(1 of 4 covers of Lid Magazine, Issue #16: Paul Stanley by Ross Half)
Breaking The Rules: The 60's Revolution of Art (An Artist on Artists)
The 60's were a time of revolution. The order of the staid 50's was utterly obliterated and it was the art world that was the catalyst of this movement. Artists like Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon, Claes Oldenburg and David Hockney, like butterflies, emerged from this great cocoon with their visual display of color, chaos and irreverence, challenging the buttoned-down rules of the last decade.
Entering this scene was the young Michael Cooper, a noted British photographer who had the privilege to chronicle this metamorphosis. Michael's prodigious talent began to flourish at an early age. Upon completing college he was offered a job at Vogue magazine. Imagine, at only 21 years of age, being invited to tea with that Grand Doyenne of fashion. After two years he tended his resignation, having the moxie to go out on his own and shoot his own work without editors looking over his shoulder telling him what he could and could not do.
"Michael was very intelligent,” recalls Adam Cooper, his son, heir and curator to his father's vast body of work. "He knew what was going on in the 60's and he was there as it all came together. There was a rise of creativity and people were starting to get the sense that there was so much more room for change - so much more for the world to be introduced to.
"What put Michael on the map was his introduction and subsequent friendship with the great British art dealer Robert Faser, who shared Michael's aesthetic on the 60's revolution in art. His gallery and London flat served as the "Salon" for the movers and shakers of this generational art scene. This is where Michael had the great fortune to meet Andy Warhol, Rene Magritte, Marcel Duchamp and those young, scruffy kids from Liverpool, the Beatles. It was at this time that Michael became good friends with Keith Richards, which subsequently led to his photographing the iconic album covers for the Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request, the Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, as well as over 70,000 dynamic images that made him one of the "go-to" guys for portaiture of the swinging 60's.
It wasn't Michael's purpose to merely put the decade on exhibit. He wanted to get under the skin of these people, to really show them as they were.
"He had a very charismatic personality and people took to him very, very quickly," Adam explains about his father, "and Michael never had any airs or graces about himself. He was who he was. He was just out there doing his thing and if he fell in with people that had a mutual respect or a mutual understanding between each other, then that was it."
Michael Cooper was much like a fly on the wall when it came to photographing his subjects. In fact, they were less his "subjects" and more an extension of his very being. He could wander into a room, snap away and not disturb anybody. His charm and good humor provided a sense of comfort, allowing him to shoot these creatures in their natural habitat - not posing… simply being. The unconventional style of Marcel Duchamp; the distinctive energy of Colin Self; the unique imagery that is Claes Oldenburg: Michael Cooper's great gift was that he was able to capture the essence of who these artists really were.
Allow me to sum this up with an anecdote Adam shared with me: "There's not a lot of photographers out there who would go out to Brussels and shoot a major league contemporary artist like René Magritte, stand him on a street and stick a rose in front of his face. A lot of photographers would play it safe and they may shoot the same angle, they may shoot the same length size, but not a lot of people would have the balls to say 'Stick this in front of your face and we're never actually going to see you'."
You see, by placing the flower in front of his face, Michael was creating an original Magritte image in photograph. Brilliant.
Unfortunately, once a butterfly leaves its cocoon, though its beauty burns bright, its life is extinguished all too soon. Michael Cooper left us at age 32. The psychedelic 60's took many hostages, but what they left behind stays with us for eternity.