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Philip Townsend

With photographs of pop and rock icons including The Beatles, Gene Pitney and Johnny Ray, the special collection of photography by Philip Townsend epitomises the 1960s.


While other photographers took portraits, often closely cropped, Townsend instinctively widened his frame to include backgrounds, landscapes and the sheer feel of the period. A fine example is his portfolio of the Rolling Stones, including their first ever picture sessions, when they were broke and hungry, without a recording contract, a band not yet on the run. Townsend bought them barbecued chickens and set about fostering the semi-delinquent image which they still cultivate today. It has been said that while the Beatles, whom Townsend also photographed in their first flush of fame, were bad boys turned good through the influence of their late manager Brian Epstein, the Stones were goodies who became stage baddies.

Their first manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, whom Philip had met as a young chancer on the waterfront in Monte Carlo, was grooming an unknown group for stardom and needed an image-maker to make the dream happen. The group was the Rolling Stones, and his brief was to make them look "cruel, tough and streetwise". Townsend's innovative pictures have never been bettered.

He moved effortlessly into the nascent world of rock, photographing the Beatles many times, as well as other pop icons of the Sixties such as Gene Pitney, Johnny Ray, the Searchers, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Peter and Gordon (whom he briefly managed), Twiggy, Charlotte Rampling and Princess Alexandra dancing with Marlon Brando. But there was also a serious side to his work. For instance he photographed the aftermath of the 1966 Aberfan mining disaster with great sensitivity.

At the end of the decade he abruptly abandoned his cameras and his career in photography. "I suppose the magic of the 1960s was beginning to fade anyway," he says now, trying to rationalise his decision, "but if there was a turning point it was when I was standing with a load of snappers in Whitehall, trying to get a picture of Cabinet Minister Patrick Gordon Walker, who was about to resign. One old boy turned to me with a wink and said, "He'll be coming out the back of the building, not the front. Trust me, I've been doing this for 45 years". I thought, I don't want to be doing this in 45 years. So I just stopped."


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