Val Wilmer is an internationally acclaimed photographer and author. Best known for her photographs of blues and jazz musicians, she had the opportunity to photograph The Kinks on three occasions, in 1964, 1965 and 1966.
Her Kinks photographs have never been exhibited, and many are being seen for the very first time. As part of the planning for the exhibition I met with Val many times, and was delighted when in one of our meetings she discovered a session she had completely forgotten about.
My favourite of her photographs, and one which we are presenting in a large 30×40 inch format on the gallery walls in the exhibition, was taken on 5 January 1966 by Val in London as part of a session for US magazine Hit Parader – she was their UK correspondent. It shows the band on a Soho street gathered around a lamppost, with Dave part way up it (and what a crazy coincidence that another photograph in the exhibition, by Denmark’s Bent Rej, also shows them up a lamppost, this time in Copenhagen. And who is at the top? Dave (the brave) again.)
Val’s 1966 lamppost photograph, shown alongside, is a triumph. Ray’s city gent get-up is only slightly tarnished by a pair a white socks, but we forgive him because you can tell from his expression that he is clearly having a good time. When you look at this photograph you see the band first, of course, but then when you look beyond the band, you see a cast of London characters, not wanting to get too close, but showing a keen interest in what is going on. The guy in butcher’s whites draws your eye first, then a lady in a white headscarf to his left, and then a handful of men in hats trail back to the street corner. When we met at the lab for Val to sign her photographs, she looked at this lamppost shot in all its 30×40 inch glory, paused and came out with a classic line:
“If you have a soul, you will buy this photograph”.
She’s right as well. I just want to mention a few others, all shown below:
Check out this portrait of Ray emerging from the shadows. The negative was sitting at the end of a strip and to my mind looked worthy of further investigation. Test prints revealed a beautiful previously unpublished gem, available here for the very first time. The photograph was taken at the same 1966 session as the lamppost photograph.
On 31 July 1964, Val photographed The Kinks during a rehearsal session for Ready Steady Go! This was a key appearance for the band, as they played “You Really Got Me” on the show. The photograph in the exhibition shows them in full wig-out mode during the rehearsal. Ladders, cameras and lights from the studio set frame the image.
Val’s second session with the band took place on 28 April 1965, when she photographed them rehearsing on stage at London’s Prince of Wales Theatre. If you look carefully at the photographs we have included in the exhibition, you will see some other characters – eg the girl in white stockings sitting quietly behind Mick’s drum kit. And from that same session, a really lovely portrait of Dave.
You can see all of Val’s Kinks limited editions here. Click on any of the thumbnails to see price and size info.
How’s your soul today?