Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Children of the Eighties Revolution

Photography by David Gwinnutt
Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery
Trojan and Leigh Bowery
Taken at their flat in Farrell House, Whitechapel E1

When I put together a piece about Trojan last week, "Even to spark out now would be no pain," I used my favourite picture of Trojan and Leigh Bowery.  It was taken by David Gwinnutt and is now on permanent show at the National Portrait Gallery in London. David got in touch with me later that night to say he was delighted his picture was part of the piece, and that he found the contributions from his friends very moving.

David also asked me if I'd like to see some more of his pictures of some the key faces of the Eighties, which of course I did.  I love David's beautiful and atmospheric style and asked him if I could do a post on some of his work.  I am very happy to be able to share some of David's photographs and memories with you here.

"It was very basic... everything was back then.  The hard edge of those times I think is reflected in the harsh, grainy black and white of the photographs.  It was Thatcher's Britain and there wasn't a lot of love around.

They sum up the intense and brief period and avant garde scene which started London's emergence as a force again in fashion and in art... and the beginning of a gay scene, wrestling the crown from New York, that was to become the most exciting and creative in the world"

David Gwinnutt

David Gwinnutt was born in 1961 and is an artist and photographer.  He was a regular at the Blitz Club and an integral part of the New Romantic and London club scene of the Eighties.  He photographed many of the principal characters of the time, taking candid pictures in black and white, often in poor light without a flash.  The results have a grainy, romantic feel and give us a true close-up of the subject.

The National Portrait Gallery have purchased a number of David's photographs from this period.  Terence Pepper, Curator of Photography at the NPG has said "...anti-glamorous and unstaged they reveal an intimacy with his sitters, allowing the viewer to feel they are seeing the 'real' person in the picture. Atmospheric and evocative, Gwinnutt's high-contrast black and white photographs evoke the era in which they were taken."

All photographs were taken in London between 1980 and 1983.

Stephen Linard
Fashion Designer, Stylist and Club Promoter
Taken at Stephen's flat in Camden, NW1

John Maybury
Artist and Film Director
Taken at John's flat in Crowndale Road, Camden, NW1

David Holah
Fashion Designer and Founder of Bodymap
Bloomsbury, WC1

Princess Julia
DJ, Writer, Club Promoter
Taken at Julia's flat in Crowndale Road, Camden, NW1

Jeffrey Hinton
DJ and Club Promoter
Taken at Julia's flat in Crowndale Road, Camden, NW1

Leigh Bowery
Club Promoter, Performance Artist and Fashion Designer
Taken at Leigh and Trojan's flat in Farrell House, Whitechapel, E1

Stephen Jones
London W1

Siouxsie Sioux
Lead Singer and Musician
Taken at David's flat in Arlington Square, Islington, N1

Ceryth Wyn Evans
Taken at the RCA during a film he was shooting

Michael Clark

This is from a set of four images of Michael Clark watching the now famous transvestite potter Grayson Perry DJ at The Heil Mary Club.  After the Blitz and Hell closed The Heil Mary Club was held in the basement of a church near Euston Road.  A core group of Blitz kids went there but it didn't last for long.

Alison Owen
Film Producer and mother of my friend Sarah Owen and Lily and Alfie Allen

Andrew Logan
Taken at Andrew's Moorgate studio, New Years Eve 1980

Gilbert Proesch
Taken at Gilbert and George's house in Fournier Street, Spitalfields, E1

George Passmore
Taken at Gilbert and George's house in Fournier Street, Spitalfields, E1

Derek Jarman
Film Director, Artist and Writer
All photographs taken at Derek's flat in Phoenix House, Charing Cross Road, WC2

David Gwinnutt on Derek Jarman

(Please do not read if this you are easily offended - contains some adult content)

The artist Brian Clarke took his wife, boyfriend and I to see The Tempest at the St Martin's Lane cinema shortly after it had been released.  All I knew about the film was that it was a Shakespeare play.  Brian thought it very important and I remember him saying it was the new film by Derek Jarman.  This meant nothing to me but Brian knew his stuff so I was interested.  I remember being really impressed that Brian's friend had a film showing in a proper cinema.  That seemed like big time to me.  It was the most boring film I'd ever seen and I promptly fell asleep.

A year or so later there was an event at The London Film Maker's Co-op where a group of avant garde film makers were screening their short films.  Derek was to be one of them.  By now I knew most of the other people showing their films, but had never met Derek and really wanted to.  I wanted to photograph him and become his boyfriend, or at least have sex with him.  I thought he'd be my type, which was rare on the art scene.

I prepared for the evening by wearing my sexiest shirt.  It was in a very delicate, subtle pink cotton.  On the body it had a self-facing swirly pattern with tiny holes punched into it and the sleeves were ripped to the elbow.  I'd bought it in a vintage shop and thought it was knock out... It always seemed to work!

It was dark inside the Co-operative and a lot of people were already there; mostly familiar faces from the art, fashion and gay scene of the time.  Two of the directors John Maybury and Cerith Wyn Evans were setting up their film reels.  I sat on a raised ledge at the back of the room with my camera to get a good view of people walking past and the room as a whole.

Derek Jarman

Eventually Derek arrived with a couple of people.  He was wearing a shiny silver-grey suit with an open necked white shirt, you could see a glimpse of his hairy chest.  I liked the way he dressed.  He looked successful, which no other artist ever did at the time.  He walked to the front of the room and started to talk to some people, one of whom I recognised.  Derek turned and looked at me and as he did so the person he was talking to me looked too.  They were talking about me.  I'd been noticed.  I was in.

Later in the evening Derek came over.  "A white camera, did you do that?" he said.  His accent surprised me.  He sounded quite posh, well educated, a bit plummy but his tone was kind.  I found out later that Derek was a real philanthropist.  He took an intelligent interest in everyone and loved to cultivate the young, especially if they were talented or sexy.  The young were like his life blood.  He loved their ideas and opinions and he respected them.  They equally were drawn to him.  He was genuinely friendly and I couldn't believe I was going to go home with him.  I tried to act mysterious and intelligent.

We ended up back at his flat in Phoenix House in Charing Cross Road.  It was late at night and very dark.  Derek didn't put the lights on.  The flat was eerily lit from the street lights below.  I could see hundreds of books on full height shelves and artefacts, orbs and objet pertaining to the ancient or
occult.  I felt as if I was at the dark centre of the art universe.

We confronted each other, kissed and started to take off our clothes.  It was quite fierce but stylised.  I was surprised by the size of his c**k.  It was very big.  He wanted to f**k.  I didn't relish the thought but I wasn't going to say no.  Derek liked to be the devil.  I stood facing the book shelves, legs and arms apart like I was being searched by the LAPD.  His c**k was way too big.  I thought of Franco Zefferelli and all those other boys and felt I was earning my stripes.

Derek Jarman

Afterwards there was some tenderness but not enough for me.  There was no bed and we slept on rugs on the floor, it felt hard.  He turned his back to me and slept.  I lay on my back but didn't sleep.  I thought the whole thing was rather bizarre like being a soldier in Sparta.

At what seemed like two or three in the morning another man came into the flat.  I watched him.  He looked at me, got undressed and lay on top of me.  I lay still, not responding.  I felt too uncertain of myself and the situation to tell him to get off and hoped he'd realise I wasn't interested and move, which he eventually did.  I thought Derek might wake up and want to join in but he didn't and finally we all slept.

In the morning I was properly introduced to Kenneth.  I still wasn't sure of the exact nature of their relationship.  I remember Derek saying goodbye to him in the street saying he'd see him later for a meeting about one of his films and I realised he was more than a casual boyfriend.  Derek and I walked around the corner to Patisserie Valerie in Old Compton Street and had breakfast.

Another morning at about 10am I'd called round to see Derek who was only just getting up.  It was too early for him for visitors.  He was a bit exasperated when he answered the intercom.  As he opened the door I noticed the reflection of his eye in the glass of a picture on the wall.  Derek wasn't always too pleased about me photographing him so early in the morning, but he was always indulgent so he let me take some more pictures.

William Burroughs
Writer, performer and Beat poet
William Burroughs reading his work at The Ritzy, Brixton, 1983

William Burroughs by David Gwinnutt

One Monday afternoon I was at Derek Jarman's place.  He said he was going to The Ritzy that evening to film William Burroughs who was giving a reading of his work.

A couple of other Beat poets were going to be there.  It sounded really arty and William Burroughs was legendary.  I asked if I cold go with him.  "Yes" Derek said, but with an apprehensive look on his face.  He knew that I could be a bit pushy with my camera and I thought he thought I might do something rash.  Still I went.

We arrived at The Ritzy.  There was a real hardcore arty crowd there and the atmosphere was exciting.  We made our way through the throng inside the darkened cinema.  It was packed with people dressed in the 'hard times' look of the Eighties.  Oxfam coats, dull colours, quiffs, undernourished faces.  They looked serious about their art.  The buzz had an edge to it.  The stage was bare except for lots of wires and microphones and some white lights.  There was a small desk in the middle for the reader to sit at.

Derek said "I've got to go down to the front and set up"  I decided to stay in the middle and watch.  Everyone took their seats and the readings began.  Bryan Gyson and another guy read in turn.  It was dull.  Then William Burroughs came on stage and started to read.  He read in a slow, gravelly voice which had a strange menacing twang to it.  He sounded like a serial offender.  It described his words perfectly.  I understood then what it meant to hear a writer read their own work.  Before, I thought it would be pointless and a bit pretentious.  Burroughs was mesmerising.  I was proud he was homosexual.  His voice would have scared anyone.  He seemed the furthest thing from 'gay' a queer could be.

At the foot of the stage were hordes of photographers taking lots of pictures.  I tried to imagine the pictures they were taking but couldn't make sense of it as nothing was happening to photograph.  Burroughs just sat very still as he read.

I decided I ought to try and looked at him through the camera.  There was so much clutter about the stage, stuff I wouldn't want in a picture, so I tried to edit it out by pushing him right to the bottom edge of the frame.

Then Burroughs, who had remained motionless throughout the reading, made his only gesture.  For an instant he clasped his hands to his head to emphasise a word from his script.  All the other flashes and clicks stopped as if stunned by the activity and the place fell silent, the only sound the whirr of my own motordrive.

Ossie Clark
Fashion Designer
Ossie Clark at Redcliffe Road, SW10 in 1983

"To Cork Street where there was an artists and gallery street party.  Patrick was in town with a young photographer who wants to take my picture"
The Ossie Clark Diaries 26th July

David Gwinnutt on Ossie Clark

The first time I met Ossie was at the Cork Street party.  This was held every summer by all the galleries in the Mayfair street.  I'd been taken by the artist Patrick Procktor.  This was my first time at the party.  Meeting Ossie was unexpected.  To me he was the embodiment of fashion, art and rock 'n' roll glamour.  My three favourite things.

Patrick said "David, this is Ossie Clark, Ossie this is David Gwinnutt", or he may have introduced me as 'Nanny' which was the nickname he sometimes gave me.  As Ossie looked at me I saw a range of subtle reactions flicker across his face as he decided how to react.  Sexual predator or possible conquest?  No.  Famous person to non-famous person?  No.  Friend to a friend?  No.  Camp to camp?  Not quite.  Cool star to newcomer.  That'll do.  "Hello."

It was a casual encounter but I felt it counted.  He knew and loved Patrick and I was with Patrick, so I had to be ok.  Before I was introduced, Patrick had said "There's Ossie" and I noticed what had to be him chatting easily to someone.  Another adult.

I was struck then by the way famous people of his generation were accepted by their crowd.  There seemed to be no buzz about the fact they were present, no grand entrance or show, and once there, how discreet and absorbed by the crowd they became.  It was the opposite for my generation.  As young things aspiring to fame or notoriety for us it was always about being seen, the entrance and the buzz about who was there or going to be there.

Ossie had been famous for years.   He wore it like he enjoyed it and it was a comfortable fit.  No one could take it away from him.  It was made through real talent and he was cool.

I asked if I could photograph him sometime.  He said "Patrick, he wants to take my picture"  Patrick said "He's very good.  Nanny's very good."  So Ossie said "Oh-kaay" in the way that he did, which was saying yes but hinting at all the other thoughts going through his mind about what yes could mean.  He knew he was cool.

At some point during the party I remember watching him half-sitting on a low window ledge, his relaxed figure looked like a teenage boys and reminded me of the way school kids sit around at break time, he looked relaxed and was wearing a tank top.  I thought he would be the boy you'd want to be like at school.

After this meeting I saw Ossie a lot.  He would call round to Patrick's flat in Manchester Street, Marylebone where I was living, in the afternoons.  The bell would ring, I'd look down from the first floor window and see him standing there in his big coat.  He and Patrick gossiped.  He knew Patrick always had some hash and although this was the basis for his visits, he undeniably loved Patrick and to see him was special.  We'd all drink tea and get stoned.  He and Patrick gossiped throughout.  They'd go over their glittering past, what David (Hockney) and Celia (Birtwell) were doing and saying in the times they'd spent together.  They'd always somehow relate it back to Proust which Ossie was re-reading.  It was a rarified atmosphere.  They only talked in terms of beauty.  Beauty in art and the beautiful people in their world.  Whilst I rolled the joints.

Ossie had no diplomatic skills whatsoever.  He'd react in an awkward and vituperative way to almost anything and although he was quite fey, he had a tough streak.  He was very well read and street smart.  He was a mix of working class northern boy soaked in the exotic and urbane.

I went to photograph him at his flat in Redcliffe Road.  I remember walking towards his front door along a narrow walkway thinking it was like a council block.  I wasn't sure I was even in the right place.  I expected him to live in a mansion.

I found the door and knocked.  He invited me into the flat.  It was very bleak inside.  The walls hadn't been painted in a long time.  There were Kilim rugs on the floors making it seem older and even more shabby.  At one end of the room was a big table with not very much on it but it had scraps of signs of activity.  I remember there was a cup with pencils and a pair of large scissors in.  Adding to the grim decor was an Eighties-style black hi-fi on the floor with cassettes scattered randomly nearby.

I'd expected Ossie to have glammed up for the shoot, but he was in an old t-shirt and Oxford bags, his feet bare.  He was quiet, polite and helpful and tired.  He seemed sad.  I wasn't sure how to engage him so I just sat still and let him settle and create his own activity.  I took some starter shots; some were of him sitting on his sofa or standing in the doorway.  One was of him lifting the scissors.

I then asked if I could take one of him standing against the wall.  He said "Yes, can I read my book?"  "Yes" I said.  He stood against the wall and read his book, Bitter Lemons.

After this picture I said I was pleased with what I had and we didn't have to do anymore.  Seeming distant, he said "Do you mind if I have a bath?"  "No" I said.  He undressed somewhere and got in the bath.  I had to follow him.  "Do you mind if I take some pictures?"  "No" he said.  He sat in the bath and kept cupping his hands bringing water to his face.  There were no soap suds and the bathroom was very empty.  I took three or four shots and left him alone.  I can't remember him getting out of the bath, but I did say goodbye.

A few weeks later I showed him the picture of him reading Bitter Lemons.  We were at Patrick's.  He liked it and said in a demanding kind of way that I should give it to him.  It took me by surprise and I said "No."  It felt like he was snatching it from me.  I only ever made one print and it was my hope that he'd buy it.  I wouldn't have been averse to giving it to him but felt the choice had been taken away from me.

The next few times we saw each other, he kept asking if he could have the picture and wouldn't let it drop.  His grabbing way annoyed me and the more he asked me to give it to him the more I wouldn't.  He made no attempt to charm it out of me.  The last time I asked him to buy it, he wrote me a letter in return.

Transcript (as written)

165 Redcliffe Road, London SW10

Dear David,

Thank you for your letter of the fourth.  I'm sure you'd be delighted for me to buy your photographic portrait of me for a hundred pounds

Perhaps fortunate as you are living with a talented eccentric gentleman has given you such delusion

If I were Paul Getty the second or even if I had an income the idea wouldn't seem so  r e d i c u l o u s

As I'm sure you're aware of my financial situation I have to tell you you are off your bonce and anyway as I did you the favour of posing on P.P's suggestion (in hindsight a delusive conclusion) that you might reciprocate.

May I offer you a little advice take a page from Patrick's book and try to practice the gentlemanly Art of Generousity.

I am sorry I cannot possibly afford to pay, good as it is, that high sum for a photograph

Yours sincerely

He was right of course, and I was deluded because I still thought he was rich.  I was wounded and wrote a bitchy letter back.  He replied but I binned it without opening to wind him up.  It came to a smouldering impasse with Patrick trying to smooth things out.  I don't think he came to the house again after that.

The next and last time I saw him was at a cocktail party at Claridges.  He bounced into this room full of boring 'suits' wearing a long black maxi coat and a Dr Who scarf.  He was bouncing to the music coming through the new Walkman headphones he was wearing.  I thought it was so rebellious and cool to do that in Claridges with all these serious adults, but he was so above it all.  He looked at me and smiled, he was happy and being a total fashion superstar.  Which of course he was.

David Gwinnutt and Quentin Crisp, 1986
Taken by the cleaner at the Chelsea Arts Club

David Gwinnutt Exhibition
A large exhibition of David Gwinnutt's photographs will be staged in October 2010 at L'Equipment Des Arts, London, W2.  Contact Michael Mohammed on michael@lequipment.com for further details.

With very special thanks to
David Gwinnutt
Danilo at Blitz Kids
QX Magazine

All photographs © David Gwinnutt and used with his kind permission

To read my piece on Trojan - Even to spark out now would be no pain - click HERE


Wildernesschic said...

Loved this post loved reading about his experience's with people. The photos as fantastic, especially the photo of Ossie Clark, I don't know why I like that one so much I just do, maybe its because he has captured his flair. xx

Alison Cross said...

I LOVED this post. The image of Ossie Clark is wonderful! Like Wildernesschic, I can't quite put my finger on why I like it so much - perhaps his proportions, the Cary Grant-ish trews with bare feet and a t-shirt....

But should we always be able to explain/justify why we like something? I don't think so ;-)

I loved David Gwinnutt's recollections! What a fab post to read before breakfast on a dull Wednesday.

Ali x

Anonymous said...

absolutely fascinating, can't wait for the exhibition


what a fantastic piece!

Caroline, No. said...

This was fascinating. Thanks Christina. My mind is whirring thinking about it all! I have been meaning to bone up (ha, 'scuse) on my Jarman for a while as it's an unforgiveable gap in my film knowledge and a friend (rightly) tore strips off me recently about it.

The photographs are fantastic, so evocative and timeless, really.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

Very very interesting reading. It was kind of David to share his stories. They were delightful to read.



Anonymous said...

I loved this post. It was brilliant to get an insider view of the people involved and the pictures really do capture a generation as they were. Thank you

Daniel-Halifax said...

What an unbelievable post! Most rivetting. I think the Siouxsie and Princess Julia shots are my faves. A few weeks ago I watch Caravaggio, and it reminded me what a talent Jarman really was, shame he died so young...

Anonymous said...

Just fabulous! xxx

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