs do their job and search for drugs. And, as a bonus, there’s the work of other photographers too who were also witness to some of rock’s great and good, including a behind-the-scenes pic or two of the shoot of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) album cover.
So, if you’re not the sort who usually takes time out of your busy life to view the visual arts on someone/ somewhere else’s wall – but, of course, you’re a retro enthusiast like myself – I’d urge you to take half-an-hour out of your day to give this exhibition a try. It’s maybe the most fun and stimulating 30 minutes you’ll have in the company of the Fabs, The Stones and Raquel Welch without watching Bedazzled (1967) while simultaneously listening to Revolver (1966) and Exile On Main St. (1972) on shuffle.