Isn’t it surprising how a single photograph, be it digital or film produced, how that shot can capture the minds and attention of multitudes of people, sometimes even of the whole world?
Such a shot is one I want to talk about today.
If you can take your minds back to the 60s, when things were changing at a frenzied pace…the general public, particularly the youth in America, were fed up with the policies of the people in charge, and the distance between the rule makers and the masses was getting greater and greater. So it’s no wonder then, that such conditions gave rise to the birth of radical but peaceful movements, from grass-roots level, the Hippy movement being just one example.
Such an atmosphere was also prevalent in the UK, albeit at a much muted level, as befits the character of all things British!
At that time, a photographer called Lewis Morley was in the fortunate position to be quite near to the scenario unfolding at the time, and he had managed to broadcast many iconic scenes with his ever-present camera.
But it was just one single shot from his camera that captured the minds and front pages of all the major newspapers of the world. That was the shot of the infamous call-girl Christine Keeler sitting astride an art deco chair. Some say it has become the most emulated picture in photographic history.
It was taken in 1963 and was a barometer of the sexual revolution that was sweeping across the Western countries. But had the affair between Keeler and Government Minster John Profumo just been that, an affair between the two, it would have not drawn attention at all, and in all probability, been swept under the carpet.
But it was solely because Keeler became involved with both Profumo as well as Yvegeny Ivanov, a Soviet Intelligence officer, that the whole thing captured the attention of every single person even vaguely interested in the Cold War and how this may have affected British safety and security. It was such a profound thing to happen, that it came dangerously close to toppling the Government at that time.
Lewis Morley was only involved with fashion, journalistic, painting and sculpture work during this period, but he initially resented it because of the way it overshadowed his other work….many a time he was heard to mention his dislike for the Keeler shot, calling it “that f******g Keeler shot”!
How did he manage to get that shot in his portfolio? Well, she had apparently signed a contract that required her to pose naked for a film that she was hoping to appear in. Initially, she was very against such a shot…don’t forget this was the 60s and such risqué shots were not the done thing normally!
However, the producers insisted upon it. Morley says that due to a lack of a dressing room nearby, Keeler had no choice but to get ready for the shot in front of him, but being a perfect gentleman, he cleared his studio of attendants etc and graciously turned his back so that she could undress. When she was done, he asked her to sit on the chair astride, with the chair back covering her midriff.
She was with him for no more than 30 minutes he said, but in his mind he knew it would require another session as he was not happy at all with the shots in the camera. But, as always happens in the history of photography, he just happened to look around as he was walking away from Keeler…at that split second in time, he noticed she was in exactly the position he had originally had in mind, so rushing back to his camera, he clicked the shutter…and that shot became history. And again, as is mostly inevitable, that shot was the last frame in his 36 exposure film!
Amazingly, Morley said he never found her alluring at all.
Morley was born in Hong Kong in 1925, the son of an English father and a Chinese mother.
After the war, the family moved to London, where he started dabbling in photography. His break came in 1957, when his shots were published in the famous Photography magazine; assignments came thick and fast after that, with appearances in Tatler and Go! magazines, as well as promotion shots of stars such as Judi Dench, Peter O’Toole and Anthony Hopkins.
It was not until 1957, the year of his son’s birth, that Morley’s first photographs, a six-page spread, were published in the influential Photography magazine. The following year his first picture appeared in Tatler, where he became a regular. Assignments also came in for Go! and She magazines. Soon after, Lindsay Anderson asked him to take promotion stills for his production of Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance, and he went on to shoot front-of-house images for more than 100 Royal Court shows, capturing many of the era’s emerging talents including Anthony Hopkins, Peter O’Toole, Maggie Smith and Judi Dench.
But it was that shot of Keeler for which he is remembered the most.
all photos courtesy flickr.com