Jean Shrimpton in New York, by David Bailey. 1962.
After mixed feelings regarding the Gay Icons exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery last time, I nonetheless returned to the Gallery with excitement for the new exhibition The 60s Exposed: Beatles to Bowie. It is no secret that I have a fascination with the Swinging Sixties – as explained here – so I was indeed bound to be excited, but also critical and with high expectations.
The exhibition is a journey through the decade, year by year, with archives of record sleeves, press cuttings, films, clothes and indeed a selection of the best photography – black & white lovers’ delight. Despite a strong focus on 60s music – ‘Beatles to Bowie‘, with great photography of both, but also the Rolling Stones and more obscure bands from that era – the evolution and shift in society are well apparent from 50s kitsch to 70s hippie style.
And so is the fashion obviously – with the apparition of Mary Quant‘s famous miniskirts. Interestingly, the visuals, the photography evolve a lot as well, in terms of technique, but also as a form: from mere representation to medium of artistic expression.
And here he comes. The genius of black and white, one of the first true fashion photographer, the one who best captured the essence of the 60s and created the imagery that feeds the imagination of those who didn’t know that era, and brings nostalgia and memories to those who did. Catherine Deneuve’s first husband. The one who first dared photographing a young and naked Jane Birkin.
Just for that picture of Mick Jagger wrapped in fur, which could be a modern cover of i-D, it is worth visiting the exhibition. And of course, for those of his muse, Jean Shrimpton (above), arguably one the first supermodels, even before Twiggy.
An entertaining and informative exhibition overall. I only wish it had been more interactive, with more than just one documentary, with extracts of films maybe, a more holistic approach on political and societal changes, a better focus on the sartorial icons – the four dressed mannequins didn’t do much – and if you are going to focus on the music side, fair enough. But then, put some music on!