The man who shot the Sixties

Lennon, Jagger, Marianne Faithfull... John 'Hoppy' Hopkins photographed them all in their prime. And only now is his work being discovered again.
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The Independent Culture
THE POET Allen Ginsberg was naked apart from his underpants. And his underpants were on his head as he danced happily on his 40th birthday at the party that went on all night in a basement in Chelsea. John Lennon turned up, took one look at Ginsberg in the buff and said: "You can't do that in front of birds." Well, it was 1965 and Yoko was still some way in the future.

John "Hoppy" Hopkins photographed them all, and many more. His picture of Ginsberg's party-piece is part of an exhibition of his photo-journalism which opened on Monday at the Light House gallery in Wolverhampton. The photos cover a comparatively short period: starting in 1960 when Hopkins gave up his short career as a nuclear physicist and finished in 1965 when he began to drift into the psychedelic scene in London.

Now 61, he lives in a bleak part of Islington. His collection of 1300 negatives would have continued to languish in a cardboard box were it not for a chance meeting with Evelyn Wilson, curator at the Light House. Of the 30 photographs he has chosen, most were used by broadsheet newspapers, or in Melody Maker, Queen Magazine or Peace News.

A few are being published for the first time, notably two atmospheric shots reflecting the seediness of Notting Hill in the Sixties. One shows a bloated tattooist at work on the fleshy back of a young woman, the other a rubber fetishist in the kitchen of his bedsit. What makes the picture intriguing is the very ordinariness of his surroundings. His rubber boots are planted on mock-parquet lino. His rubber pants are leaning against a draining board cluttered with Lux, Vim and other household names. To his right is the sort of water heater that would now be confined to a museum.

No wonder Evelyn Wilson says: "These pictures seem very far removed from today."

Another shows a summer dawn streaming in through a window at Alexandra Palace towards the end of a Rolling Stones "all-nighter". A couple are clutching each other on an almost deserted dancefloor and they're wearing overcoats - not exactly fashion items for all-night ravers in the Nineties.

The Stones feature elsewhere: Brian Jones with his back to the audience at the Ally Pally, Mick and Keith barely awake before lunch in a Soho caff. So clear is the print that you can traces of acne on Keith Richard's unlined face.

It's the freckles that catch the eye in a close-up of Marianne Faithfull, looking young and virginal in 1965.

"She was so beautiful," says Hopkins, "that people underestimated her intelligence."

Not something you could say about Allen Ginsberg who is pictured in the same year, fully clothed this time, addressing the Poets of Our Time reading, a key event in the development of the Sixties counter-culture.

"It was the first time people could look around and say: 'Hey, there are 7,000 here, or however many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall,'" says Hoppy who, by the following year, had become something of a hippy. He was one of those behind a well-meaning but failed attempt to improve education for black children in Notting Hill. The London Free School set up in a burnt-out basement.

"We were cooking on open fires on an earth floor," he says. "It was like something out of the Middle Ages. But it wasn't successful because we weren't good at organising." As his money from photo-journalism drained away, he had the bright idea of a fund-raising gig and the even brighter idea of using a young band managed by two friends. They were called Pink Floyd.

After three "mobbed-out" gigs in a church hall, Hopkins found them a better venue. The UFO opened in Tottenham Court Road on December 23, 1966, and stayed open all night. It was Britain's first psychedelic nightclub. Jimi Hendrix would call in and jam. Various Beatles "hung out" there.

Hopkins enjoyed the music but his first love, one suspects, is jazz. Indeed, his favourite photo is of the hands of Thelonious Monk playing the piano in Birmingham in 1964. It is, indeed, a beautiful picture, the ebony and ivory juxtaposed with beautifully lit black hands protruding from white cuffs. But what makes it even more special to the man behind the camera is that it has been signed by Monk himself. A photographer who has known so many celebrities can still be a bit star-struck.

Pop, Protest and Psychedelia by John "Hoppy" Hopkins is at the Light House, Wolverhampton, until 28 February (01902 716055)