Kings Lynn Festival 11th July 2015
I think every photographer in the 80s and 90s new John Hedgecoe through the seemingly endless books that he wrote. As well as being something of an icon of photography education John Hedgecoe was a superb photographer and some of his most respected works are his portraits of artists some of which formed the core of this exhibition. Many of his portraits of artists like the one of Francis Bacon above were taken in the artist’s studio with their work as a backdrop. In many cases Hedgecoe also includes the artist’s hands in frame. In many cases Hedgecoe was a friend of the artist and that come across in some of the work where the poses seem to reflect a high degree of trust between the photographer and subject. As well as visual artists the exhibition consisted of portraits of well know people from other areas.
I found the picture of Mary Quant the 1960’s designer below fascinating because to me it says a huge amount about Mary Quant as a fashion icon and really not much about her as a person. The picture also illustrates Hedgecoe’s compositional skills it seems like the way the picture is posed and the lighting emphasizes the classic Quant style of long legs and short skirts. The picture has been taken from a low angle with a wider angle lens than is usual for portraits which emphasises the length of Mary’s legs. The table and flower in the foreground are light so they stand out in contrast the Mary and the dark background on the right. This gives great depth to the picture and again the triangle formed by the table and her outstretched right leg for a triangle again making her legs appear very long. This theme of length is again repeated in the picture of the acrobat in the background.
To me this picture is all about the symbolism of the pose, it could be an iconic image of the 60s whoever the sitter was, it doesn’t tell the viewer very much about the character or personality of Mary Quant.
In contrast the picture of Germaine Greer below is really all about personality vent though perhaps the picture shows a side of Greer that is not in keeping with the rather serious academic that she is presented as today. I think this picture is quite startling today because it presents an image of a person that is very different from that most people would expect. Was this really her image in the 1960s or is it just the work of a very cleaver artist who has captured an emotion that was missing in most pictures of her?
Just as Hedgecoe photographed artists in the studios many of the other portraits capture people in surrounds that were familiar to them like Vita Sackville-West in her garden below.
Other portrait’s seem capture Hedgecoe’s sense of humour like the one of John Betjeman sitting on a bed holding a mug of tea or the famous image of David Hockney gurning
The example of these humorous portraits that I liked the most in the exhibition was the one below of the conductor Sir Malcolm Sargent and his budgie. There is something so incongruous about this picture it really shows another side to someone I remember as always appearing as a various and rather austere person. I just wish I could have found a large version of the image to include below.