First ever public outing for the majority of images in this exhibition, captured by Dennis Morris for the 1979 Broken English session
It’s always extremely exciting for a gallery to be involved in bringing work to the art market for the very first time, particularly when the images in question feature Marianne Faithfull, captured on camera by renowned photographer Dennis Morris. Dennis’ photograph of Marianne shading her eyes, with a cigarette in hand, appeared on the cover of one of her most important albums, 1979s Broken English. For 30 years, the bulk of the photographs from that session have never seen the light of day. The session is a complete revelation, with Morris capturing a series of portraits of the chanteuse that capture her at a vital time in her career, on the brink of major critical acclaim.
Dennis Morris started his photography career at an early age: he was just eleven when one of his photographs was printed on the front page of the British national newspaper The Daily Mirror. In 1976 he was a hungry young photographer with big ideas. Photography was his world. To say it saved his life would not be an exaggeration. It was while bunking off school to wait for Bob Marley to arrive for a soundcheck at the Speak Easy Club in London that Dennis’ career really began. The photographs he shot that day of Bob Marley and The Wailers became famous the world over. Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten was a huge reggae fan, and personally requested Dennis to make the first official photographs of the Pistols.
By 1979, Morris was on the lookout for new opportunities. A major challenge came in the form of a job offer from Island Records. Dennis recalls: “I had just accepted the post as art director with an A+R capacity, a first in the industry. Chris Blackwell, owner and founder of Island Records, offered me the job. My early signings included The Slits and Linton Kwesi Johnson, I also did all the photography and design for LKJs albums. I didn’t really want the job, but Chris was very persuasive”.
In 1979 Island had just signed Marianne Faithfull, Broken English was to be her label debut LP. When Morris heard the album, he was blown away by its lyrical rawness and Marianne’s sultry, seductive voice. Island were searching for an image for the album cover that would be as arresting as the album. They brought in the big guns of the time: David Bailey, Barry Lategan and Clive Arrowsmith, but no-one produced ‘the shot’. Dennis recalls: “I kept asking to do a shoot but the answer was always “no”. “It’s too big, you haven’t settled in” came the reply”. Eventually Tim Clark, the Managing Director of Island at the time said: “Give the boy a shot”.
“It felt right to book the studio for a late session with Marianne; I had the shot in my head, it was simple, the set was just one armchair and two lights; it was just about her: the voice, the seductiveness and I wanted to capture this on film”.
Marianne arrived at 8.30pm. Her first words were “Do you know who I am”? “Of course” I replied. “This will make you” she said, then “I must have a drink, let’s go to a pub”. We left the studio and headed to a nearby pub. I asked her what she’d like to drink. Making sure everyone in the bar could hear her, she said “I am not some cheap hooker you know. It is going to cost you at least £200” (the barman looked at me and winked). “No problem” came my answer. After several drinks she declared “I’m hungry, let’s eat”. We headed for an Italian restaurant, sat down and she proceeded to order everything on the menu. She only had a few nibbles. I asked for the bill. It seemed Marianne hadn’t been too keen on the food: she promptly overturned the table, stood up and shouted “Don’t pay, the food was terrible”. The whole restaurant sat in stunned silence. I paid the bill and we left.
On the way back to the studio we bought a bag full of wine and plenty of cigarettes. When we arrived she headed straight for the changing room. I waited patiently for quite some time, then she appeared, glowing like a diamond that had just been unearthed. “Let’s do this”, I said “Do you want to f*** me?” she asked. “No” I said. “You’ll be the first” came her reply.
Now, for the first time, collectors have the chance to acquire exclusive limited editions of these amazing images, and view them in this exhibition at our beautiful new gallery space in central London. It is always a pleasure to work with Dennis – he is one of those guys who is just a complete inspiration. I hope you can make time to enjoy this wonderful exhibition in the flesh at the gallery.
Guy White, Gallery Director, May 2010