Adrian Flowers Studio Introduction

Adrian Flowers

Born in Southsea, Portsmouth, on 11th July 1926, Adrian Flowers went to school in Southampton, before attending Sherborne School. His father Edward was a Lieut Colonel in the Indian Army in WWI, and latterly a businessman, while his mother Kathleen (née West), a violinist and a Christian Scientist, was the daughter of well-known photographer William West. Based in Portsmouth, the firm of George West & Sons had been founded by her great-grandfather. Although he had initially thought to take up medicine, this family background in commercial photography led Adrian to study at the Institute of British Photography. Graduating in 1950, he opened his first studio in Dover Street, before moving to Tite Street in Chelsea. He is best remembered for advertising photography for products such as Benson and Hedges, and also for his portrait work. Assistants who started their careers at the Flowers studio included Terence Donovan, Chris Killip, Neil Selkirk and Brian Duffy. Some of Flowers’ early work was for the magazine Girl, where he photographed film stars—including Dirk Bogarde, Deborah Kerr and Norman Wisdom—meeting fans. His later portrait subjects included Twiggy, Peter Sellers, Paul and Linda McCartney, Michael Caine, Alec Guinness and Vanessa Redgrave

Visiting Cornwall in 1954, with his wife Angela, Flowers was introduced to the artists living and working in St. Ives at that time. His photographs of these artists and their work consolidated his appreciation of the world of fine art but he had to make a living through commercial photography, which came mainly from advertising agencies.

Working for advertising agencies appealed to Flowers’ sense of organisation, where his freedom in translating concepts into images was relatively restricted. He liked studio work, because it allowed him to spend time to set up and think through all aspects of the project, and have control over the conditions that could affect the final image. Rather than taking hundreds of photographs, from which one would be selected that reflected his intention, he preferred to spend time getting things right, then taking just a few exposures to give the result he needed. Although his creative imagination was restricted, in realising the concepts that came to him from commissioning agencies, he did not find these particularly irksome. He enjoyed setting up and photographing objects, investing the images with a playful and surreal sensibility. This surrealist quality is also evident in his more personal, creative work, for example in a series of circular photographs, of round objects. His visual sensibility was to an extent influenced by French photographer and painter Guy Bourdin. Like Bourdin, Flowers was a perfectionist, leaving nothing to chance, and delighting in investing his photographs with a sense of drama. As advertising became more sophisticated, he was able to create images that spoke to the subconscious desires, fears and attractions. Conventional perspectives were disrupted, objects and interiors cropped, narratives suggested, rather than explicitly stated, and when colour was used, it was saturated.

For the Benson and Hedges campaign, commissioned by CDP (Collett Dickenson and Pearce), Flowers spent six months testing images before proceeding with final photography, using an 10 x 8 camera, rather than his usual Sinar 4 x 5. With the elaborate settings and décor, his output for the Benson and Hedges campaign amounted to just one finished photograph a year. He worked with designers and decorators, making sketches and taking Polaroid photos of each stage of the work. A quintessential sense of English middle-class values informs these campaigns, with carpets, wallpaper and ornaments carefully selected to resonate with readers and consumers. Although other photographers also worked on the Benson and Hedges campaign, the photographs best remembered are those taken by Flowers. In another campaign, for Le Creuset cookware, Flowers again photographed this everyday product in unusual, even austere, settings, using accentuated perspectives. This forcing of perspective can be seen at its most extreme in his Kit-Kat photographs. Flowers’ interest in the world of fine art is evident in the Swiss watch campaign, where images of watches are being prepared for exhibition in a contemporary art gallery. In his work for Martell cognac, the narrative is that of an art collector, his wife and daughter visiting the studio of a famous artist. The daughter is attracted to the artist, but does not know that the artist’s lover, the model in his paintings, is hiding behind a screen. In contrast with these product commissions, which involved careful staging, his work with live models frequently resulted in lively and informal images—not least due to the high cost of modelling fees and the need to work at speed.

With the advent of digital photography and the decline of the analogue form, Adrian Flowers retired from commercial work in 1990 and closed his studio. Adrian and Angela divorced by mutual consent in 1973. He re-married, to Françoise Lina in 1985. He moved to France where he continued to work on other projects. He died, aged 89, in France on 18th May 2016.

Adrian Flowers Photography Archive

Adrian Flowers Photography Archive – Introduction

Adrian Flowers

First, a brief biography…….
Born in 1926 in Southsea, Portsmouth, Adrian Flowers trained initially as a photographer while serving in the RAF. From 1954-56 he assisted Zoltán Glass at “Artist Partners”, an organisation set up to represent illustrators and photographers. Three years later, he established his own studio in Tite Street, Chelsea which remained the base for his main body of work until 1990. Adrian married Angela Holland in 1952 and they had four children, Adam, Matthew, Daniel and Francesca. After Adrian and Angela’s divorce in 1973 he met Françoise Lina. They moved to France together in 1996 where they lived until Adrian’s death two decades later.

Adrian’s photography archive is curated by his daughter Francesca Flowers.

Consisting of studio work extending over half a century, the photography archive is immense, and shows a world as seen through the camera lens of Adrian Flowers. Numbering perhaps 250,000, the images capture fashion styles, urban scenes, consumer products and people. Much of the work was commissioned by advertising agencies, but there is also a considerable amount of personal work. His studio, in Tite Street, Chelsea, was busy, with equipment that was, for its time, state of the art. He employed up to ten assistants, and the throughput of work was impressive.

With the earliest work dating back to 1954, the archive divides into three main sections. In a series of Lever Arch files and envelopes, some five thousand sheets of negatives and contact sheets provide a record of Adrian’s early career, his travels and family life. He made several trips to Cornwall, photographing the artists of St. Ives, and also visited Ireland. These negatives are nearly all black and white, with twelve images per contact sheet. Part of this section contains his first commercial and portrait work, mainly done for advertising companies. The photographs show a Britain emerging, somewhat cautiously, from post-war rationing, and developing an appetite for consumer goods—cars, watches, refrigerators, perfume, cigarettes and whiskey.

The second section of the archive consists of medium- to large-format black and white photography, again mainly done for commercial work and advertising.

From the mid-sixties onwards, Adrian frequently took photographs for glossy magazines, and so colour negatives and transparencies form the third main part of the archive. In the competitive world of London advertising, Adrian Flowers managed to hold his own, building a successful studio practice from the late 1950’s onwards, until the rise of the digital camera in the 1990’s led to a sharp fall in the demand for analogue photography. In less than a decade, his world of celluloid film, mechanical cameras, darkrooms, enlargers and heavy studio equipment had become almost wholly redundant. While even in retirement Adrian continued to photograph, using a 35mm camera, he never took to digital photography.

Remington typewriter advertisement 1954

Happily, a huge amount of his studio work, done over more than five decades, has been preserved in the Archive. In the early years, from 1954 onwards, he generally shot sequences of around fifty photographs per assignment, on 120 film. These were then laid out and printed as contact sheets, with the best images then selected for printing on a larger scale. Looking through the contact sheets, a rhythm and pattern is established early on. Flowers loved people, he photographed them wearing fashionable dresses, wrapping themselves in expensive coats, sometimes modelling underclothes. In extended sequences of portrait shots, he photographed women and men, close up. (These may have been commissioned for actors or modeling agencies). The women in these photographs are generally laughing, smiling, frowning, looking worried, even frightened. In contrast, his depictions of men show them as hard, driven and determined; forceful, sometimes with a hint of violence implied. His photographs of men, show them in settings that hint at risk; driving cars and trucks, building power stations and radio telescopes, working in coal mines. As seen through his camera lens, men view life as a challenge, to which they must rise. Not infrequently, his portraits of men are harshly illuminated, as in film noir, in such a way as to create a sense of malevolent energy.

Advertisement for Angiers – medicine for children

But Flowers was at his best when photographing women and children; he had an eye for the close bonds of love and affection between mother and child. His portraits of children are idealised, and his images of women and children together reveal a tenderness of vision.In his world, women see life as an aesthetic challenge, in which they must strive towards elegance and beauty. Women are measured by men—sometimes literally—waited on by men, escorted by men. They mostly live in light-filled, modern white spaces; while the men carry on their business in darker, more traditional interiors. His women open refrigerator doors, carry baskets of food, relax in modernist interiors. While his men drink beer, grimacing, smiling or frowning, his women often dance, raise their arms, kick out their leg. Holding a hat, or wrapping a cape around their bodies, they cavort, feet in air, arms akimbo. One sequence shows people popping their heads around a door, looking animated, surprised, and smiling warmly. They welcome the world, and are delighted to meet people. Whether male or female, in his photographs clothing is important. Coats that wrap and protect. Tweed jackets that take wear and tear. Rubber boots for keeping out the rain. These are people defined by their clothing and hairstyles. Both sexes smoke cigarettes, hold glasses of brandy.

Kelloggs 1957
Avril Sadler modeling bathing caps 1955

Flowers’ representations of people express in pure visual terms gender stereotypes that defined the mid-twentieth century. His images relate to the novels of Ian Fleming, Len Deighton or Mickey Spillane, in that he creates a convincing simulacra of reality, in which men and women, aspiring to live in a sophisticated world, in fact inhabit a fantasy universe created by themselves. This world they inhabit, somewhat strange and alienated, only partially resembles reality. Virtually no-one is depicted engaged in mundane tasks. They do not read newspapers, watch television or listen to the radio. Everything is framed in activity and style. Farmers drive tractors, children cycle, a handsome airline pilot ascends the steps of a jet aircraft. What stands out also is a desire to depict people of colour as inhabiting this new sophisticated world, as equals.

Judy Verity 1954

In terms of organising the archive, some difficulties arise. Each image on the contact sheet has a ‘job number’ number scratched into the emulsion. This number can be cross-checked against the many job cards and day books, that record in immense detail the advertising agency or client, date, type of camera, and other technical details. There are perhaps five thousand job cards in all.

early cigarette advertisement in 1957
a sign of things to come…

Text: Peter Murray

Editor: Francesca Flowers

All images subject to copyright.

Adrian Flowers Archive ©