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Mick Jagger diamon smile © Carinthia West

Mick Jagger diamon smile © Carinthia West

Relaxed icons by Carinthia West

Lucy Bell Gallery is known for featuring portraits and performances of 1970s/80s pop stars celebrating those vibrant times when characters were characters, music was music. Their fans have stayed loyal to them; it was their youth too. However, this exhibition is one with a difference. These images by Carinthia West were not taken as a photographer looking in, she was part of the scene, photographing her life as well as theirs. Simply walking into the gallery made Lauris Morgan-Griffiths smile.

Any anxieties melt away as I step into the Lucy Bell Gallery; it is uplifting simply seeing sunny, youthful scenes. The smile begins outside the gallery, looking through the window at a youthful Mick Jagger, relaxed, seemingly without a care in the world.  It feels like a sign of those times when life was in front of you, there was hope, a future. That thought spreads as I walk through the gallery, young faces of Jagger, Ronnie Wood, David Bowie, Anjelica Huston. All vibrantly full of life.

However, this is not someone who is a paparazzo snapping their pictures for profit. Carinthia West was a friend, staying in their houses, partying with them. It was a more relaxed, less cynical time, as the photographs portray, London seemed small then, people met in the Kings Road, became friends then, through shared experiences, they could be friends for life.

Ronnie Wood, Mick Jagger at Malibu Colony 1976 © Carinthia West

Ronnie Wood, Mick Jagger at Malibu Colony 1976 © Carinthia West

As a schoolgirl she would race after school, hitch her school skirt up to a mini and walk down the Kings Road, shopping. And there she just meet like-minded people. She might have been a little younger than the crowd but who’s counting. She was there. And some people have a habit of being in the right place at the right time.  At sixteen, she met Beatles photographer Robert Whitaker outside the then well known club the Pheasantery. Whitaker, who shared a flat with Eric Clapton, opened the door to another world, characters such as Jimi Hendrix, Marianne Faithfull, and Anita Pallenberg.

Her intention was never to be a photographer. She has had several previous lives – as a model, actor, writer and photographer. She had a habit of always having a camera with her, to while away the longueurs between film takes. While Carinthia had huge respect for photographers like Elliot Erwitt, Cartier-Bresson, Lartigue, she herself had no pretensions as a photographer:  then she would have called herself a real amateur snapper, it was something to do purely pass the time and it became second nature to record her friends. As Ronnie Wood so aptly put it “Carinthia took photographs while we were getting on with life…”

The Long Night. Ronnie Wood with Mick Jagger at Cedars Sinai Hospital just after hearing about the birth of his son. © Carinthia West

The Long Night. Ronnie Wood with Mick Jagger at Cedars Sinai Hospital just after hearing about the birth of his son. © Carinthia West

Years later, her friends having become icons, she looked through the thousands of negatives she had and thought they might make an exhibition. Particularly now in our PR-controlled times you would rarely see such intimate, relaxed images. Because she had always considered them private photographs of her friends, out of respect, she contacted each person. family or estate for  their approval to show them publicly. The message came back, ‘show them’, ‘we look amazing, ‘we look happy’.

She captured some special private moments; Mick Jagger looking happy and relaxed; Ronnie Wood and Jagger at the hospital waiting for the birth of Ronnie and Krissy’s first child. They had all been partying when Krissy went into labout, Neil Young’s right hand man turned up in the hearse he used to transport Neil and his guitars to gigs. That night it doubled as an ambulance as they raced to the hospital. A contemplative Neil Young with his son Zeke at their Broken Arrow Ranch in California;  at the Pink Floyd promotion where the pink pig broke its moorings. In case of that eventuality there was supposed to be someone there to shoot the pig down. However the marksman didn’t turn up so the pig flew solo across London, eventually landing in an Essex field.

Neil Young with son Zeke at their Broken Arrow Ranch in California © Carinthia West

Neil Young with son Zeke at their Broken Arrow Ranch in California © Carinthia West

Then there was, of course, the Rutles in which she played ‘The Bigamy Sisters’ – Eric Idles’s spoof on The Beatles.  Carinthia took a picture of the set of the Rutles, after everyone had gone. She explains, “George Harrison was cast as a TV presenter interviewing  Michael Palin about the demise of the Beatles: It was a joke within a joke. We had a lot of fun.” The Rutles has a devoted following, and some fans turned up to meet her at the opening of exhibition at the Lucy Bell Gallery.

She had a somewhat peripatetic but sophisticated upbringing. Her father, General Sir Michael West, had a successful military career and was then apppointed UK representative to NATO in Washington in 1962. Liivng there Carinthia remembers key historical events: the Cuban Missile Crisis, Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, John F Kennedy in the White House: she remembers the day of his assassination.

She volunteers she had the best parents. Her father was in no way pompous or stuffy; he was known as the Dancing General.  Being a diplomat he was often asked to give parties for visiting British dignitaries and celebrities. When the Beyond the Fringe group were invited during a visit to Washington – Alan Bennett, Jonathan Miller, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore –  they thought, out of politeness they would stay for ten minutes. However, they were greeted by her father in a caftan. I think that was a good start to the evening.

Carinthia West seems to have hit her time. An Icelandic film company are filming a road-trip style documentary of her life. She is giving a talk on Sunday, March 13 at 3pm at Kino-Teatre where a ten minute trailer will be shown  The exhibition, An Affectionate Archive: Carinthia West is at the Lucy Bell Gallery until 3 April, 2022, 46 Norman Road, TN38 0EJ Open Thurs. Fri Sunday 11am-4pm Saturday 10am-5pm.







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Posted 21:02 Wednesday, Mar 9, 2022 In: Photography

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