Pin-Ups: David Bowie comes to Norman Road
David Bowie died one year ago. His death was the first of many from the performing arts during 2016, but also the one for which the public reaction around the world was the most intense. An exhibition of photographs of him across nearly 50 years has just opened at the Lucy Bell Gallery in Norman Road. Toby Sargent went to the preview last Saturday.
One thing I should say from the outset: I was a big fan. I grew up in the same part of south east London that Bowie started from, and he was our local hero. At school, one of my mates had a holiday job working in a photographer’s dark room, developing and printing the portraits and wedding pictures that were the stock-in-trade of that long-established Beckenham business.
Long enough established anyway for Mr and Mrs David Bowie to choose it to cover their Bromley Register Office wedding in 1970, a year before the release of Hunky Dory, his breakthrough album.
Black and white prints of the Bowies’ nuptuals
As that LP began its climb to become the must-have of early 1972, my friend saw a business opportunity. Many long hours in that Beckenham dark room later, and we were selling 10×8 black-and-white prints of the Bowies’ nuptuals in the playground, at least some of which came with a rough approximation of the star’s autograph across the bottom, forged – and I’m not proud of this – by the author of this piece.
Later I was in a band* that followed in Bowie’s footsteps, playing The Three Tuns – a venue which the great one had christened ‘The Beckenham Arts Lab’ a few years earlier. Heady days.
Silhouettes and shadows
So the new exhibition at the Lucy Bell Gallery – David Bowie: Silhouettes and Shadows – was potentially a treat indeed for me. It didn’t disappoint.
The reason pictures of Bowie are more . . how can I put this? . . interesting than run-of-the-mill rock music photography, of course, is that they invariably sit more comfortably in the fashion, design and style camps, than alongside the sweaty flailing of some rhythm guitar playing Herbert in a heavy metal band on stage at the Dog and Duck in Harlesden.
The fact that the music, lyrics and production of nearly all his work (at least up until Heroes and, latterly, his two most recent albums) are simply outstanding is neither here nor there in this context.
This is an exhibition of work by photographers, not a representation of Bowie’s work, nor even a photo-documentary. So it’s the pictures – taken by professionals – that matter, and upon which the show must be judged. Happily, though, it’s very much the case that although the photographs are silent, they have a resonance in your memory and imagination – if you’re at all like me – that is deafening.
There are originals of LP covers, out-takes from the sessions that created them, and a solid collection of portraits and snatched, albeit carefully selected, images. It’s an excellent and undeniably poignant exhibition.
Very much worth a visit, in fact, although if you fancy buying a signed print for your bedroom, be prepared to pay north of £500 for work by the lesser-known photographers and six or seven times that for the big guns.
Celebration of the photographers
The evening of the preview was Lucy Bell’s eighth anniversary in her gallery. I asked her why this new exhibition is important.
“I’ve been working with Rockarchive and they have this incredible exhibition of David Bowie which we have here at the moment.
“Sadly it’s the first anniversary of his departure, but it’s a celebration of the photographers who worked with David while he was doing his thing.
“And it’s also the gallery’s eighth anniversary so it seemed like a really good way to celebrate that.”
Photographers featured include Mick Rock, Geoff MacCormack, Barrie Wentzell, Steve Rapport, Ian Dickson, Terry Pastor, Mark Mawston, Stefan Wallgren and Janet Macoska, as well as new and previously un-exhibited work by Fernando Aceves, Ray Stevenson and Dave Hogan.
David Bowie: Silhouettes and Shadows is at The Lucy Bell Gallery, 46 Norman Road, St Leonards-on-Sea TN38 0EJ, until 25 February. Free admission.
*The band were called Dobbin, and – musically at least – were an adolescent fusion of Bo Diddley, The Glitter Band and Yoko Ono. I was ‘percussion and backing vocals.’ Sadly, no recordings, photographs, or any other details for that matter, remain. The performance at the Tuns, one Sunday afternoon, was our first and only gig, believe it or not.
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