Under the Influence

Photographer John Deakin’s reputation is much like that of his beloved Soho – suffused with myths, soaked in booze, and ensconced by a glittering social circe that includes some of the brightest minds in art and literature of a generation.

John Deakin, Deakin Drinking, 1960s

Source: Courtesy Robin Muir

John Deakin,Deakin Drinking, 1960s

However, both Deakin and Soho have their less glamourous undercurrents: the man, and the area, have attracted no shortage of scurrilous rumours that add to their shabby, roguish repute.

John Deakin, Girl in Cafe´, late 1950s

Source: © The John Deakin Archive

John Deakin,Girl in Cafe´, late 1950s

From this week, Deakin’s fascinating Soho-inspired photographs and paintings are to go on show at the Photographers’ Gallery, sited just west of the area, in the Under the Influence: John Deakin and the Lure of Soho exhibiton.

Around 70 photographs and paintings are going on show, depicting the streets and faces of Soho in the 1950s and early 1960s.

John Deakin, Timothy Behrens, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach and Michael Andrews at Wheeler’s, Old Compton Street, 1963

Source: © 2014 John Deakin Archive

John Deakin,Timothy Behrens, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach and Michael Andrews at Wheeler’s, Old Compton Street, 1963

‘Loved and loathed in equal measure by friends and drinking companions, Deakin was a legendary member of the quarter’s maverick crowd of artists, writers, poets and assorted characters and misfits’, says the gallery.

‘As its most famous chronicler with a camera, he is inextricably linked to Soho’s bohemian heyday in the two decades following the War.’

John Deakin, Partygoer, 1940s

Source: © The John Deakin Archive

John Deakin,Partygoer, 1940s

The works are split into four themed sections, beginning with the landscape of the area, replete with the famous gaudy neon signs and grubby graffiti that add to its insalubrious charm. These scenes are peopled by the artisans, tradesmen and peculiar characters that made Soho what it was – and to an extent, still is today.

John Deakin, Lucien Freud, 1961

Source: © The John Deakin Archive

John Deakin,Lucien Freud, 1961

The show then moves on to more intimate portraiture of those close to Deakin, including the likes of painters Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud and writer Dylan Thomas.

John Deakin, J.P. Donleavy, author and playwright, Soho, 1950s

Source: © The John Deakin Archive

John Deakin,J.P. Donleavy, author and playwright, Soho, 1950s

Though Deakin was surrounded by these huge art world names and great thinkers, his lifestyle choices often meant that his own professional life was somewhat unsteady.

While he is said to have frequently boasted of his links with Vogue magazine, his 1947-8 tenure at the publication ended on his ‘loss’ of several pieces of camera equipment; though he went on to work there for three more years between 1951 and 1954.

Deakin also served in the British Army Film Unit as a photographer from 1940 until 1945.

John Deakin, Elizabeth Smart, 1952

Source: © The John Deakin Archive

John Deakin,Elizabeth Smart, 1952

However, Deakin was keen to be viewed not as a photographer; but as an artist – delighting more in capturing the scenes from his incredible – if chaotic – life, than in forging a conventional career path.

As such, the 1960s saw him focus on painting more than photography, creating colourful, simple works (these form the third section of the show) that never gained him the praise his photographic output received.

Under the Influence: John Deakin and the Lure of Soho¹ is at The Photographers’ Gallery, 16 – 18 Ramillies St, London W1F 7LW from 11 April to 13 July (www.tpg.org.uk). The book Under the Influence: John Deakin, Photography and the Lure of Soho is published on 7 April by Art/Books (www.artbookspublishing.co.uk)

 

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