vrijdag 8 december 2017

The suggestion was piquant enough Christine Keeler Photograph: A Modern Icon Lewis Morley Photography

Christine Keeler Photograph: A Modern Icon

Christine Keeler 1963, Lewis Morley (Australian, born 1925), Gelatin-silver print. Museum no. E.2-2002, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London/Lewis Morley

The urban myth that the photograph of Christine Keeler astride an Arne Jacobsen chair was taken when she was a model is false in more senses than one.

First, the chair used in the photo turns out to be a copy of the original. The hand-hold aperture cut out of the back was a ploy to avoid the legalities of copyright. Secondly the photograph was taken, not on a modelling session, but at the height of the revelations regarding the exposure, of the going-ons, of the War Minister and a young female, caught up in an affair which became known as 'The Scandal' or 'The Profumo Affair'.

Photographer Lewis Morley recalls the photo session which led to the creation of a modern icon:

'This photograph was one of a series of publicity shots for an intended film which never saw the light of day. It was not until 1989 that a film of the 1963 happenings was released under the title Scandal. The photographic session took place in my studio, which at that time was on the first floor of the 'Establishment', a satirical night club, part-owned by Peter Cook of 'Beyond The Fringe' fame. The satirical sketches took place on a small stage on the ground floor of the club. The Dudley Moore Trio played Jazz in the basement.

'During the session, three rolls of 120 film were shot. The first two rolls had Christine sitting in various positions on the chair and on the floor, dressed in a small leather jerkin. It was at this point that the film producers who were in attendance demanded she strip for some nude photos.

Photograph of Christine Keeler by Lewis Morley, London, 1963. Museum no. E.2-2002, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London/Lewis Morley

'Christine was reluctant to do so, but the producers insisted, saying that it was written in her contract. The situation became rather tense and reached an impasse. I suggested that everyone, including my assistant leave the studio. I turned my back to Christine, telling her to disrobe, sit back to front on the chair. She was now nude, fulfilling the conditions of the contract, but was at the same time hidden.

'We repeated some of the poses used on the previous two rolls of film. I rapidly exposed some fresh positions, some angled from the side and a few slightly looking down. I felt that I had shot enough and took a couple of paces back. Looking up I saw what appeared to be a perfect positioning. I released the shutter one more time, in fact, it was the last exposure on the roll of film.

'Looking at the contact sheet, one can see that this image is smaller than the rest because I had stepped back. It was this pose that became the first published and most used image. The nude session had taken less than five minutes to complete. It wasn't until I developed the film that I discovered that somehow I had misfired one shot and there were only eleven images on a twelve exposure film. How this came about is a mystery to me.'

Contact sheet, Christine Keeler 1963, Lewis Morley (Australian, born 1925). Museum no. E.2-2002, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London/Lewis Morley

Copy of an Arne Jacobsen office chair, possibly by Heal's London, 1962. Museum no. W.10-2013, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Copy of an Arne Jacobsen office chair, possibly by Heal's London, 1962, showing the names of the famous sitters photographed on it by Lewis Morley. Museum no. W.10-2013, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Chairs:(left) Model 3107, designed by Arne Jacobsen, 1957. Museum no. CIRC.371-1970 (right) Copy by unknown designer, possibly by Heal's London, 1962. Museum no. W.10-2013, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The chair

A chair inspired by one of the most successful 20th-century furniture designs is at the centre of the story of one of the Victoria and Albert Museum's most unexpected acquisitions. The chair on which Christine Keeler sat in the celebrated portrait session has been correctly identified as a 'knock-off', or imitation, of the classic Arne Jacobsen model 3107 chair. Photographer Lewis Morley bought half a dozen of them in a sale from a London retailer (he thought it could have been Heal’s) for five shillings apiece in 1962 . The chair is inscribed underneath by Lewis with the many famous sitters who have graced it, including Sir David Frost, Joe Orton and Dame Edna Everage, plus the names of the donors.

Although other museums had expressed a strong interest in the chair it was felt that the V&A had to be the perfect place for the chair for two reasons: because it has great collections of both photography and furniture, and because the chair is a British cultural icon. The chair is a pledged gift from Lewis Morley and John and Laura Knaus on loan from the American Friends of the V&A, Inc.

If you put the chair alongside the Arne Jacobsen original it is possible to see why the 3107 is a classic. As Gareth Williams of the Furniture, Textiles and Fashion department at the V&A points out:

'The plywood is much thicker and less subtly moulded. The cinched "waist" of the chair is more pronounced, and the front of the seat is set back too far. Unlike Jacobsen's chair this model has a cut-out handle at the top of the seat, but even this is inaccurately positioned and irregularly cut.'
Lewis Morley's image has become a classic and as widely imitated as Jacobsen's chair. You can see such chairs in second-hand shops described as 'Keeler chairs'.

If you look closely at the photographs, you can see that the back of the chair has been chafed - just like the one now in the V&A. It is touching, somehow, that the perfect photograph was posed in a flawed chair and that both are now in the Museum.

The V&A would like to acknowledge the generosity of Lewis Morley and the Knaus family for the donation of the photographs and the original chair.

De suggestie was pikant genoeg


Christine Keeler (1942-2017) werd het middelpunt van een schandaal in 1963; de foto en de stoel waarop ze naakt poseerde een icoon.
Henk van Gelder
7 december 2017

De ‘Keeler-stoel’ in het Victoria & Albert Museum in Londen, met de foto van Lewis Morley
Foto Richard Stonehouse/HH/Camera Press

Nu Christine Keeler is overleden, duikt overal De Foto Met De Stoel weer op. Ze was 21 in 1963, toen uitkwam dat ze het bed deelde met John Profumo, Brits minister van Defensie, én met Jevgeni Ivanov, diplomaat en KGB’er. Alleen al de suggestie dat de Sovjets zo geheimen hadden kunnen bemachtigen, was genoeg voor een rel die Profumo zijn baan kostte en háár zes jaar cel. Maar voor miljoenen mannen (en Nederlandse puberjongens) was het idee van landverraad bijzaak.

Keeler poseerde in de studio van de Londense fotograaf Lewis Morley, in de dagen dat de Profumo-affaire een climax bereikte; de eerste keer dat het privéleven van een politicus binnenstebuiten werd gekeerd. De foto’s waren bedoeld als publiciteitsmateriaal voor een film over haar. De film zou er niet komen maar de fotosessie – zo’n dertig beelden in zwartwit – werd klassiek. Na een aantal geklede poses drongen de filmproducers aan op naaktfoto’s, herinnerde Morley zich. Ze weigerde, maar móést wel: het stond in haar contract.

Morley vroeg alle aanwezigen de studio te verlaten. Binnen vijf minuten zat het karwei erop. Hij liet Christine Keeler zo op een stoel zitten dat ze evident naakt was, maar zonder iets onwelvoeglijks te tonen. De suggestie was pikant genoeg.

Ook de stoel werd beroemd(er); het was een kopie van het vermaarde ‘model 3107’ van vormgever Arne Jacobsen. Een jaar eerder had Morley er een aantal op de kop getikt, altijd handig in een fotostudio. Nadien hebben ook anderen er ironisch op geposeerd, zoals Dame Edna, tv-interviewer David Frost en toneelschrijver Joe Orton. Nadat Morley de stoel en de contactprints van zijn sessie met Keeler in 2002 aan het Victoria & Albert Museum had geschonken, liet Keeler zich er nog eens op poseren, gekleed nu, bij de verschijning van haar biografie, The Truth at Last.

Model 3107, overal ter wereld nagemaakt, staat nu algemeen bekend als ‘Keeler-stoel’.

Henk van Gelder

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