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Photo Memories from Hip Times: John Hoppy Hopkins

A new book published with the support of Lee Jeans celebrates the work of photographer John “Hoppy” Hopkins.

If you have read seminal volumes about the ‘60s underground scene such as Jeff Nuttall’s Bomb Culture, the name John “Hoppy” Hopkins will ring a bell with you. Hoppy worked as a photojournalist between 1960 and 1966, and later on co-founded the underground International Times (IT), set up the London Free School, promoted Pink Floyd and, together with music producer Joe Boyd, started London’s first psychedelic club, UFO. Lee has recently supported the publication of the volume From The Hip - Photographs by John “Hoppy” Hopkins 1960-66 that will leave both genuine Hoppy fans and people who have never seen his work before crying for more. Featuring photographs of music Icons, images from the legendary 1965 poetry reading at the Royal Albert Hall and from anti-nuclear protests, the book is a testament to an era and to a man who never set out purposefully to document the ‘60s, but became an amazing chronicler of those times.

Dazed Digital: Can you tell us more about the genesis of From the Hip?
John “Hoppy” Hopkins: I used this title for my first solo photo show in the year 2000 at the Photographer’s Gallery in London.  The exhibition sold a lot of prints so I decided to keep the name. When Lee Jeans approached me to make a collaboration between their garments and my images, they proposed creating a book and holding a number of short exhibition shows in European capitals: Berlin, Paris, Milan, Amsterdam, London and Copenhagen.  It seemed a natural step to go on working under the same title.  I didn’t realise at the time that it was rather corny, and if you look in Amazon be careful not to buy books on hip replacement by mistake. In the European exhibitions, the photos were used both as art objects and as psychic wallpaper for denim jeans and other garments, a hilarious combination.

DD: The book is published with the support of Lee that also dedicated its Gold Label collection to you: how did this collaboration with Lee come up?
JHH: It all started when an enterprising person From Lee’s marketing department chanced to surf into my website and reckoned they liked the vibe, which fitted in some mysterious way with the aura of their Gold Label range garments newly launched. I was pleased because at last I found some jeans that really fitted me comfortably after 50 years of ball crushing super-stiff overpriced products from the market leader. And the Lee people were really easy to get along with.

DD: Each photograph included in the volume has a story behind, but is there one picture that is particularly significant to you or that particularly moves you?
JHH: If I had to choose, there are three that stand out: first, my beautiful girlfriend at the time, Gala. Next, there is one of Thelonius Monk’s hands close-up at the piano, and the handwritten dedication, florid yet controlled and beautifully expressive, says as much about his inner aesthetic as does his enigmatic music. Then there is a signed portrait of Ornette Coleman the avant-garde musician who more or less invented free jazz – when he first came to Europe he stayed in my spare room and was a model houseguest and a soulful inspiration in more ways than just musical.

DD: The book features some photographs from the 1965 poetry reading at the Royal Albert Hall: what was it like?
JHH: Smoky, intense, full of people having fun. On another level it was a tipping point in today’s jargon when thousands of us gazed into a tribal future with a new joy in our hearts – wow, were there that many of us?

DD: International Times became a seminal underground publication: why do you think London hasn’t produced anything like it again?
JHH: Each generation invents its own communications media to suit its needs, you can include the golden thread of music ¬and mind-altering substances here.  But sometimes it’s better if history does not repeat itself.  It was the analogue age then, and now the world is digital. But look out for a new website containing all the issues of International Times which will soon be available on the net, those guerrillas are still fighting against tyranny in their own way. With the World Wide Web, the politics of information is globalised.

DD: Which was the most exciting aspect of running UFO?
JHH: The uncertainty of not knowing what exactly was going to happen next whether music, visuals or pharmacologies, at its best the essence of the happening, or, in the words of Donald Rumsfeld, the unknown unknowns, & in a safe environment..

DD: You helped launching Pink Floyd, the Cream, the Soft Machine, the Social Deviants and the Sun Trolley: what’s the nicest memory you have of those times?
JHH: Lying on the grass with Suzy Creamcheese in a roseate dawn towards the end of the 14 hour Technicolor Dream in North London sometime in May 1967; the Floyd playing mixed with birdsong and unforeseen neurochemical pleasures – “heaven is in your mind “(Steve Winwood & Traffic).

DD: Compared to those times, what is missing in London nowadays? Literary icons, legendary bands or underground politics?
JHH: Civil rights and a freedom of action not now permitted by the totalitarian state. We have to seize the moment, think for ourselves, question authority and make a better world.

DD: You were involved in the birth of the alternative scene in Notting Hill Gate and the book also features a section with pictures of the underbelly of Notting Hill with tattoo parlours, fetishists and prostitutes: where is this Notting Hill now?  
JHH: It is alive and well and gone upmarket. Low-life lives on. In the words of Heathcote Williams, ”We are all kings and queens”.

DD: The book contains short essays by Joe Boyd, Barrie Miles, Val Wilmer and Addie Vassie: is there a friend/writer you would have liked to contribute to the book but wasn’t available?
JHH: Allen Ginsberg the American poet, and Brian Lewis, one of the founders of the Open University, a hip cybernetics wizard.  Unfortunately, they both died some time ago.

DD: Are you working on any special projects at the moment?
JHH: Reviving some videotapes made in the early days of squatting in the 1970s.

DD: Where can we buy prints of your photographs?
JHH: Prints are sold by the Photographer’s Gallery, London and I also have a few, mainly of musical content, for private sale along with signed copies of the must-have From the Hip book, why not drop me a line.

From The Hip - Photographs by John “Hoppy” Hopkins 1960-66 is published by Damiani Editore with the support of Lee.