David Hockney, Celia Birtwell, Ossie Clark and the Notting Hill Tramp
One evening the late great designer Ossie Clark said to me “Come over and meet David” (meaning Hockney), this was long before I became a photographer and was still an art student.
Words and Photography
I found myself in a large Victorian house in Notting Hill Gate, Ossie answered the door and I followed him up some rickety stairs. He then led me into a vast Victorian drawing-room. Bizarrely in the middle of the high ceilinged room was this huge round mound of black coal, which served as the heating element for the room, to feed the large fire in the Victorian fireplace. In the four corners of the room were three camp beds and one mattress on the floor. The room was very bohemian with Hockney’s paintings on the wall, some complete, others in progress, others leaning against the wall. Sadly I was not a photographer at that time and would only photograph David Hockney some years later.
The stunning designer Celia Birtwell and David were in the room and we all sat and drank wine and talked about art, artists, and ideas in that very 60s way. I had just come from art school so we were full of it. I introduced myself to David and he just said ‘Oh Hello, I’ve got to go out now” and that was that! Celia, Ossie and I sat and drank more cheap wine and beer while I extolled my mad ideas about art as night fell in Nottinghill Gate. While expounding what I thought was a particularly important creative point there was an almighty crash of breaking glass and splintering wood from the outside the room. There was a window alongside the door from the hallway into the drawing room. We whipped around to where the horrendous sound was coming from. Then as if in slow motion a huge figure burst through the window, shattering glass and exploding onto the floor in front of us. The figure was that of a giant Irish tramp in rags, covered in blood and shards of glass who then staggered drunkenly to his feet.
" Ossie then bravely grabbed a broom and attempted to force the large tramp out of the room with it, while Celia dialed the police."
Ossie ran up to him fearlessly and screamed ‘Who are you and what are you doing here?” The tramp who reeked of alcohol belched loudly and looked at Ossie and said, “You are going to die” and then looked at me and said ‘you are all right”. Ossie then bravely grabbed a broom and attempted to force the large tramp out of the room with it, while Celia dialed the police. I stood back shocked and aghast and not a lot of use, surveying the highly unusual scene. I had only recently arrived in London from Wales. I was rooted to the spot and absolutely petrified and I thought ‘this is violence in the big City”. Two burly policemen arrived mercifully quickly and dragged the swearing and alcohol besotted tramp away and I thought how could anyone get so completely out of it.
I didn’t see David for the next few years when I was asked to photograph him for an American art magazine, the name of which escapes me. Hockney had taken a studio in the beautiful South Edward Square in Kensington in London, opposite Holland Park. My house was around the corner in Abingdon Road, five minutes away. My assistants and I drove the short distance to David’s studio with all our equipment. David answered the door and said in his awesome Northern accent “Oh, you’ve come to do the photos” he was wearing a pink cashmere jumper that was flecked with paint and was wearing a Mickey Mouse plastic watch on his wrist. I said, “I like your Mickey Mouse watch” they were very trendy at the time “I know it’s fab int it” he replied. I set up some lights in the bijou studio. We got talking and he asked me if I had seen Ossie and Celia? I said I’d seen Ossie out and about in town but I hadn’t seen Celia. Ossie had given me the most beautiful silver leather jacket, which I was wearing at the time. I said ‘this is one of Ossie’s jackets” and David said ‘Oh, he’s great isn’t he” admiring Ossie’s work. I absolutely loved that jacket and wish I still had it. I think I wore it till the sleeve came off and I gave it to a charity shop. It was based on a World War One German fighter ace jacket and the zip went from the waist diagonally to the left-hand shoulder.
It was so easy to be with David, he sat around and smoked constantly and we talked and laughed and exchanged gossip and stories about the art world. While I was photographing him he was effortless to shoot. I realised amidst my enthusiasm that David was beginning to tire of being photographed and wanted to get back to his work. I told him that the lights were getting reflected in his glasses and for one moment he lifted them and I got the shot of him like that, looking straight into the camera (above). After the photo session, he asked me if he could see all the Polaroid’s and we went through them. He said to me “that he loved the look of Polaroid’s”. Later on in his career, he produced some wonderful work using Polaroid’s and photomontage and has become one of the most iconic artists of our time.