London of the 1950s, as described in outline yesterday, was a place for beatniks and writers. An erstwhile 1920s, where the spirit of Scott and Zelda gave one last hurrah before the sunny optimism of the 1960s burst through. London of the 1950s was still black and white. Mostly it rained. At least this is what the legend would have us believe. Room 31 at the National Portrait Gallery has been turned over to one of these characters, the inimitable and never-forgotten Daniel Farson, in the exhibition Famous in the Fifties: Photographs by Daniel Farson.
Farson never really had a single job, and he could only be described in the poymathic manner of his work. A broadcaster, Farson was widely renowned for being a television personality in the days when it was rare to have a television in your house. Further, he served as a writer and raconteur; the great wit of Soho. It's his career as a photographer that is surveyed here, one that began as a staff photographer for the Picture Post.
The man was bohemian, in a time when the word (as we know it today) was unheard of. His portraits propelled this sense of a dizzyingly independent freewheeling artistic life. Drinking grain whisky in Soho pubs, then breakfasts in greasy spoons, with Lucien Freud, Brendan Behan, John Deakin, and other artists known just as much for their extra-curricular exploits as they were for their writing and painting. Farson catches this all through his lens. A talented photographer, as much as a talented broadcaster and writer, Farson and his work were the unlikely zeitgeist of 1950s London: that spirit of the age that both embodies and sets the boundaries for a movement, a time or a place.
Famous in the Fifties: Photographs by Daniel Farson is at the National Portrait Gallery until 16 September.