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Iconic 1960s photographer talks to ePHOTOzine

Iconic 1960s photographer talks to ePHOTOzine - Photographer John Hopkins talks about a revolution, the sixties and why he likes roller-skating.

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Many people say if you remember the sixties you weren't actually there but for John Hopkins this couldn't be further from the truth.
Hoppy, as he's known by friends, is driven by his love of music, art, literature and peace. He's also had the opportunity to photograph some of the most iconic figures in music and western culture.
John Lennon
John Lennon at Teddington Studios.
© John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins, www.hoppy.be.

Why out of all the things you could have done did you choose photography?
"My godfather gave me a little Agfa Silette on graduation day. My first job was working for the Atomic Energy Authority at Harwell, near Oxford. After a year they moved my job to nether Dorset and I got really bored. Meanwhile I had been learning photography and, quite unexpectedly, the Guardian published some photos I had taken of children at a Henry Moore exhibition. On the strength of that, I left the atomic and headed to London to be a photographer."

Tell us about your gallery event? Is exhibiting something you have always enjoyed doing?
"I think we’re going to try and create a pleasant environment for the images and the people to enjoy them, perhaps by adding a bit of light show and chill out background music, I’m not sure. Exhibiting is something you have to do from time to time to maintain a presence in the art world. So you may as well enjoy it."

In a few words describe what it was like to be a photographer in the 60's.
"It was fun, fast, freaky, a great learning curve and there was no HIV ,Aids, derivatives trading, computer viruses, parking wardens or tasers. The cops here didn’t carry guns, and hard-working families had not been invented by someone looking for soundbites. We didn’t know then that the polar icecaps had started to melt, but some of us felt in our bones the balance of nature had gotten disturbed."
In a previous interview you said: "It was just a great opportunity to take pictures of people I loved for free." How did you get to know these people? And why did they let you personally photograph them?
"Actually that quotation was truncated – it should have said “people whose music I loved for free”. I got to know a few musicians personally because I had a flat with some spare rooms and it helped them to have a place to stay in London. I also really liked their music – jazz I mean – so there is an interest we had in common. But I was also interested in other music, art, beat generation literature, politics of peace and having a good time. When you're a working photographer you tend to meet a lot of different people – obviously – and part of your professional come on is to be cool and friendly, it puts people at ease."
You went from a press photographer to starting a newspaper, organising carnivals and running a club. At this point did you step away from photography or is it something that was still apparent?
"Actually there wasn’t time to take pictures as well as doing all the other things. I put down my cameras at the end of 66 and didn’t pick them up again until 69 when they were video cameras, but that is another story."
Did you learn any skills when working as a photographer that helped you with these later jobs?
"I learned how to manage bits of technology like litho printing, wet photography etc, in the same way that when we were squatting in the 70s, many of us learned about plumbing, gas, electricity, brickwork, rats, local authorities, the cops, and the way the politicians tell lies."
Do you feel it has got harder for photographers in London now compared to your role in the sixties?
"That’s what they tell me, the whole scene is harder. On the other hand, most people have got cameras in their mobiles and this represents a complete decentralisation of the medium. Some people say this is democratisation – I’m not so sure about that."
Photo by John Hoppy Hopkins 
© John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins, www.hoppy.be
What were your inspiration behind your drug and hypnosis pictures? What were you trying to illustrate? Did you have an idea that this sort of activity would be remembered to this day?
"I believe the people in the drug and hypnosis pictures were experimenting with altered States. Those of us who can remember, do."
The International Times was a sort of underground publication do you still feel there is space/need for something like that now?
"If you Google International Times you may get a pleasant surprise. Now that the media have become segmented and like a thousand arrows travelling in different directions, there is plenty of variety to choose from. Should eBay be regarded as an underground publication? I wonder."
What equipment did you use then and what do you have now?
"I worked mainly but not entirely on 35 mm black and white with a variety of cameras, lenses and supports. But although I’ve still got an Olympus OM1, I haven’t shot a single frame of film since I picked up a digital camera in 2004 (more’s the pity). Film photography and digital photography are just different media, and it should be possible to transfer skills and techniques from one to the other. Photoshop sure beats darkroom hand movements."
A lot of your images look off the cuff and candid were they like this and how did you manage to capture people so relaxed? (they obviously knew you were taking their picture.)
"It must be a trick of the light, I usually tried to work in available light."
How did you know when the right time was to take a photograph?
"It becomes an instinct, sometimes it’s daytime other times it’s bedtime. Actually is quite fun to let your right brain take over for a bit and perceive the world differently."
Would you go back and do anything differently?
"I would have taken up rollerskating much earlier in my life than at the age of 42, and I would have treated certain women with more love and consideration."

The Against Tyranny: Talking about a Revolutionary exhibition runs from the 19th June-19th July, 2009 at the Idea Generation Gallery.
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