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Reliving ‘Swinging 60s’

A 1967 photo of The Rolling Stones taken by the late Michael Cooper. PHOTO/MICHAEL COOPER COLLECTION

Famous photographer’s work to show
Gala fundraiser to kick off exhibition

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What could be one of the most prominent photography exhibitions to ever grace New Zealand will be taking place in Masterton’s Aratoi Museum of Art and History from September 13 to November 15.

Images from the Michael Cooper collection, detailing incredibly rare, one-of-a-kind images of some of the most prominent cultural figures of the 1960s, will be displayed alongside excerpts from his photography book Blinds and Shutters, each penned by the subjects themselves.

Cooper, a photographer for Vogue and Esquire, died by suicide in 1973, aged 31. He lived a wild existence as someone who provided the only surviving record of scores of moments that would have otherwise been lost to history.

He’s probably most famous for photographing the iconic Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover.

Cooper left his 70,000-strong collection to his son Adam, who has since become the curator of the Michael Cooper archive – but, at the time, these existed only as negatives.

From 1989 to 1990, these unique snapshots were turned into the real thing, and were exhibited only a handful of times in the United States: most recently at singer Carly Simon’s now-closed River Run gallery, in New York in 1990.

David Hedley shows off a signed copy of Blinds and Shutters which will form part of the Aratoi Exhibition. PHOTO/ARTHUR HAWKES

David Hedley of Hedley Books is the exhibition curator and organised receiving the prints from the Michael Cooper Collection.

“There were only about 300 prints ever developed while Michael was alive, so we produced them for the first time in the book Blinds and Shutters, in 1989 – which was a co-publication between Hedley Books and Genesis Publications,” Hedley said.

“We’re pairing the photos with excerpts from the book, to give some context to the photos – so people can understand how all that energy occurred.

“The 50s in post-war Britain was kind of a depressed period, but the 60s was just this explosion of creative and political activity, it was totally revolutionary.”

The collection on display at Aratoi will detail some of the most famous faces of this decade, in poses and settings unlike any other, as well as more well-known originals, such as album cover shoots for The Rolling Stones and Marianne Faithfull.

Over the course of his short life, Cooper mixed with the highest echelons of ‘60s creative culture. He was a close friend to The Rolling Stones, being present for an infamous drugs bust at Keith Richards’ house, but also The Beatles, Faithfull, Eric Clapton, Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon, Peter Blake, David Hockney, William Burroughs, Jean Genet, Terry Southern, and Allen Ginsberg — and this only scratches the surface.

Cooper was renowned for slipping into the background and making people feel totally at ease, and his photography reflects this.

The subjects often seem comfortable and relaxed, and this means his images cast them in a new light, like pictures taken by a friend mucking around at a party, rather than a professional photographer – Cooper was, in effect, both.

Hedley has arranged for about 50 photographs to be exhibited, through his connection with Genesis Publications, a specialist book publisher based in the UK.

Blinds and Shutters will be available to buy as part of a limited run of 10 copies [each signed by many of the subjects in the pictures], as well as various collections of Cooper’s prints.

An opening gala fundraiser at Aratoi will take place on September 12 at 7pm to kick the exhibition off, with music, food and various prizes to be won.

The money raised would go towards the annual Kokomai Festival.

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