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Design Bridge Visits: Swinging Sixties London Photography Exhibition

Earlier this month, Jo and Charlotte from our Amsterdam Studio took an inspirational photographic step back in time to the era that changed the way in which we view style and culture. They visited the Swinging Sixties London – Photography in the Capital of Cool exhibition at Foam, Amsterdam’s world-renowned photography gallery. Here’s what they learnt and loved…


We had read that the exhibition was based on the remarkable developments in and around photography in 1960s London – the fashion, music, celebrity, design and social change of the time – bringing together the work of the iconic photographers who became as famous as the stars in front of their cameras. On stepping through the gallery doors next to the sunny canal, we knew we were in for a treat!


The Photographers, 1976. Copyright Brian Duffy/Gallery Vassie Barry Lategan, Don McCullin, Brian Duffy, David Bailey and Terence Donovan.

We were drawn to this picture of the key photographers of the 60s. What they saw through their shutters has come to define how we remember the decade. They broke the mould. They were East London lads, the opposite of the privileged photographers that came before them. This was a characteristic of broader changes happening at the time.

Post-war Britain had started to boom. Economic success and growing numbers of young people who rejected the conservative austerity of their parents caused attitudes to shift. For the first time, young people dictated London’s fashion trends rather than the established elite. Leisure and individual style were available to all, and a new mood of optimism prevailed.

Traffic, 1960. Copyright Norman Parkinson Ltd. Courtesy Norman Parkinson Archive

Traffic, 1960. Copyright Norman Parkinson Ltd. Courtesy of Norman Parkinson Archive

London was the epicentre of it all and photography was an important means of expression. Access to new coloured film meant that a new energy and vibrancy could be captured – this attention-stopping image from 1960 gives a bold nod to the fabulously graphic photography to come in the rest of the decade.

We were struck by the dynamic and free-spirited nature of the exhibition, and how many photographers took their models out of the poised studio and asked them to move, stroll, dance, jump and interact with the urban environment.

Jill Kennington “Flying High”, 1966. Copyright John Cowan

Jill Kennington “Flying High”, 1966. Copyright John Cowan

British magazines underwent massive changes in the 1960s. No longer just talking to the elite, they were shaken up with new energy and creativity, and some of the most striking images of the era were created for fashion magazines. David Hillman (iconic designer and art-director of Nova magazine in the 60s) remembers; “It was the start of the reign of the design departments, a shift from the literary values to the visual. The era where editorial staff had total freedom.”


Grace and Thelma, Italian Vogue, 1966. Copyright Eric Swayne

These were the golden days for fashion and music, and when models and musicians became superstars. These pictures of Jane Birkin and Mick Jagger below are still the epitome of cool for me – as timeless and stylish now as they were then.

Jane Birkin, 1965 and Mick Jagger, 1964. Both Copyright Eric Swayne

Jane Birkin, 1965 and Mick Jagger, 1964. Both Copyright Eric Swayne

We think that the words of Chris Duffy, son of photographer Brian Duffy, sums up the exhibition perfectly;“The sixties was the embryo of modern pop culture. The standards and benchmarks set in photography, film, design and fashion can be traced back to this important decade.”

Mixed images at the exhibition.

Mixed images at the exhibition.

Unfortunately this exhibition has now closed, but you can check the gallery’s website for information on future exhibitions.

by Anna Stanford

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