© The Estate of Francis Bacon
John Deakin © The Estate of Francis Bacon
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‘Pariah Genius: John Deakin, The Psychobiography of a Photographer’

4 out of 5 stars
Eddy Frankel

Time Out says

Fag-stained, booze-drenched, stumbling and slurring: John Deakin captured the lows of Soho at its height. He was the photographer of choice for Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach and all the other artistic degenerates of central London in the 1950s and ’60s. He documented their fracturing lives, and he was commissioned by Francis Bacon to take photos that would become the basis for some of his most important paintings. 

A handful of his photos have been brought together in this small exhibition by the influential writer and ‘psychogeographer’ Iain Sinclair, who used them to create a new semi-fictionalised biography of Deakin called ‘Pariah/Genius’. The images on display have been pulled from Bacon’s own archive; they’re in such a state of disrepair, half rotted and faded, torn, creased and splattered with ink and paint. Freud is captured timid and playful, Henrietta Moraes nude and supine, Muriel Belcher forlorn and fragile. Dylan Thomas stands waist-deep in greenery in a graveyard, comical and pathetic. The images are stark, amazing, vulnerable things; but their rips and tears at the hand of Bacon elevate them further. It’s all these figures drinking themselves to death, shagging themselves to death, smoking themselves to death and fading into the past right in front of you. It’s dark, joyless, miserable. It’s incredible. 

There are ghostly, harsh paintings by Jock McFadyen on the walls too, as well as books and excerpts of sound and film works by Sinclair. The show functions as a slightly ramshackle but charming extension of his book, so it feels like an archival expansion of the Deakin narrative rather than a fullblown retrospective of the photographer's work. It’s a neat idea, but you just want so much more. It makes you desperate for a bigger show of this; it needs a whole, proper, institutional exhibition uniting Deakin’s photos with the paintings they inspired. This is just a drunken, filthy, uncomfortable amuse bouche for a bigger treat we’re yet to be offered.


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