12
Sep
12

Exhibition: ‘Famous in the Fifties: Photographs by Daniel Farson’ at the National Portrait Gallery, London

Exhibition dates: 19th March – 16th September 2012

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My god, how beautiful is the young Adam Faith!

Since I didn’t know some of these people I have posted brief biographies. From the biographies we find that most mingled in the same artistic and theatrical circles in Soho, where Farson also hung out. Farson’s photographs are candid and show a deep affection for the subject being photographed: strong, vibrant characters that lived life to the full. He had a good eye did Daniel Farson. The photograph of Shelagh Delaney (1959, below) is a beauty, perfectly capturing one of those dank English days, where the mist envelopes the earth and chills one to the bone, standing outside pebble-dashed council houses in some windswept part of England. I remember it only too well.

Many thankx to the National Portrait Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on some of the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs © Estate of Daniel Farson and the National Portrait Gallery.

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Daniel Farson
Adam Faith
1962
Silver gelatin photograph
© Estate of Daniel Farson

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Terence “Terry” Nelhams-Wright, known as Adam Faith (23 June 1940 – 8 March 2003), was a British teen idol, singer, actor, and financial journalist. He was one of the most charted acts of the 1960s. He became the first UK artist to lodge his initial seven hits in the Top 5. He was also one of the first UK acts to record original songs regularly….

Faith became one of Britain’s significant early pop stars. At the time, he was distinctive for his hiccupping glottal stops and exaggerated pronunciation. He did not write his own material, and much of his early success was through partnership with songwriter Les Vandyke and John Barry, whose arrangements were inspired by the pizzicato arrangements for Buddy Holly’s “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore.”

His debut album Adam was released on 4 November 1960 to critical acclaim for the inventiveness of Barry’s arrangements and Faith’s own performances. The material ranged from standards such as “Summertime”, “Hit The Road to Dreamland” and “Singin’ in the Rain” to more contemporary songs, such as Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman’s “I’m a Man”, Johnny Worth’s “Fare Thee Well My Pretty Maid”, and Howard Guyton’s “Wonderful Time”. Still 20 and living with his parents, he bought a house in Hampton Court for £6,000, where he moved with his family from their house in Acton. In December 1960, he became the first pop artist to appear on the TV interview series Face to Face with John Freeman.

Faith made six further albums and 35 singles, with a total of 24 chart entries, of which 11 made the UK Top Ten, including his two No. 1’s. Ten of the eleven singles that made the Top Ten actually also made the Top Five. Faith managed to lodge twenty consecutive single releases on the UK singles chart, starting with “What Do You Want?” in November 1959 and culminating with “I Love Being in Love With You” in mid-1964; this was quite a feat for a British artist of Faith’s era.

Text from Wikipedia

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Daniel Farson
Cyril Connolly and Lady Caroline Blackwood
c. 1953
Silver gelatin photograph
© Michael Parkin / National Portrait Gallery, London

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Cyril Vernon Connolly (10 September 1903 – 26 November 1974) was an English intellectual, literary critic and writer. He was the editor of the influential literary magazine Horizon (1940-1949) and wrote Enemies of Promise (1938), which combined literary criticism with an autobiographical exploration of why he failed to become the successful author of fiction that he had aspired to be in his youth.

Connolly did his best work as a critic. Like Edmund Wilson in the United States, he wielded enormous influence. An astute and often witty commentator, with great gifts for often cruel mimicry, Connolly informed the thinking and attitudes of a generation. In The Unquiet Grave he writes: “Approaching forty, sense of total failure: … Never will I make that extra effort to live according to reality which alone makes good writing possible: hence the manic-depressiveness of my style, – which is either bright, cruel and superficial; or pessimistic; moth-eaten with self-pity.”

As editor of Horizon, Connolly gave a platform to a wide range of distinguished and emerging writers. He was robust in his criticism of the decline of the Mandarin and perhaps too effusive in his welcome of the New Vernacular. Kenneth Tynan, writing in the March 1954 Harper’s Bazaar, praised Connolly’s style as “one of the most glittering of English literary possessions.”

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The Lady Caroline Maureen Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood
 (16 July 1931 – 14 February 1996) was a writer and artist’s muse, and the eldest child of the 4th Marquess of Dufferin and Ava and the brewery heiress Maureen Guinness.

A well-known figure in the literary world through her journalism and her novels, Caroline Blackwood was equally well known for her high-profile marriages, first to the artist Lucian Freud, then to the composer Israel Citkowitz and finally to the poet Robert Lowell, who described her as “a mermaid who dines upon the bones of her winded lovers.” Her novels are known for their wit and intelligence, and one in particular is scathingly autobiographical in describing her unhappy childhood.

Text from Wikipedia

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Daniel Farson
Nina Hamnett
1952
Silver gelatin photograph
© Michael Parkin / National Portrait Gallery, London

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Nina Hamnett (14 February 1890 – 16 December 1956) was a Welsh artist and writer, and an expert on sailors’ chanteys, who became known as the Queen of Bohemia.

Flamboyantly unconventional, and openly bisexual, Nina Hamnett once danced nude on a Montparnasse café table just for the “hell of it”. She drank heavily, was sexually promiscuous, and kept numerous lovers and close associations within the artistic community. Very quickly, she became a well-known bohemian personality throughout Paris and modeled for many artists. Her reputation soon reached back to London, where for a time, she went to work making or decorating fabrics, clothes, murals, furniture, and rugs at the Omega Workshops, which was directed by Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell, and Duncan Grant.

Her artistic creations were widely exhibited during World War I including at the Royal Academy in London as well as the Salon d’Automne in Paris. Back in England, she taught at the Westminster Technical Institute from 1917 to 1918. After divorcing Kristian, she took up with another free spirit, composer E. J. Moeran. From the mid 1920s until the end of World War II, the area known as Fitzrovia was London’s main Bohemian artistic centre. The place took its name from the popular Fitzroy Tavern on the corner of Charlotte and Windmill Streets that formed the area’s centre. Home of the café life in Fitzrovia, it was Nina Hamnett’s favourite hangout as well as that of her friend from her home town, Augustus John, and later another Welshman, the poet Dylan Thomas.

In 1932 Hamnett published Laughing Torso, a tale of her bohemian life, which became a bestseller in the United Kingdom and United States. The notorious occultist Aleister Crowley unsuccessfully sued her and the publisher for libel over allegations of Black Magic made in her book. Although she won the case, the situation profoundly affected her for the remainder of her life. Alcoholism would soon overtake her many talents and the tragic Queen of the Fitzroy spent a good part of the last few decades of her life at the bar, (usually that of the Fitzroy Tavern in Fitzrovia), trading anecdotes for drinks.

Nina Hamnett died in 1956 from complications after falling out her apartment window and being impaled on the fence forty feet below. The great debate has always been whether or not it was a suicide attempt or merely a drunken accident. Her last words were, “Why don’t they let me die?”

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Daniel Farson
Lucian Freud and Brendan Behan
1952
Silver gelatin photograph
© Estate of Daniel Farson

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Lucian Michael Freud (8 December 1922 – 20 July 2011) was a German-born British painter. Known chiefly for his thickly impastoed portrait and figure paintings, he was widely considered the pre-eminent British artist of his time. His works are noted for their psychological penetration, and for their often discomforting examination of the relationship between artist and model.

From the 1950s, he began to work in portraiture, often nudes (though his first full length nude was not painted until 1966), to the almost complete exclusion of everything else, and by the middle of the decade developed a much more free style using large hogs-hair brushes, with an intense concentration of the texture and colour of flesh, and much thicker paint, including impasto. With this technique, he would often clean his brush after each stroke when painting flesh, so that the colour remained constantly variable. He also started to paint standing up, which continued until old age, when he switched to a high chair. The colours of non-flesh areas in these paintings are typically muted, while the flesh becomes increasingly highly and variably coloured. By about 1960, Freud had established the style that he would use, with some changes, for the rest of his career. The portraits in the new style often used an over life-size scale from the start, but were mostly relatively small heads or half-lengths. Later portraits were often very much larger, and appealed to galleries and collectors. In his late career he often followed a portrait by producing an etching of the subject in a different pose, drawing directly onto the plate, with the sitter in his view.[17]

Freud’s portraits often depict only the sitter, sometimes sprawled naked on the floor or on a bed or alternatively juxtaposed with something else, as in Girl With a White Dog (1951-52) and Naked Man With Rat (1977-78). According to Edward Chaney, “The distinctive, recumbent manner in which Freud poses so many of his sitters suggests the conscious of unconscious influence both of his grandfather’s psychoanalytical couch and of the Egyptian mummy, his dreaming figures, clothed or nude, staring into space until (if ever) brought back to health and/or consciousness. The particular application of this supine pose to freaks, friends, wives, mistresses, dogs, daughters and mother alike (the latter regularly depicted after her suicide attempt and eventually, literally mummy-like in death), tends to support this hypothesis.” 

“I paint people,” Freud said, “not because of what they are like, not exactly in spite of what they are like, but how they happen to be.”

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Brendan Francis Behan (9 February 1923 – 20 March 1964) was an Irish poet, short story writer, novelist, and playwright who wrote in both English and Irish.

In 1954, Behan’s first play The Quare Fellow was produced in Dublin. It was well received, however, it was the 1956 production at Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop in Stratford, London, that gained Behan a wider reputation – this was helped by a famous drunken interview on BBC television. In 1958, Behan’s play in the Irish language An Giall had its debut at Dublin’s Damer Theatre. Later, The Hostage, Behan’s English language adaptation of An Giall, met with great success internationally. Behan’s autobiographical novel, Borstal Boy, was published the same year and became a worldwide best seller. Behan was known for his drink problem, which resulted in him suffering from diabetes, which ultimately resulted in his death on 20 March 1964.

“There’s no bad publicity except an obituary,” he once said.

Text from Wikipedia

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Daniel Farson
Robert Graves
1954
Silver gelatin photograph
© Estate of Daniel Farson

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Robert von Ranke Graves (also known as Robert Ranke Graves and most commonly Robert Graves) (24 July 1895 – 7 December 1985) was an English poet, scholar/translator/writer of antiquity specializing in Classical Greece and Rome, and novelist. During his long life he produced more than 140 works. Graves’s poems – together with his translations and innovative analysis and interpretations of the Greek myths, his memoir of his early life, including his role in the First World War, Good-Bye to All That, and his speculative study of poetic inspiration, The White Goddess – have never been out of print.

He earned his living from writing, particularly popular historical novels such as I, ClaudiusKing JesusThe Golden Fleece, and Count Belisarius. He also was a prominent translator of Classical Latin and Ancient Greek texts; his versions of The Twelve Caesars and The Golden Ass remain popular today for their clarity and entertaining style. On 11 November 1985, Graves was among 16 Great War poets commemorated on a slate stone unveiled in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner. The inscription on the stone was written by friend and fellow Great War poet Wilfred Owen. It reads: “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.” Of the 16 poets, Graves was the only one still living at the time of the commemoration ceremony.

Text from Wikipedia

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“A new display of photographs by legendary Soho figure, Daniel Farson will open at the National Portrait Gallery on 19 March. Famous in the Fifties: Photographs by Daniel Farson will celebrate the multi-faceted career of Farson who worked as a Picture Post photographer, television presenter, and writer.

The sixteen portraits on display include artist Lucian Freud and writer Brendan Behan in Dublin, Cyril Connolly and Lady Caroline Blackwood on Old Compton Street in Soho, artist and illustrator Nina Hamnett, actress Barbara Windsor, artist Graham Sutherland and actor Richard Burton. Writer Anthony Carson, critic John Davenport, photographer John Deakin and poet David Wright are all photographed opposite the French pub in Soho where Farson was a regular. An unpublished photograph of Kingsley Amis and his family is included along with a copy of Panorama, the magazine established by Farson at the University of Cambridge. The jackets of five books written by Farson will be displayed alongside his portraits of their subjects including Graham Sutherland and Gilbert and George. A portrait of Adam Faith inscribed by Farson, ‘I put him on TV first’, illustrates his impact as a pioneering television interviewer. The last exhibition of Farson’s work was in 1997, the year of his death, organized by Robin Muir for Roy Miles. This will be the first solo display of photographs by Farson at the National Portrait Gallery.

Born in Kensington in 1927, Farson was the only child of American-born journalist and adventurer, Negley Farson, and his wife, Enid Eveleen a niece of the author Bram Stoker. He became a political correspondent for the Central Press Agency in Fleet Street at the age of just seventeen and in 1947 he enlisted in the American Army Air Corps gaining experience on the army’s Stars and Stripes magazine supplement. Whilst attending Cambridge University in 1949, Farson established the magazine Panorama which in turn helped him secure a job as a staff photographer for Picture Post in 1951. In the early 1950s he began his affiliation with Soho, where he found acceptance of his homosexuality and later struggled with alcoholism. In 1956 Farson joined commercial television in its infancy, presented his own series and became a television personality. He was under contract with Associated-Rediffusion for eight years, which he described as, ‘one of the busiest and happiest times of my life’. In 1962 Farson bought a pub, the Waterman’s Arms, on the Isle of Dogs where he successfully revived music hall acts. However, this did not prevent bankruptcy and in 1964 Farson moved to his parents’ former homein north Devon. It was here and later in Appledore, Devon, that Farson wrote twenty-seven books, including biographies of his great uncle, Bram Stoker, and his autobiography Never a Normal Man (1997), published in the year in which he died.”

Press release from the National Portrait Gallery website

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Daniel Farson
Richard Burton
1954
Silver gelatin photograph
© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Daniel Farson
Joan Littlewood
1963
Silver gelatin photograph
© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Joan Maud Littlewood (6 October 1914 – 20 September 2002) was an English theatre director, noted for her work in developing the left-wing Theatre Workshop. She has been called “The Mother of Modern Theatre.” Littlewood and her company lived and slept in the Theatre Royal while it was restored. Productions of The Alchemist and Richard II, the latter of which starred Harry H. Corbett as the King, established the reputation of the company. The works for which she is now best remembered are probably Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey (1958), which gained critical acclaim, and the satirical musical Oh, What a Lovely War! (1965), her stage adaptation of a work for radio by Charles Chilton. Both were subsequently made into films. Theatre Workshop also championed the work of Irish playwright Brendan Behan, and Littlewood is often rumoured to have a significant role in his work. She also conceived and developed along with architect Cedric Price the Fun Palace, an experimental model of participatory social environment that, although never realized, has become an important influence in Architecture of the 20th and 21st Centuries.

Text from Wikipedia

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Daniel Farson
Shelagh Delaney
1959
Silver gelatin photograph
© Estate of Daniel Farson

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Shelagh Delaney (25 November 1938 – 20 November 2011) was an English dramatist and screenwriter, best known for her debut work, A Taste of Honey (1958). A Taste of Honey, first performed on 27 May 1958, is set in her native Salford. “I had strong ideas about what I wanted to see in the theatre. We used to object to plays where the factory workers came cap in hand and call the boss ‘sir’. Usually North Country people are shown as gormless, whereas in actual fact, they are very alive and cynical.”

Reuniting the original cast, the play subsequently enjoyed a run of 368 performances in the West End from January 1959; it was also seen on Broadway, with Joan Plowright as Jo and Angela Lansbury as her mother. It is “probably the most performed play by a post-war British woman playwright.” Breaking new ground in touching on issues like homosexuality “this earthily realistic, moving story of a reluctant teenage mother-to-be … raises issues which were later to become prime concerns of feminist writers.”

Text from Wikipedia

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Daniel Farson
Gilbert & George
1990
Silver gelatin photograph
© Estate of Daniel Farson

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National Portrait Gallery
St Martin’s Place
London, WC2H 0HE

Opening hours:
Monday – Wednesday, Saturday – Sunday 10am – 6pm
Thursday – Friday 10am – 9pm

National Portrait Gallery website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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