1 year ago

The Rake - April_2016

FIELD DAYS He was the

FIELD DAYS He was the working-class aristocrat who became a self-made man with the help of his blue-blood friends. But Patrick Lichfield, the dandy with a bouffant hairdo, had a gift for connecting with people, and he used it to great effect to create photographs that still resonate today. by james medd Patrick Lichfield, or the 5th Earl of Lichfield, or just Lichfield, was, like Churchill’s view of pre-war Russia, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. How could the royal family’s in-house photographer, the King’s Road dandy and the assiduous objectifier of the female form be one and the same man? With his permanent Cheshire-cat grin, shirt at half-mast, and bouffant hair, he was a tireless worker, shameless self-promoter and something of a hack — even, for all the breeding, a bit of a wideboy. Look, however, at a careful selection of his many photographs — Talitha Getty turned on and dropped out on a roof in Marrakech in 1969; Prince Charles rushing to embrace Lady Sarah Chatto (then Armstrong-Jones); Mick and Bianca Jagger as the justmarried king and queen of the new decadence in 1971; the Duke of Windsor getting himself ready — and you find images that still resonate and surprise. The same is true of his royal portraits: who else, after all, caught the Queen smiling as often as the sly Lichfield did? If he was unappreciated, it was perhaps because he didn’t always take photographs like these, the kind that win prizes. As he told one interviewer in 1971: “I have spent time photographing down-and-out drunks in east London drinking meths, but given a choice I prefer to take romantic photographs.” Easy to forget that he was one of the key chroniclers of the 1960s, both in formal line-ups arranged for Queen magazine featuring Tom Courtenay, Twiggy and Joe Orton, and in his portraits of the era’s bright and beautiful, from George Best to Jane Birkin. Often the fact that this committed socialite was as much participant as observer didn’t matter; at other times, as when he was able to capture the newlywed Jaggers in the back of a Bentley, it did. Here, he was not the photographer but the friend who had given away the bride; through him, we are not just in the car and in the moment but one of the party. Usually, Lichfield was too busy working or enjoying himself to worry about art. If anyone was about to take his work seriously, a glance at the man himself ensured they thought twice about it. Even for the bewildering modes of the seventies, his attachment to the professional blow-dry was unusual for any male outside the fields of pop stardom or professional football, and his tattoo (a seahorse on the right forearm, performed as payback by a tattooist whose picture he was taking) was equally unconventional. At that time he paired them with cowboy boots and motorbikes, and, with his Eaton Square apartment, country house and mansion on Mustique, lived a life that was already a rock-star cliché. Fitting in while standing out was one of his great skills. In the decade before, it was cloaks and ruffles from Mr Fish, his exuberance ensuring he was better known as a follower of fashion than as a photographer. One sixties contemporary described him as looking “like a silentfilm Scarlet Pimpernel”, but if Lichfield had a tendency to overdo, it was down to enthusiasm rather than vanity. Fop though he was, he nonetheless paid his dues with three years as a photographer’s assistant, sleeping in the studio and scraping by like any other. His professional name, Patrick Lichfield, was an attempt to disguise his origins: “The heterosexual, cockney working-class lad was the image of the time,” he later explained, “whereas the privileged toff as personified by Beaton had had its day.” Born Thomas Patrick John Anson in 1939, grandson of the fourth Earl and related to the Queen Mother through his maternal grandmother, he played the game for long enough. After Harrow he went to Sandhurst, then joined the Grenadier Guards, but had already set the course of his later career when he underbid the school photographer to win a contract for the leavers’ pictures, taken with his small Kodak. Succeeding to his title at 21, he found that his grandfather had sold most of the estate, Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire, to the National Trust, freeing him of his hereditary responsibilities whether he liked it or not. He profited from the sixties revolution as much as working-class colleagues such as David Bailey or Terry O’Neill. Still, he didn’t avoid his regal relatives for long. He began Even for the bewildering modes of the seventies, his attachment to the professional blow-dry was unusual for any male outside the ields of pop stardom or professional football. 38

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