This page contains various reviews and quotes by friends, subjects and colleagues of Bryan Wharton
|‘For ten years or so, Bryan Wharton photographed the world I wrote about as a columnist for The Sunday Times. Together we met hustlers and millionaires and tragedy queens and actors and authors and zoologists and beauties and a fair number of beasts.
Wharton had the Three Degrees dancing on a table top; the poet Ogden Nash (not the most jovial of men) actually grinning and John Aspinall, gambler and naturalist, wrestling with a Siberian tiger.
He helped to create situations which crystalised time and character and he photographed them briskly, wittily and entirely without the bullshit that too often attends image making.
Working with him was serious fun. His pictures show it.
|Philip Oakes 1992 The Sunday Times.|
|The National Portrait Gallery has recently acquired a highly important and significant group of photographs from the archives of Bryan Wharton, the leading photojournalist, most of whose work was taken on assignment for The Sunday Times, and international magazines. The seventeen works include studies from the 1960s of Germaine Greer and The Goons (not previously represented) to the celebrated picture of Laurie Lee at the Chelsea Arts Club In the 1970s.
The works document historic moments in Britain’s social and cultural and help fill crucial holes in the N.P.G.’s collection. The acquisition is particularly timely. With the opening last year of an additional new wing to the National Portrait Gallery with a special Balcony Gallery devoted to changing displays from the 1960s 70s and 80s Bryan Wharton’s work will make a particularly useful addition.
|Terence Pepper Curator of Photographs National Portrait Gallery.|
|On October 27th, a truly remarkable photograph of John Paul Getty goes on display at The National Portrait Gallery, where it’s talented creator, Bryan Wharton, is exhibiting his work from the Sixties and Seventies. To my knowledge, no one has gazed on that Getty portrait without experiencing a twitch of unease, if not dread.
The renowned artist Francis Bacon pinned the photograph to his studio wall, drew lines on it with the idea of committing something to canvas, but gave up, I fear, in despair. Wharton’s picture is hard to describe. But try imagining the facial expression of a rich man on the hump of a camel as it squeezes itself through the eye of a needle and you’ll get the point.
|Sunday Business 2001|
| When I first met Bryan, assigned to work with
me one frantic Saturday morning in 1964 on a hectic last-minute Sunday Times
news story, he made a lousy impression. Surely to God this dandified bugger
can't be the new photographer I thought, disappointed that my regular partner,
Kelvin Brodie, was unavailable. For Bryan looked more Jermyn Street than
Fleet Street. The man's hair was too exquisitely cut, his white trenchcoat
improbably immaculate, as if delivered seconds before from central casting
wrapped in cellophane And such aesthetic matters apart, where the hell were
his bloody cameras.
I was writing an investigative story, the speciality of the house at the Times in those days, involving the Sultan of Zanzibar, recently deposed after a coup. This ex potentate had just touched down in London seeking asylum, escorted or more exactly surrounded by a colourful retinue worthy of Heile Selassie. We needed a picture of one of these courtiers in particular, the ex-prime minister, ideally without him or any of the other newsmen around knowing. All this I explained to Bryan as best I could, before fighting my way through to extract a few words from the royal casualty of history.
Later in the bar ( there always was a later, thank God, and also a bar) I made the error of assuming that Bryan had failed to get my drift, since I'd seen no sign of him shooting the guy in question, or anyone for that matter. 'You'll have to try and knock him up in his hotel room', I indicated. 'Don't worry,' Bryan said, in the tone of Ahazuerus tipping the beggar maid a tenner, 'It's all taken care of.'
And so it was, as always.
By the end of the day, when I'd seen his pictures on page one of the first edition and, more, worked out how he'd shot them from beneath that beautiful coat, I'd added to my journalistic experience and acquired another photojournalist partner.
After that there were so many such adventures, exercises in professionalism under awful pressure. There was something magical about it, as if done with mirrors or by sleight of hand. It defied reality.
Years later, living in southern France I learnt a virtually obsolete patois word ' Lutin' , meaning a mountain elf or hobgoblin, a kind of local Pan, famed for miracles apparently against all nature. So when sterile cows calved, or a talentless pig came up with a cache of priceless truffles, they always said the Lutin had done it.
He always performed his tricks with a special jauntiness, often while whistling. That's Bryan, I thought, of course. Not that his expertise was confined to snatched pictures. He could equally well orchestrate a large crowd, acting like a choreographer. He had a particular affinity for the stage or film sets because he was himself an actor manque, as well as a duellist manque, the two often commingling.
He worked well with all stars, anyone with glamour really, because they reacted to his own glamour and star quality, and exhibited unusual patience, recognizing the professionalism too. Peter O'Toole and Robert Shaw in Ireland were two notable examples.
He thrived on extremes, danger and death and violence, though unlike the legendary Brodie, who felt no assignment had been properly wrapped up until blood was spilt , or a door booted in at the least, his work often reflected the subtlest, softest touches. Bryan's extreme sensibility was all the more unexpected via the lens of someone who prided himself as being harder than nails, especially where the competition was involved, God help them. There was also, of course, the affinity with women, which gave his portraits a special intimacy as well as a wry loving comprehension I can only describe as post-coital in feeling. He was also in his element with soldiers, bibulous veterans of the Somme or blood curdling Bedouin bodyguards, they got on instantly. A trip we made to the Jordanian desert in the steps of Lawrence (and O' Toole) was particularly memorable, largely because our Girl Friday, though we didn't know it, was secretly affianced to the King, and shortly became Queen Alya.
I wrote in Deadline, a collection of my journalism including some shots by Bryan, that working with the best photographers involved lessons, a learning experience as they say now, in an infinity of entirely non-visual areas. To employ a much debased word, they were very creative, in a variety of areas. The film maker Maurice Hatton, himself a former photographer, used to curse the camera because, he said, it provided a licence for people to call themselves 'creative artists' when they knew nothing of either art or creation.
HEYDAY, the Sixties, Bryan Wharton was a Fleet Street dandy as well as a
star news and portrait photographer. His garments and gir1friends, equally
exotic, dazzled all with whom he came into contact in those liberating years.
He was a mixture of D'Artagnan (dash) and Peter Pan (agelessness): motto,
Dum vivimus, vivamus (While we live, let us live). He was careless with
money, drank prodigiously, was generous and loyal to his friends and, more
often than not, admired by those he trapped in his lens and, if women, in
He also took remarkable photographs.
After a period in the doldrums, Wharton is exhibiting some of his best work (The Gallery, 74 South Audley Street, London Wl, from 6-10 October). On my way to his lair, a converted church on the border of Chelsea and Fulham, I anticipate a faded peacock sifting through the dried leaves of a multi coloured decade. I find something different. His hair has gone from black to silver, and the extravagant sideburns and Zapata moustache have disappeared. Yet from his cravat to his Chelsea boots, Wharton remains the quintessential Swinging Sixties Man. Interrupting last minute selections of his black and white prints, he rummages in a drawer for some lines a friend had penned about him on a birthday years ago: 'Tis said he noruishes an inner joy / From knowing Rip Van Winkle as a boy; / From images he snapped of Jonny Swift. / Chas Lamb, Bill Blake and blokes like Charles V . . . His eyes crinkle over a large nose. Peter Pan has finally metamorphosed into Captain Hook.
His exhibits overwhelm one with nostalgia for the days when newspaper and magazine photography was an exuberant, high expense-account adventure. Wharton was a war photographer (Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen, Cambodia) whose work in the Paris student riots of 1968 left him with CS gas-damaged lungs (he still wheezes slightly). But it is his portraits of famous people, often savagely revealing, that endure. The one of John Paul Getty was deemed by the Sunday Times to be too cruel to publish while the oil king lived. Almost invariably, however, he established friendships with his photographic subjects: among them Peter O'Toole, Nubar Gulbenkian, David Hockney, Jill Bennett, Laurie Lee, and even George Brown, whom he photographed on the QE2 in New York harbour, just as the inebriated ex-foreign secretary's nose accidentally slipped from his own cups into those of a partygoer's bra.
The excellence of Wharton's portraits of the Sixties raises the question: where has he been since? His damaged lungs kept him off the road, and his name off the credits, for several years. Never entirely happy as a desk man, he abandoned the Sunday Times and tried his hand as a video cameraman, travelling to Rome, Monaco, California and remoter places in the hope of establishing a fresh career. But this and a spell illustrating books brought him neither fulfilment nor much financial reward. Filming in Monte Carlo, he severed an Achilles tendon while disembarking from a luxury yacht and was again incapacitated for more than a year. Friends noticed signs of dejection and loss of confidence. Once, visiting him in Gunter Hall, I was dismayed to see him lift a handgun from his coffee table and put it to his temple. He laughed: "Don't worry, it's only a starting pistol." But I knew he yearned for the assignments of old: tramping through a South American jungle in search of Nazi war criminals, exposing the horrors of an Italian earthquake, donning a designer flak jacket for a Middle East war, chatting up princesses, being seduced by actresses.
This year. encouraged by former colleagues, he was persuaded to exhibit some of his work. The effort will persuade a later generation that the Sixties were not all birds, Beatles and bell bottoms.
|Cal McCrystal "The Independent on Sunday" 1992.|
The Times review of the Exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery. October 2001
The contribution to the iconography of the period is undeniable. Some of the tinsel heroes and heroines faded rapidly from view, others proved more substantial.
|Joanna Pitman The Times 2001.|
|Possibly the most arresting of Bryan Wharton's work is his black and white
chronicle of a multi coloured decade. His photographs of the Sixties are
as nostalgic for those who cavorted then as they are inspiring for those
too young to have done so. Unlike much in photojournalism, they easily resist
being classified as ephemera. The lasting quality of Wharton's photography
matches the lasting quality of his relationships with those who found themselves
in his professional lens. Consequently, the great and the good who are his
photographic subjects frequently become his steadfast friends: prime ministers
and princesses, moguls and muses, actors and adventurers many entirely happy
for us to remember them today as Wharton portrayed them years ago.
I got to know Wharton when we both worked for The Sunday Times, particularly under the editorship of Harold Evans who regarded Wharton as a star, both in terms of his professionalism and his.connections with the glitterati. Sometimes, in those days, I assumed that Wharton intimidated his more glamorous subjects into submission because he looked more glamorous (sartorially at least) than they.
But his gritty. achievements in other fields war, urban riot, the pursuit of international criminals dispelled the assumption and won him professional awards and public acclaim. Nevertheless, despite a cool, imaginative approach to his work, Wharton has a sense of mischief fuelled by his own and others' eccentricities. There is strong evidence of it in his book, magazine and newspaper photographs throughout the .Sixties, Seventies and Eighties. Delightfully, it is to be found in this exhibition too.