Fifty photographs of Teddy Girls and Boys, taken by groundbreaking film director, Ken Russell (1927-2011) go on display at Oxford’s North Wall Arts Centre in February. The exhibition brings together for the first time Russell’s photographic work created before he found fame as a director of films such as Women in Love, Tommy, and The Devils. Russell worked as a freelance photographer and began taking photographs in 1951, aged 23. Although these are among of the first photographs to capture fledgling youth culture in London, they remained unseen for 50 years and were only rediscovered in an archive in 2005. The exhibition, which also marks the tenth anniversary of The North Wall Arts Centre, Oxford, runs from 1-18 February 2017. Admission is free.
Ken Russell has been described by film critic Mark Kermode as ‘someone who thought with his eyes’; Russell himself called his photographs his ‘still films’. The images, all taken in 1955, are exceptional as they feature mostly girls, often staring directly and defiantly at the camera. As Russell said: ‘No one paid much attention to the teddy girls before I did them, though there was plenty on teddy boys. They were tough, these kids, they’d been born in the war years… they knew their worth. They just wore what they wore’.
The teddy girls and boys are photographed on London streets, at funfairs, at stage doors, leaning on graffiti-covered brick walls, on derelict East End bomb sites and outside the Seven Feathers Club where they did the popular Ted dance, The Creep. Several of the images feature a strikingly contemporary-looking 14-year-old Jean Rayner – ‘she had attitude by the truckload’, said Russell.
The award-winning North Wall Arts Centre at St Edward’s School, Oxford, opened ten years ago. Its public programme attracts over 20,000 visitors a year to more than 100 performances and exhibitions. Alongside its programming, The North Wall produces new plays, programmes work by early-career arts professionals and hosts free, residential arts placements for young people from all over the country. As well as being home for pupil drama, art and dance activities, it has extended its vision and reaches well beyond the School to develop an innovative arts venue for Oxford and beyond.
Top Photo Courtesy The North Wall Arts Centre, Oxford
KEN RUSSELL’S TEDDY GIRLS AND BOYS The North Wall Arts Centre, Oxford 1-18 February 2017 The North Wall Arts Centre, South Parade, Oxford OX2 7JN