Assistants at Adrian Flowers Studio Photographers

Neil Selkirk

In late November 2022, we visited the photographer Neil Selkirk in his house and studio, a stone’s throw from the David Zwirner Gallery on W.19th Street. Opening a little iron gate with a latch, we descended three steps from street level, to an oak door. Selkirk greeted us and led us through a little courtyard to his home at the rear of the building.

Inside, a lit wood-burning stove added a warm glow to the arts and crafts interior, with its dark roof beams and wooden kitchen presses. On a large wooden table, a scattering of autumn leaves and branches made a colourful display. Mounted on the wall, an ornate silver tray bore an engraved testimonial to a Selkirk forebear from the congregation of a Free Presbyterian Church in Glasgow. Even after decades of living and working in the United States, Selkirk, a cheerful conversationalist, retained his English accent. As he prepared coffee, he described his years in New York, his pride in his two children, now grown adults and working in the city, evident. Although divorced from his wife Susan, he radiated confidence and a contentment with life. “I’ve been lucky”, he commented, although this underestimates his achievements gained through skill, hard work and dedication to photography. He made coffee with the same attention to detail as though he were in a photo lab, grinding the coffee beans, and carefully preparing the steamer for warming milk.

Selkirk’s own photographs have featured in Esquire, The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Interview and Vanity Fair. For over a decade he also worked in the corporate world, taking photographs for annual reports. His exhibition of portraits Certain Women was held at the Howard Greenberg Gallery in 2015. At the time of our visit, he was working on a series of close-up still life photos of bar-room toilet door locks entitled Security Matters. Printed in a large scale, several of these decorated the walls of his studio in the basement of the building. It was formerly a fully-fledged darkroom, complete with water filters and sinks, but no longer used for darkroom printing. 

Best-known in the art world for his work printing the photographs of Diane Arbus since her death, Selkirk was born in London in 1947. After initial studies at Chiswick Polytechnic, he graduated from the London College of Printing, and aged twenty-one, embarked on a life-long career as a photographer. From the outset, he demonstrated a deep understanding of the science of the process; developing and fixing film, and utilising advanced printing techniques. Keen to work with the best photographers, even as a student he travelled to France and the United States. In March 1968 he was in New York, visiting the studios of leading photographers and offering his services as an assistant. This direct approach worked, and he was offered work, not only by Richard Avedon, but also by Irving Penn, Melvin Sokolsky and Bert Stern. Fortuitously, Selkirk even found himself on 40th Street, photographing Bobby Kennedy outside the New York Press Club just after he announced his candidacy for president. Although he accepted a job offer from Penn, it transpired the studio was unable to obtain a work visa for him. In the meantime, Avedon had been asked by an English advertising agency to work on a cigarette campaign and came to London, where Selkirk worked for him as an assistant.

When Selkirk realised that getting a visa to work in the US was not going to be straightforward, he sought employment in London, and was taken on by Adrian Flowers, [on 9 September 1968] at his studio in Tite Street. In a recent interview with Elizabeth Avedon (former daughter-in-law of Richard) Selkirk recalled his time there; affirming how Flowers was ‘a big name’ in the London photography scene from the 1950’s through to the early 90’s. Flowers’ studio was ‘the place to be photographed’ for advertising and editorials, and for actors, celebrities and artists.

While working at Tite Street in 1968 and the following year, Selkirk assisted Flowers with a number of advertising jobs, including trips to France and Italy, and photographing products, even Christmas puddings. He explained how photographs taken in London were sent to New York, to be converted into dye-transfer prints, an expensive and technologically advanced method that gave high-quality reproductions for magazine advertisements. At that time there was no dye-transfer lab in London. On one occasion, when a large 15 x 12 inch duplicate transparency, made from a standard 35mm negative, was sent back to the studio, Neil was so impressed, he immediately went in search of a large-format camera capable of making large negatives. At Brunnings, the photography shop in Holborn, he found two such cameras, dating from at least the 1920’s. He bought both cameras, and still has them.

25.9.68 for the Observer magazine.
Photograph by Adrian Flowers

Selkirk recalled his time working with Flowers in London with delight and occasional chagrin. One time, the leg of a heavy tripod had unexpectedly slid down and injured his foot. In spite of the pain, and the wound taking a long time to heal, he continued to work, standing behind Adrian, ready to hand over film and equipment as needed. However, Adrian had a habit of stepping backwards when he was working and did so several times, stepping on Selkirk’s injured toe. He looked back in surprise to see his assistant bent over in agony. Selkirk laughed as he recalled this. But even at the Flowers studio, he was ambitious to move on and establish his own career. Through Avedon, he was offered a short-term contract in Paris, to assist Japanese photographer Hiro (Yasuhiro Wakabayashi). A decade earlier, Hiro had himself been an assistant to Avedon. Selkirk requested leave of absence from Tite Street, to work on this project with Hiro. Flowers responded “And what if I say no?”. “In that case”, Selkirk cheerfully replied “I’ll quit”. But Flowers relented and let him go. Back in London, Selkirk, who now admits that he must have been insufferable at the time, describes Flowers addressing him in quiet desperation “I know you’ve worked with the most famous photographers in the world, but would you mind passing the film holder”. In stories such as this, Selkirk revealed a self-awareness and self-deprecating sense of humour. “I’m sure I was impossible”, he acknowledges.

The shoots he worked on included trips to Malmaison, outside Paris, and to the Medici palazzos in Florence; both for the Observer magazine. Also for the Observer Selkirk accompanied Flowers to Bonn and Vienna to assist on the Beethoven feature [see previous blog post on this site].

Beethoven’s last piano,
photographed by Adrian Flowers in Bonn, Nov. 1969 for the Observer magazine

Selkirk also worked on several of the early Benson & Hedges ads, the ‘Gold Box’ years.

1968 B&H for
Collett Dickenson Pearce (CDP)
Photography: Adrian Flowers

Another memorable job was for the book cover of Len Deighton’s An Expensive Place to Die, art directed by Ray Hawkey [see previous blog posts on Deighton and Hawkey]

JN6102 September 1968 Book cover for An Expensive Place to Die by Len Deighton.
Photograph by Adrian Flowers

However, in London, Selkirk was earning just two pounds and ten shillings a week as an assistant at the Flowers studio and knew he had to move on. Working at Hiro’s studio in 1970 and ‘71 had led to further opportunities; while there, he met Diane Arbus and her friend and collaborator Marvin Israel. Arbus invited Selkirk to participate in a master class she was giving. He was more than just a student; at that time Arbus was looking to move on from working in the 2¼ square format, and was researching larger format cameras. Hiro had been using one of the first Pentax 6 x 7 cameras, which took the 120 film Arbus was experienced with, but produced larger images. Familiar with this camera, Selkirk showed her how to use it. After working at Hiro’s until July of that year, he then went to work for fashion photographer Chris Von Wangenheim. This brought him back to Europe, to Rome and Paris. While in Paris, he learned of the death of Arbus, and wrote a letter of commiseration to Marvin Israel. He also offered his services, should a book or exhibition be organised in the future.

Back in New York, Selkirk immediately was put to work by Marvin Israel, working on the forthcoming Arbus exhibition to be shown at MoMA, and on the monograph “Diane Arbus”. He jumped at the opportunity, however he was faced with an intimidating task: Arbus had never labelled or dated her prints. Selkirk was baffled as to how she found a negative. She evidently had a system, but only she knew where things were. Selkirk’s work making prints for the 1972 book and show were intended to be a one-time project, but evolved over the years into his being the only person ever authorized by the estate to make prints from Arbus’s negatives.

For many years now, Selkirk has worked with Doon, eldest daughter of Diane Arbus, who manages her mother’s estate. They periodically are involved in organising exhibitions such as the recent one, entitled “Cataclysm” at the David Zwirner Gallery, that reprised the 1972 MoMA show. The accompanying publication, Diane Arbus Documents a massive tome of several hundred pages, contains Fifty years or more of reviews and essays by Susan Sontag and others, along with an extensive bibliography. It is co-published by Zwirner and the Fraenkel Gallery, with David’s son Lucas guiding it through many stages of development. Doon is also a writer, and in addition to producing books of her mother’s work, has collaborated with Richard Avedon on many projects, including The Sixties, and has recently published her first novel, The Caretaker.

There was a pause in the conversation as Selkirk put a log in the wood-burning stove that added a bright touch and warmed the apartment. Beside the stove was a stack of split wood logs. “The difficulty”, said Neil, “is getting the logs all the way from my place in upstate New York to this room, they’re so heavy!”

In his last years at the old mill – the moulin, in France, Adrian Flowers would often photograph logs from the wood stack. He would set them up in rows outside the barn. Lit by the evening sun, each log acquired its own personality. The photographs were like distant memories of the actors, artists and celebrities who had visited the studio at Tite Street half a century before.

Adrian Flowers Studio, Tite St, London Jan. 1969

Neil Selkirk website:

Text: Peter Murray

Editor: Francesca Flowers

All images subject to copyright.

Adrian Flowers Archive ©

Assistants at Adrian Flowers Studio


Gala Pinion in 1973. Photograph: Adrian Flowers

Gala Pinion

One of the most vivacious and lively assistants who worked at the Adrian Flowers studio in the early 1970s was Gala Pinion. Although Gala—her name pronounced ‘Gayla’—started work at the studio around 1971, very few people knew that she had recently been engaged to the musician Syd Barrett, one of the founders of Pink Floyd. Gala and Syd were due to be married, but the engagement was called off, as Syd became prone to increasingly serious bouts of schizophrenia, an illness that had seen him leave Pink Floyd, to pursue a solo career as musician and artist.

Gala had met Syd Barrett through her friend Lindsay Corner, who also attended Ely School in Cambridgeshire, where Gala did her O levels in 1966. Shortly afterwards, in 1967, Syd and Corner, (also spelled Korner), had a romantic relationship, but they split up, and he and Gala, who was working at the Chelsea Drug Store, got together. She was attracted by his ‘mad attractiveness’ recalling that “he had the most extraordinary eyes and when he looked at you, you felt hopelessly caught”. In December 1968, Syd and a friend, the artist Duggie Fields, moved a flat in Weatherby Mansions in Earls Court. Not long afterwards, Gala joined them, renting the third room. On the cover of Barrett’s solo album A Madcap Laughs, a photograph shows Syd in the flat, with the bare floorboards painted with alternating bands of orange and turquoise blue. Syd’s Love Song, released on an EP, was dedicated to her. “I knew a girl and I like her still/She said she knew she would trust me.” On Syd’s second solo LP, Barrett, produced in 1970 by Dave Gilmour,the song “Wined and Dined” refers to a summer party in Cambridgeshire: “Wined and dined, oh it seemed just like a dream!/Girl was so kind/Kind of love I’d never seen” However, there is sadness in the final lines of the song, “Only last summer, it’s not so long ago/Just last summer/now musk winds blow”

After leaving Pink Floyd, Syd had taken up painting again, but his struggles with schizophrenia were not helped by excessive use of cannabis and LSD. Eventually, unable to cope with his sometimes violent behaviour, Gala moved out of the flat. Her room was taken over by a group of younger people, whose adulation of Barrett and pandering to his habits did not help his mental condition. He eventually left the flat, to return to his family home in Cambridge, where his widowed mother did her best to care for him. He moved back to Cambridge also to be close to Gala, who was working at the Joshua Taylor department store in the city. According to his friend Duggie, Syd even dreamed of becoming a doctor, getting married, and living a suburban life with Gala. Syd and Gala announced their engagement on 1st October 1970, finding a ring at the Antiquarius market on King’s Road. However, a celebration dinner with family members was not a success, and not long afterwards, with Syd becoming increasingly jealous and paranoid, the engagement was called off.

Front of postcard ‘Gala’s Knees’ for Post Card Show at Angela Flowers Gallery 1971, copyright Angela Flowers.
Photograph: Adrian Flowers

Six years later Gala bumped into Syd in a supermarket on Fulham Road, but his erratic behaviour led her to leave abruptly, never to see him again. After Gala, Syd had no other girlfriends. He lived quietly in Cambridge, and died of diabetes in 2006.

Gala went on to pursue her modelling career and to work at the Adrian Flowers studio. In 1971 she featured in the Michael Joseph photography shoot of a zany party scene for a billboard campaign for Fernet-Branca—the same image was used over two decades later for the LP “Funk Spectrum”. She also dated Gene Krell, co-founder of the “Granny Takes a Trip”, a boutique popularised by Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. While she was at the Flowers Studio,  photographer Steve Garforth recalls a work trip to the South of France, where Adrian was to photograph a car for an advertising campaign. Travelling in several vehicles, the team set off from London early one morning, taking the ferry to France and heading for Paris. However, their plan, to camp in the Bois de Boulogne, was upset by torrential rain and abandoning the tents they checked into a nearby hotel. Decorated in Louis XV style, the bedrooms provided an impromptu studio for the team to lark about, photographing each other.

Gala was popular in the AF studio even featuring on a witty postcard for the ‘Post Card Show’ at Angela Flowers Gallery, Lisle Street, in January 1971. Entitled “Gala’s Knees” the postcard was a homage to the 1970 Eric Rohmer film Claire’s Knee.* Ever restless, Gala moved on from the Adrian Flowers studio around 1974, going on to pursue her career in New York. A series of lively postcards she wrote to Adrian in the 1970s, from locations such as the Greek islands, Antigua, and New York, give a good idea of her fondness for travel and fun-loving personality.

‘Gala’s Knees’ for the Post Card Show 1971, copyright Angela Flowers Gallery.
Photograph: Adrian Flowers

cf: further reference to this shot can be found on a previous post on this blog –
‘Adrian Flowers: an appreciation’ by Matthew Flowers

Text: Peter Murray

Editor: Francesca Flowers

All photographs subject to copyright

Adrian Flowers Archive ©

Assistants at Adrian Flowers Studio Photographers

Steve Garforth

Steve Garforth in 1973

Meeting with Steve Garforth, who settled in France in 2014, provides a unique insight into the work of the Adrian Flowers studio in the early 1970’s. During those years, the studio was housed in ‘The Tower House’, at No. 46 Tite Street, Chelsea. Although Garforth was employed as a first assistant photographer, in this photograph, taken around 1973, he had volunteered to stand in for a lighting ‘set up’. The photograph shows him wearing an exotic shawl, the work of a textile designer [name unknown] who had a studio next door. In 1972, having seen Flowers’ exhibition In the Round at the Angela Flowers Gallery, Garforth, a Yorkshireman, was inspired to become a professional photographer.

He applied for a position at the studio, and after several interviews, and a good deal of perseverance, was taken on as an assistant. These were heady years, when commissions flowed in from top magazines and advertising agencies. Garforth describes Flowers as ‘an innovator and a problem solver’. Agencies would come with ideas; the studio team would assemble for a detailed briefing and brainstorming session, a strategy would be agreed and a presentation prepared. The agencies were invariably impressed. For one campaign, for the Wool Board’s ‘Wool Mark’, Garforth recalls they constructed a black-out studio in a field, in order to photograph sheep, including a prize ram named ‘James’.

Other campaigns, for companies such as Young & Rubicam, included cigarette brands Silk Cut and Benson & Hedges. They also did work for Caravans International, covers for the Observer magazine, and many shoots with Arthur Parsons. Garforth remembers the team at the Tower House; the vivacious Gala Pinion, studio secretary, Kathy Vibert, Tor Hildyard (daughter of Harold McMillan) and assistant photographs such as Tony McGee, who did not last long at Tite Street but went on to surprise everyone by becoming a famous Vogue photographer. The studio printer at Tite Street was Tony. Garforth, who worked as first assistant photographer, recalls Flowers’ love of music, primarily jazz—Charlie Parker, Stan Getz and Miles Davis— but also his occasional forays into Stockhausen, music which was not so popular with the studio team. He also recalls Flowers’ tendency to file material, rather than dispose of it, a tendency that led to the growth of the AF Archive into a substantial entity. Initially, the archive was housed in a number of garages in Clapham, before being moved to France—and, more recently, to West Cork.

In 1976, Garforth, having gained experience with complex technical assignments, and learned something of Flowers’ love of the surreal, was the photographer for Curved Air’s album Airborne, and the following year he was responsible for Steeleye Span’s Original Masters. Moving on to establish his own independent career, for over two decades Garforth specialised in photographing cars, work that took him around the world. Along with this, his exquisite still lives and portrait work remain an important part of his oeuvre. In the first decade of the century, Garforth and his wife Bea restored San Bartomeo de Torres, a medieval priory near Girona.

Even after a span of forty years, Garforth remembers Flowers with fondness:  “Adrian could be exacting, never suffered fools and would explain the simplest thing in the most eloquent manner, but he was kind, thoughtful and generous to all who worked with him. If you graduated from Adrian’s studio you were guaranteed a good career and we all owe him so much for that. . . When we moved to France in 2014 I wanted to help Adrian take pictures again. He had so many wonderful still lives set up around the barn, but when I asked him had he taken pictures of them, he simply replied “these days only with my eyes” “

Text: Peter Murray

Editor: Francesca Flowers

All images subject to copyright.

Adrian Flowers Archive ©