Just when you think we've seen everything there is to see from the 1960s, along comes this superb book of photos by John Hopkins to add fresh lustre and give new insights to our vision of those times.
"Hoppy" as he is known by one and all, is of course now in the history books; in the words of Jonathon Green, in his book 'All Dressed Up', he was 'involved centrally in virtually every aspect of the counter-culture. '
A former nuclear reactor scientist, Hoppy became an inspiration, an instigator, an alternative impresario, a cause celebre. He was involved in the birth of the alternative scene in Notting Hill Gate, was the co-founder of Britain's first underground newspaper International Times, initially funded by Paul McCartney. He established, with Joe Boyd, the legendary UFO Club in Tottenham Court Road, where the house band was the Pink Floyd, where light shows were pioneered and where Hendrix strutted his stuff. He took acid in 1964, went to America, got busted in December 1966, served six months in Wormwood Scrubs. That's just the start of it.
His godfather gave him his first camera on the day he graduated from Cambridge in 1958 and he spent the next years learning the tricks of the trade. He arrived in London on January 1st, 1960, black and white camera in hand, to work as an assistant to a commercial photographer and by the following year was established as a Fleet Street freelancer, working for the Sunday Times and The Observer and also freelancing for Queen (a style magaxine of the day, for which he did one of the first feature ever in the UK on cannabis), Melody Maker (for which he shot jazz) and for Peace News and the CND magazine Sanity (for which he documented the protest movement against nuclear weapons).
His photographic career was to last just five years, from 1961 to 1966, but during this period he captured beautiful black and white images that are now considered iconic, of the music, culture and politics of the time. He then abandoned photography for life. Three years later, in 1969, he picked up his first video camera and became a pioneer in that field also - a story that has yet to be told.
For some thirty years or more, these photos remained lost and forgotten, were rediscovered by accident, and had their first-ever screening at the Photographer's Gallery in 2000. This book is their first proper publication - happily in an edition of great style and beauty, thanks to a great piece of design work by Sartoria Communications and a first rate production and publishing job by Damiani Editore in Bologna. The book, ironically or not, is discreetly sponsored by the jean company Lee.
Hoppy's great passion was jazz so it is appropriate that his wonderful intimate portraits of that world form the largest part of the book. The greats are here in force - John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Raasan Roland Kirk, Ornette Coleman and more - revealed in all their sartorial splendour. These are pictures of great class, style and distinction.
I particularly love the shot of Lee Morgan - The Sidewinder, with his herringbone suit, white shirt and slick hair, leaning back and blowing on his muted trumpet, holding a cigarette carelessly in his left hand, the smoke drifting upwards as the notes pour out - a gem.
The book opens with coverage of the emerging teen cultures: stunning studio and live shots of the Stones, some beautiful Beatles photos, Dusty Springfield and Marianne Faithful, Soho coffee bar scenes and bikers at the Ace Cafe.
His coverage of The international Potry Congress at the Albert Hall, on the 11th June 1965, features lively portrayals of the massed poets on the steps of the Albert memorial, Ginsburg in the nude, Burroughs staring into the camera as if he's trying to melt the lens. From there straight into CND marches, Martin Luther King at a 1963 Oxford Peace Conference, Malcolm X in Notting Hill, marches against racism and pics from Hyde Park's Speaker's corner.
The book concludes with a lengthy section showing the underbelly of Notting Hill - tattooists, fetishists, prostitutes - and the culture of old London - poverty and street kids, pearly kings and queens, bus and dole queues. A view of an England lost and gone.
The book contains short essays by record producer Joe Boyd, Barrie Miles (one of Hoppy's great collaborators of the period), the great jazz photographer Val Wilmer, and the photo curator Addie Vassie, who first brought Hoppy's pictures to light. They all speak fondly of him. His photos attest to his ability to put people at their ease. His talent shines out.
'From The Hip' [Damiani. 2008] ISBN 978-88-6208-018-7
INTERVIEW WITH HOPPY: NOW AVAILABLE AT The Generalist audio site.