His manner was rude, his pictures were brilliant. JOHN DEAKIN’S cache of photographs get unearthed.
Words: Helen Monaghan
hen archaeologists began
digging up Francis
Bacon's studio to transport it piece by piece to the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in Dublin. under the first layer of detritus they found hundreds and hundreds of photographs. Dog- eared. trampled on and splattered with paint. these black and white prints of artists. writers and friends were the work of photographer John Deakin. The finds included photographic studies Deakin made at Bacon‘s request of figures he wanted to use as references for his paintings. There were images from Muriel Belcher's Colony Room. where Deakin. Bacon. Freud. Auerbach and others would hang out together in 50s Soho. A lost legacy rediscovered.
John Deakin (1912—1972) was a remarkable photographer. Working for British lbgue during the late 40s and early 50s. his portraits were startling. uncompromising and brutal. His subjects were often photographed Close-up. every pockmark. blemish and pore visible. His approach was unconventional and his manner rude and abrupt. In many accounts. Deakin was reviled. Models would end up in tears and fashion editors were left exasperated. He was described as ‘a vicious little drunk' and ‘a horrible little man’. But despite his behaviour. Deakin was one of the great portrait photographers.
‘I love the stuff he did for Vogue.‘ says Robin Muir. the exhibition‘s curator and specialist on his work. ‘He was dandruff-flecked and had been drinking all morning yet he would go into Vogue and take these pictures and they would be _ fantastic.‘ pictures’
Deakin. however. didn't care much for photography and kept a lot of his work stuffed in boxes under his bed. At the time he was taking pictures. photography was not viewed in the same way as it is now. It was seen as a second-class medium and for Deakin. who really wanted to be a painter. that was the way it remained.
‘I had a conversation once with Lord Snowdon.’ says Muir. ‘He said that when he started out there was this perception of a photographer as a tradesman. someone who pops in through the back entrance and takes really irritating pictures of the family rather than being welcome through the front door and there is certainly an element of that.‘
When Deakin worked for Vogue he was sacked. then
‘He had been drinking all morning yet he would go into Vogue and take these fantastic
Lucian Freud by John Deakin
re-employed. only to be fired again a few years later. Vogue saw no further use for his work once he had gone so they put it in a filing cabinet and forgot about it. Robin Muir. who was a former picture editor at the magazine. came across his work quite by accident. Unlocking a filing cabinet in the Vogue archives. he found lots of Deakin‘s prints and negatives inside.
‘There were prints of Dylan Thomas and Francis Bacon. not touched since the 5()s.‘ he says. ‘There was this whole generation of British painters. sculptors and actors and it was just fantastic to find such wonderful undiscovered work.‘
The exhibition includes over |()() vintage prints. many in tattered condition. particularly the ones found at Francis Bacon’s studio. But they are. as Muir puts it. ‘more true to Deakin’s spirit‘.
portraits. there will be previously unseen works including street scenes of Paris. London and Rome. It is in these works that Deakin is considered to be more compassionate. revealing a sympathetic treatment of the ordinary person.
At a time when photography was generally of the ‘good-natured' variety — think Life magazine — Deakin was creating images like no one else. He was the precursor to the photography of the ()()s. of Avedon and David Bailey. So was he ahead of his time'.’
'Yes. 1 think he was.’ says Muir. ‘1 don‘t think he would have pushed hitnself forward as a crusader for a new type of photography. I just think he was. He just did it.‘
A Maverick Eye: The Photography of John Deakin opens at the Dean Gallery, Edinburgh, Wed 30 Oct-Sun 12 Jan.
As well as a selection of
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I I $373!. Over .1.) of the works are currently 0" (“sway at we Dean Gallery.
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THE GRANTON CENTRE FOR An IS nor. open to the 0L 1)“ o. The NallCTla! Ga' enes' 13's: ooroose— bin}! storage fac ltv 'ocater at 2-212 West Granton Road. Edinburgh. IJI‘O‘JOE’S sterage ‘or paintings and SCUlOiLife. offering waters the chance to Iew some of the Iesser-‘k'to‘sn‘ OOGOIS an the co iection. Tours of the nor. Site take place every Tuest‘iav at noon and 30m.
' 8' (‘3’. .‘ THE LIST 87