More often than not, the images associated with fashion photography are of lavish, film-set shoots, glossy Vogue spreads and artificial compositions. Whilst this preconception is true of a lot of modern fashion photography, it hardly does justice to the elegant simplicity of Peter Akehurst’s work.
Akehurst’s career began as a photojournalist at a London Press agency, but fashion photography was his calling so, relocating to the John French studio, he became David Bailey’s first assistant, gaining a clientele of actors, models and singers. Slowly he emerged as a fashion photographer in his own right and after producing his first spread for Vanity Fair, at nineteen, he landed a job at The Sunday Times studio, where he worked with actors including Rod Steiger, James Stewart and Vanessa Redgrave. This led to further success enabling him to build his own studio and go on to work for Avon, Revlon and Estee Lauder.
Although Akehurst’s career is based on photographing icons of popular culture, the Norwich Arts Centre seems the perfect venue to showcase his work, for the diminutive setting replicates the intimate relationship between photographer and subject as viewers interact personally with each piece.
Whilst the exhibition focuses upon fashion and celebrities from 1965-1982, it isn’t a celebration of fame, but rather the natural beauty of the human and photographic form. Akehurst’s collection for The Times, 1972 is testimony to this, as the elegance of his models is enhanced by their natural movement, captured in a single frame. The images, although produced as advertisement, can be viewed as artwork, a far cry from the age of artificiality and Photoshop we live in today.
The influence of Bailey’s and Avedon’s portrayals of swinging London life echoes throughout Akehurst’s collection, as the excitement of an emerging celebrity culture is captured in the glamour of each photograph. This is emphasised by Akehurst’s technical utilisation of harsh tonal contrast, heavily defining his models’ features with clear black outlines, against bleached skin. In adopting this method Akehurst draws the viewer’s eye to the points of significance, as demonstrated in his ‘Beauty Head for Revlon Cosmetics, 1974’.
Whilst this exhibition seemingly presents a ‘who’s who’ of the celebrity world, 1965-1982, it’s Akehurst’s ability to ‘humanise’ and engage with his subjects, transforming the celebrity into the ordinary, which stands out. It’s the way he’s captured vulnerability in British Boxer, Henry Cooper, spontaneity in singer and actress Anita Harris and annoyance in the sister of model Jean Shrimpton, which has earned the exhibition its title ‘Some Moments in Time’, for whilst Akehurst captured a transitory moment in popular culture, he also managed to portray celebrities in very personal terms, reminding viewers that they are, after all, just human beings.