Snap! Crackle! Pop! Class, Celebrity and Culture In British Post War Photography
Brian Duffy Aladdin Sane ESTIMATE: 7,000 - 10,000 GBP


Snap! Crackle! Pop! Class, Celebrity and Culture In British Post War Photography

Pop archaeologist, cultural historian and beat pundit Bob Stanley casts an eye over a brace of British photographs featured in the September 2022 Made In Britain auction and finds, in the works on offer, a vivid pictorial history of a fast-vanishing past.
Pop archaeologist, cultural historian and beat pundit Bob Stanley casts an eye over a brace of British photographs featured in the September 2022 Made In Britain auction and finds, in the works on offer, a vivid pictorial history of a fast-vanishing past.

S ince the Peasants’ Revolt, Britain has been a country divided in itself. In these iconic photographs, the establishment is pictured in the form of Churchill and the City of London, but it is the younger, cheekier people, the ones clearly standing against them who created the world we now live in. These are the ones who wouldn’t wash their boss’s car, or do National Service, or stand up when God Save The Queen played at the end of the movie.

Whether it’s the London of Capstan Full Strength and Routemasters, or flat-capped, standing-room-only Bolton, these images show a post-war Britain which still looked very familiar not so long ago, but is now slipping into deeper history.

Corinne Day Kate Moss on Bed ESTIMATE: 3,000 - 5,000 GBP

The people who still stand out in these photographs - the Modernists - are the ones that make them very relevant. The Modernists kicked against the notion of knowing your place.

"The people who still stand out in these photographs - the modernists - kicked against the notion of knowing your place"

There are the unintentional firestarters: Christine Keeler who, seemingly gleeful in her infamy, doesn’t yet know how she will soon be destroyed by the media. The 16-year old Kate Moss, looks carefree even if she didn’t feel it, about to become an international superstar, thanks to Corinne Day’s celebrated images.

Gered Mankowitz Jimi Hendrix, Smoking ESTIMATE: 3,000 - 5,000 GBP

Then there are others who arrived in London knowing it was the best place to start their own revolution. Britain welcomed Jimi Hendrix when he was known in America, if it all, as no more than a former Isley Brothers sideman. Here, in repurposed military gear, and having made every guitarist in 1966 London seem second-rate overnight, we see him smoking, laughing.

No authority figure in any of these photographs is even smiling. Nico, likewise, would be dismissed as an adjunct to the Velvet Underground in the States, no more than Lou Reed’s muse, but in the UK she had been given her own record deal with Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate label. It didn’t work out, but we knew her worth, we could read her attitude.

Not everyone needs to have their name recalled by history to have made a statement. We see identikit City workers on Carnaby Street barging past a couple tooled up as latter-day pearly kings and queens, referencing a working-class tradition that celebrates the creation of your own world from whatever you have to hand. You can keep your bowlers and brollies. After all, not everyone can aspire to Beau Brummell’s standards, and not everyone wants to.

Philip Townsend Selected Images (London, 1960s) ESTIMATE: 1,200 - 1,800 GBP

There's one cat carelessly straddling a classic BSA (Birmingham Small Arms) motorbike, and you worry for his white jeans. Or a pair of mods, certainly not modernists, perusing a second-hand shop in their creased and crumpled parkas; if they turned around we would probably see tell-tale fish and chip greasemarks on their pockets. Messy kids.

"We see one cat carelessly straddling a classic BSA motorbike, and you worry for his white jeans"

For these messy kids to win the cultural war, they needed the Beatles. And there they are, sat in front of a map of Great Britain, with George behind a desk as if he’s about to give out instructions on overthrowing the old order. The new world they created allowed suburban dreamers in, like Bowie, a long-haired modernist who wouldn’t follow anyone’s rulebook, whether it concerned the licensing laws or the use of synthesisers.

Iain Macmillan The Beatles, Abbey Road (Outtake) Estimate: 15,000 - 20,000 GBP

These images are now in the cultural lexicon, shorthand for the triumphs of British working class culture. They are known, at once, internationally. We see four men walking in line, left to right across a zebra crossing and we know it’s four kids from south Liverpool, brought up on tinned carrots.

"These images are now in the cultural lexicon... We see four men walking in line, left to right across a zebra crossing and we know it’s four kids from south Liverpool, brought up on tinned carrots."

Or the a man with a red and blue lightning strike across his face and we know it’s the boy from Bromley who once got into a fight with his best mate, a fight that gave him different coloured eyes, and the deathless look of the outsider. We see the foot soldiers and the generals, the ones who together would consign Received Pronunciation to history, and we thank them.

The London Sales Photographs

About the Author

More from Sotheby's

Stay informed with Sotheby’s top stories, videos, events & news.

Receive the best from Sotheby’s delivered to your inbox.

By subscribing you are agreeing to Sotheby’s Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe from Sotheby’s emails at any time by clicking the “Manage your Subscriptions” link in any of your emails.

Close
arrow Created with Sketch. Back To Top