A new photography exhibition explores the Lure of London’s Soho at The Photographers’ Gallery, this Spring. Under the Influence: John Deakin and the Lure of Soho uncovers the hidden corners and colourful characters of 1950s and early 60s Soho, as seen through the eyes of John Deakin (1912 – 1972).
Considered to be one of the greatest of postwar British photographers, Deakin was renowned for his penetrating portraits, haunting street scenes and striking fashion work. Though he flourished briefly at Vogue, it was the lure of nearby Soho with its pubs, clubs and subterranean watering holes that captured his interest most. Loved and loathed in equal measure by friends and drinking companions, Deakin was a legendary member of the quarter’s maverick crowd of artists, writers, poets and assorted characters and misfits. As its most famous chronicler with a camera, he is inextricably linked to Soho’s bohemian heyday in the two decades following the War.
The exhibition will feature approximately seventy framed photographs, including rarely seen and un-shown works, arranged into four thematic groups. The first section will depict images of Soho landscapes – West End lights, street signs, urban nightscapes and graffiti –and portraits of artisans, tradesmen and outsiders.
The second section will comprise portraits of Deakin’s circle of artists and friends. These include, among many others, the painters Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach and Francis Bacon; for whom he famously took portraits on commission to be used as source material for paintings. It also includes the writers Dylan Thomas, Daniel Farson and Jeffrey Bernard, the celebrated beauty and artist’s model Henrietta Moraes and Muriel Belcher, proprietor of the fabled drinking den The Colony Room.
With a keen ambition to be recognised as an artist, rather than a photographer, Deakin all but gave up photography in the 1960s in favour of painting. In contrast to the uncompromising quality of his photographic portraits, his paintings were characterised as simple, colourful and naive and met with limited success. Gathered together for the first time a selection of these paintings and collages will be on display in the third section of the exhibition. The fourth and final section will highlight some of Deakin’s fashion work and his little known early portraits of anonymous drag artists.
In addition to these the exhibition will also feature related ephemera such as Deakin’s dismissal letter from Vogue and subsequent correspondence with its editor and Deakin’s champion Audrey Withers, alongside a number of his magazine layouts.
The exhibition will be accompanied by the publication Under the Influence: John Deakin, Photography and the Lure of Soho, published by Art / Books in association with the John Deakin Archive and The Photographers’ Gallery. The book will include dozens of reproductions, letters and contact sheets as well as a text by exhibition curator and photographic historian Robin Muir, charting the exuberant, sometimes poignant, world of John Deakin’s Soho.
Under the Influence: – John Deakin and the Lure of Soho – 11 April – 13 July 2014 Photographers Gallery