Exhibition | Unseen Beat Scene | Contemporary Art at Pontone Gallery | London | Art Week

Unseen Beat Scene

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Friday, 4 March 2022 to Sunday, 27 March 2022

A collection of original, never before seen pop culture photographs. Shot in 1964, these 35mm black and white negatives have been meticulously restored to reveal the youthful vibrancy of the early sixties British Beatscene.


Paul Heartfield, the curator of this exhibition, is a renowned editorial photographer. Specializing particularly in musicians, he has produced iconic images of performers such as Radiohead, Arctic Monkeys, and John Lydon. London-based for most of his career, he has recently moved to Findhorn, a small village in Scotland, which is where this story begins.

A chance encounter with a new neighbour results in a discovery. Paul is given a small, rolled-up bag of black and white 35mm negatives. Closer inspection and some initial research reveals them to have been taken in April of 1964, specifically at three recordings for the British TV programme, 'Ready Steady Go!', including the "Mod Ball" concert at Wembley's Empire Pool. More extensive research proves the images to be previously unseen and unpublished and, despite further detective work, their mystery photographer remains unknown.

Meticulously restored, the pictures feature candid shots of popular acts of the day, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield, Roy Orbison, Cliff Richard, and Helen Shapiro. Caught off guard and for the most part unposed, they combine to document the routines of performance, both on stage and off.

The concert and studio lighting makes for strong contrasts, a chiaroscuro effect which the photographer exploits, for example in an image of Cliff Richard leaning into the microphone, spot lit in a pool of inky darkness, or Roy Orbison picked out in his charcoal suit framed by almost indifferent crew and audience members.

The pictures vary in their level of composition. Some are improvised: we see Bill Wyman's stoic profile as Brian Jones flashes past. Others are more considered: heads in a row, George, Paul and Ringo, pensive and sullen, wait for a cue. The photographer picks out a level of professional polish: a doll-like Dusty Springfield glistens as she sings down to the camera, Susan Maughan gleams in perfect make up and raven-black coiffure. Other images are more casual: Keith Richards lounging in a nest of guitars, The Shadows mugging and gurning at the camera, the startling familiarity of Mick Jagger's cavernous open mouth.

Dating from almost sixty years ago, these photographs preserve unfiltered details of attitude, gesture and behaviour which are entirely familiar. It is the clothes and costumes that are different, pointing up a formality which is absent today. With the benefit of hindsight we recognize them as the beginning of something. A glimpse of a Pan Am travel bag hints at the jet set sixties waiting to take off.

+44 20 7730 8777
Venue ( Address ): 

Pontone Gallery, 74 Newman Street, W1T 3DB, UK

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