HAROLD CHAPMAN, England (1927 – 2022)
At the age of seven, Harold Chapman was already taking, developing and printing photographs. His creativity was allowed to develop freely when he left his native town of Deal in Kent and moved to London. Meeting John Deakin in Soho in 1954 was a turning-point in his career which was to influence his style that developed during the late 1950s and early 1960s in Paris. Alex Noble, Exhibition Organizer at The Photographers’ Gallery, London, writes in her monograph on John Deakin’s life for an exhibition in the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1984/5: “…his documentary work…was enormously influential on a younger generation of photographers, including Harold Chapman and probably Anthony Armstrong-Jones.”
Harold Chapman moved to Paris in 1956 and lived in a thirteenth-class hotel on the Left Bank, which became known as the “Beat Hotel”. Its owner, Madame Rachou, fiercely protected her brood of artists. Sometimes her residents were so out of pocket that they paid their room-rent in paintings. It was there that Harold Chapman met and photographed William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Brion Gysin and a host of other people who were to become prominent in the world, particularly in the arts and publishing.
Harold Chapman spent seven years in the hotel, during which he worked ceaselessly to produce a documentation of Paris everyday street life. Whilst living in Paris, he also met Ted Joans and photographed ground-breaking happenings. But much of the Paris he photographed – such as the central food market of Les Halles – was soon to vanish. Long after the Beat Hotel had closed in 1963, some of the work he did during that period was published by Quadrangle/ The New York Times Book Company in a book called Vanishing France. Of its text and photographs, Claude Lévi-Strauss, an eminent anthropologist of the Académie française, wrote: “John L. Hess’ text and Harold Chapman’s photographs not only make up a book both moving and poetic; they will also prove immensely valuable to future scholars when the France which they describe will have completely disappeared and given place to a new, albeit different one.”
The Beat Hotel was a major turning-point in Harold Chapman’s career. Whilst there, paying a mere four francs a night for his room, he started a colour cookery book for Flammarion, one of Paris’ prestigious publishing houses. Another cookery book, a cheese-book and contributions to a book on wine were to follow. His room was so cheap that he was able to afford frequent trips to England where he freelanced for Fleet Street newspapers and documented the colourful, zany London of the Sixties – but often with an emphasis on vanishing aspects of London, juxtaposed with the new.
In the late 1960s and early 70s, Harold Chapman photographed street fashion on the King’s Road, London, for The Cleveland Plain Dealer. In the 1970s and early ’80s, he worked in Britain doing picture research and produced several books including Victorian Life in Photographs (Thames & Hudson, 1974); The Day Before Yesterday (J.M. Dent, 1978); Memory Lane (J.M. Dent, 1980); and Those Were The Days (J.M. Dent, 1983). In France, he travelled extensively photographing monuments, buildings and landscapes and contributed to the Librairie Larousse series of books and magazines, Beautés de la France. He also covered fashion for the New York Times in Paris and contributed to Medical World News and Medical Tribune. In 1973 he was a founder member of a Southern French regional magazine, Connaissance du Pays d’Oc, for which he did reportage and illustrated guides to several départements. In 1974, he illustrated Thames & Hudson’s The Complete Guide to London’s Street Markets. His interest in megaliths led him to travel extensively in England, Brittany, and the Languedoc where he lived, photographing dolmens, menhirs and stone circles for use in books and magazines. In 1979/80, he spent a year living in his Deux Chevaux van, travelling around France taking the photographs for Everyman’s France, published by J.M. Dent in 1982. In 1984, The Beat Hotel was published by Montpellier/Geneva based publisher, gris banal. Valued at $400-600 in the Allen Ginsberg and Friends Auction in Sotheby’s New York in 1999, a copy of this book sold for $2,250. It was also described in a Sotheby’s Olympia 2 catalogue (Inspirational Times) in 2003 as a cult work. During the 1970s and 80s, Harold Chapman took photographs for stock agencies, including Fotogram (France); Topham Picture Library (UK); The Image Works (USA); The Bettmann Archives (USA); Firo-Foto (Spain). In the 1990s, he illustrated calendars (black and white and colour); brochures for hotels, a lycée, etc.; two landscape books on the Hérault; and contributed to Vacances en Campagne, a British self-catering holiday company. Moving back to Britain in 1993, Harold Chapman spent some time in his native Kent photographing the remains of World War Two coastal defenses and writing and illustrating articles for Syndicated Features. But interest in his earlier black and white work, started to grow, and after a couple of exhibitions in his home town of Deal, he was invited in 1997 by the French Institute of South Africa and the British Council of Johannesburg to have a Beat Hotel exhibition in an old factory now turned cultural centre in Johannesburg. This exhibition was then shown at the Grahamstown Festival and travelled to Cape Town where it was shown in the Joâo Ferreira Fine Arts Gallery. The entire Beat Hotel exhibition was purchased by an art collector couple from Duesseldorf. In 1998, Harold Chapman’s work appeared in the thirtieth-anniversary issue of Creative Camera, a leading British photographic magazine, to which he had contributed thirty years previously in the first issue. Interviewed in December 1968, Chapman declared: “…there is no need for the contrived shot. Pictures are everywhere. So why set up a photograph when the natural one is infinitely better?” He added: “I am photographing for the future, not for the present… All I aim for is to record the trivial things that ordinary people use and consider unimportant.” In 2000, the Beat Hotel exhibition was shown in Europe for the first time, in Restaurant Le Pressoir de Saint Saturnin in the South of France. A limited edition portfolio of twenty pictures from the Beat Hotel was produced by João Ferreira Fine Art, Cape Town and Open Mind Communication (OMC), Duesseldorf, to coincide with Harold Chapman’s first Photography exhibition in Germany at The OMC Gallery in Duesseldorf.
In April 2000, Booker Prize-winning British novelist, Ian McEwan, who had met Harold Chapman in 1974, wrote an article about the photographer entitled ‘A Spy in the Name of Art’, which was published in the Saturday Review of the Guardian. Summing up Harold Chapman’s work, he concluded: “If Chapman were merely a chronicler in a great documentary tradition, his achievement would be impressive enough. His lustrous landscapes of the Herault valley in the Languedoc, his priceless record of the Beat Hotel, his omnivorous, year-on-year transcription of daily life and its little undercurrents, would ensure his reputation as a photographer of the first rank. But it was constructive paranoia that made him an artist.”
In September 2001, The OMC Gallery co-published with Edition Michael Kellner of Hamburg a book called Beats à Paris.
2002 Harold Chapman “Billboards” from the 50’s until today, The OMC Gallery for Contemporary Art, Duesseldorf,
In May 2003, The OMC Gallery teamed up with world famous dinner host, Jim Haynes, to show the exhibition, Beats à Paris, in his atelier, Matisse’s old studio in Montparnasse.
Sept – Oct. 2003 – Harold Chapman ‘Recent Work’ – The OMC Gallery for Contemporary Art, Duesseldorf, Germany
2003 – Museum Exhibition ‘Lokaltermin Vorort’ – Harold Chapman: Paris photographs – Kunstmuseum in der Alten Post, Muelheim an der Ruhr, Germany
From January – May 2005, Vancouver Art Gallery held an exhibition called Real Pictures, celebrating a major acquisition of photography by the gallery, and produced a large book with a photograph of the “Beat Hotel Cafe” used as a wrap-around cover. The same image was also used on the Preview invitation card sent to members of the Leadership Circle who support the gallery.
In February 2006, the first InterZone Beat Festival, organized by Steven Lowe, RoxAnn Madera and Rolf Goellnitz, celebrating William Burroughs’ birthday was held in the Beat Hotel, Desert Hot Springs, California. Accompanied by photographs from The OMC Gallery (now of Huntington Beach, California) showing the original Beat Hotel in Paris. It marked the first exhibition of Harold Chapman’s work in the United States.
2007 The OMC Gallery celebrated Harold Chapman’s 80s birthday anniversary with a major retrospective exhibition featuring photographs by Chapman taken between 1947 and 2007. Another retrospective opened simultaneously at Elisabeth Sephton’s gallery in Deal. His eightieth birthday year continued with several more exhibitions, including a restored negative of the One Man Band, which was his first picture published in a national newspaper called Reveille for the Weekend, in 1952.
Jul 18 – Aug 22, 2009 Harold Chapman – William S. Burroughs and the Beats, OMC Gallery for Contemporary Art, Huntington Beach, CA
In 2010 Proud Chelsea showed photos from the Beat Hotel in a major exhibition organized by the picture library, TopFoto.
2011 The Beat Hotel, a new film by Alan Govenar was completed and presented by the Danish Film Institute for its World Premiere in Copenhagen. In the film, Chapman’s photographs and stylized dramatic recreations of his stories meld with the recollections of Elliot Rudie, a Scottish artist, whose drawings of his time in the hotel offer a poignant and sometimes humorous counterpoint. The memories of Chapman and Rudie interweave with the insights of French artist Jean-Jacques Lebel, author Barry Miles, Danish filmmaker Lars Movin, and the first hand accounts of Oliver Harris, Regina Weinrich, Patrick Amie, Eddie Woods, and 95 year old George Whitman, among others, to evoke a portrait of Ginsberg, Burroughs, Corso and the oddities of the Beat Hotel that is at once unexpected and revealing.
2012 The OMC Gallery celebrated Harold Chapman’s 85th Birthday with a exhibition titled:
The Beat Hotel and More Images Made for the Future Vintage and Period Prints 1947 to 2012
A Photography exhibition about “The Beat Hotel” was also realized in cooperation with The OMC Gallery in the Beat Museum, San Francisco.
A new chapter of traveling exhibitions, retrospectives on the Beats and their literary and artistic movement, means that Harold Chapman’s work will for several years been shown in Paris, at the Centre Pompidou in 2016, Karlsruhe at the ZKM in 2017, in Metz and New York.
2017 Harold is still working at the age of 90, currently on Les Halles market in Paris from his extensive archive.
2022 Harold Chapman died on August 19, at age 95.
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