April 2004


Peter Schlesinger has produced a marvelous, intimate and warm visual diary of an arty creative Europe in the late 60s and 70s. Schlesinger first started snapping away with his brownie camera in 1962 photographing beatnik friends. Then, when he moved to London in 1968, he wished to record every vital new metropolitan experience of this exciting swinging time. It was the era of fusion of the classes, aristocratic models, artists, musicians writers and gangsters.

He came to London to study painting at the Slade School of Art with David Hockney whom he first met in 1965 when Hockney was a professor at UCLA. On the first day of classes the bleached-blond professor wore a tomato-red suit, a green and white polka dot tie with matching hat and enormous, round black cartoon glasses. They became partners and the rest is pop-art history. Schlesinger says: "my horizon quickly expanded as I was introduced to David Hockney's large circle of friends," and this put him at the hub of London's in-crowd.

The Fortnum & Mason British cup of tea (can't get up and function in the morning without F&M's addictive Royal Blend myself), seemed to be the magnet that drew the great and the good to Hockney's Powis Terrace flat in the then unfashionable Notting Hill. The set included Celia Birtwell who married fashion designer Ossie Clark, actor Sir John Gielgud, author W.H. Auden, and artists Gilbert & George who loved their tea but apparently did not say much.

Schlesinger and Hockney's travels and grand tours of Europe, to visit museums and spas, are captured with an everyday feel - the 1969 Orient-Express Pairs-Wien train with a quirky picture of a frozen looking Hockey; recalling what looks like a drunken trip down the Danube from Vienna, with the pair of them chatting and drinking home-made slivovitz with friendly Czechs and Slovaks; with the slightly angry Jean Shrimpton in Paris to see the Matisse exhibition; visits to Stewart Grimshaw's St Tropez house - regulars were Tommy Nutter of Savile Row and model Amanda Lear.

Flicking through the visual diary, you can catch the atmosphere at the chateau of Baron Philippe de Rothschild, who had commissioned Hockney in 1977 to design a wine label, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild. Joan Littlewood, the legend of British theatre who had moved to France, was Rothschild's neighbour and frequent guest. There is the Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava who gave lavish parties with an extraordinary mixture of people. The photograph of the dowager is ingrained with London society character of the day. The art collector Douglas Cooper's home, Chateau de Castille, was filled with paintings by Matisse, Braque and his friend Picasso.

The photographs taken by the Californian are candid and cosy, but at the same time he is able to keep his world and his lens far enough away from his subjects to give that remote caress that gives the book its overall gritty freshness. Take a peek at all those glamorous people of the art and fashion universe enjoying their sexual and bisexual liberation and all those tempestuous parties. And Hockney's recent big splash about the misrepresentation of digital photography and the power of the image gives the book a genuine creative twist.

A Chequered Past: My Visual Diary of the 60s and 70s

By Peter Schlesinger with foreword by Manolo Blahnik

Thames & Hudson, £14.95

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