So, spent a few days in Amsterdam last week and guess what the very first thing I saw when stepping off the bus outside my hotel? No, not that – there were plenty of unhuman looking creatures comprised of 40% silicone elsewhere (in fairness the city’s more notorious elements are mainly restricted to a couple of streets) – but the welcome sight of Twiggy photographed by Terence Donovan in 1966 in front of a Union Jack advertising a local exhibition “Swinging Sixites London – Photography in the Capital of Cool”.
Did seem slightly odd to travel from London for a break and then within an hour be wandering around a gallery depicting my city but obviously it had to be done. And very good it was too, loads to see. Most of the exhibits were familiar but welcome nonetheless. The photographers, models and groovy set all present, correct and looking fab: Terence Donovan, Brian Duffy, Norman Parkinson, Philip Townsend, John Cowan, Eric Swayne, Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, Jane Birkin, Grace Coddington, Celia Hammond, Jean Kennington, Julie Christie, Sarah Miles, Terence Stamp, Michael Caine, the Rolling Stones, you know the ones.
In addition it was good to see John “Hoppy” Hopkins representing a different side of the era with political protests, skirmishes on the streets of Ruislip and scraggy haired poets waving accusatory fingers in the Royal Albert Hall; and James Barnor offering a contrast by using black models in conjunction with famous London sights.
Although fashion photography changed dramatically during the period the accompanying exhibition booklet acknowledges the concept of “Swinging London” was little more than a myth and “many Londoners still lived in poverty and vast swaths of the city were still in ruin”. True but it was a city teeming with possibilities and opportunities that weren’t previously available.
Swinging Sixties London is at Foam Fotografiemuseum , Keizersgracht 609, Amsterdam. Open every day until 2 September 2015. Admission 10 Euros.
Whilst on the subject of Amsterdam, it’s worth mentioning how many good record shops there are if you’re visiting. The best I discovered was the smart Waxwell Records. My jaw nearly hit the floor at the wall display alone and the stock of rare quality LPs – especially soul and jazz – was incredible and fairly priced. Their “Black Interest” section alone contained albums featuring Malcom X, The Last Poets, Elijah Muhammad, Martin Luther King and Richard Pryor. I only had time to scratch the surface but quickly swiped The Return of the Marvelettes on Tamla (the ladies riding into town on horseback) and Free At Last, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr on Gordy. What I left behind doesn’t bear thinking about.
Waxwell Records, Gasthuismolensteeg 8, Amsterdam. Open daily from 1200.