Café Royal Books: Photobook shop, publisher, UK social documentary photography
I picked up a copy (the last one actually), published by the excellent Cafe Royal Books (1) from Foyles on Charing Cross Road last week. Deakin is well known for his street photography and portraits from the 1950’s and 1960’s London art scene, in particular those of Francis Bacon who, it’s thought, commissioned Deakin to take source material for his paintings. The short introduction suggests that the portraits featured, all double exposures, were most likely done at Bacon’s request since ‘the multiple viewpoint resulting from Deakin’s double exposure is virtually impossible to achieve with a Rollieflex camera’ (2).
Deakin is also well known for being part of the Soho art scene himself (he was an aspiring painter and held this in higher regard than photography), and was regarded as unlikeable, unkind, and knowns as an alcoholic (3). His use of a the Rolleiflex camera, which is held at waist level, and Deakin’s short height (so he was typically looking up at his subject) resulted in an awkward relationship with his subjects, so Deakin’s portraits are often unflattering and disturbing.
I went to the Photographers Gallery to see the exhibition ‘John Deakin and the lure of Soho’ (4), which featured Deakin’s portraits of artists (Francis bacon, Lucian Freud, Eduardo Paolozzi), as well as his fashion photography (Deakin also worked for Vogue – but was sacked for porning his camera equipment). A lot of the vintage prints were in poor shape and I think had been rescued after Deakin’s death. The Vogue prints were in much better condition as they had been kept in the their archive. I really liked Deakin’s portraits and his take on the bohemian, seedy, scene of the time, which is way different to the plastic Soho of the present, rapidly being bought up by developers, or edged out by the Crossrail expansion.
3). For example, see https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/apr/07/john-deakin-champagne-sulphur-photographer-soho, https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2014/apr/07/john-deakins-bohemia-booze-soho-photography