John Deakin

John Deakin (1912-1972), whose portraits are among the most significant in the history of 20th century photography, was a natural successor to August Sander and precursor of Diane Arbus - a true poète maudit.

His clarity of vision had a merciless, often brutal directness and a psychological intensity, both fascinating and shocking in equal measure. Whether he was photographing writers, artists, fashion models, or Hollywood stars for British Vogue in the late 1940s and early 50s or whether portraying his artist and poet friends in London's bohemia, Soho, he made no concessions whatever to his subjects' vanity, scorning any need for admiration in his pursuit of truthful depiction. The faces of his sitters, which Deakin himself often referred to as his Victims, loom out at you, bemused, vulnerable, possibly guilty in a curious hungover light.


The inventiveness, if not malice, was available for inspection in the 2014 exhibition Under the Influence at The Photographers Gallery in London. The accompanying book was timely in one way, for it offered glimpses of Soho - Deakin's stomping ground of the late 40s and 50s - before its tragic fall into respectability.

His friend the painter Francis Bacon was fascinated by Deakin's bleak vision, and several of Bacon's most impressive works were based upon portraits that he commissioned Deakin to produce. "His portraits to me are the best since Nadar and Julia Margaret Cameron," was his assured judgement, although such enthusiasm did little to alleviate the lack of commercial success and serious financial hardship Deakin was to suffer for the rest of his life after his final dismissal from Vogue. After his death, much of Deakin's work was scattered or left neglected, although a little was preserved and treasured by a small band of admirers.