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At this late date, what do we want from a portfolio of photographs calling itself “The 1960s”? Everyone already knows what the period looked like, sounded like, what it meant and what it led to. Especially, we know what pictures of it look like — or are supposed to look like.
 
Then we come across the work of someone like David Hurn — some of it as familiar as “Purple Haze” — and realize how much about the 1960s we still have to discover.
 
Mr. Hurn, whose photographs from the decade are scheduled to be published on Oct. 23 by Reel Art Press, did much to create what we think we know about London in the 1960s. He shot Sean Connery as a pistol-posing James Bond, the Beatles on the set of “A Hard Day’s Night” and Jane Fonda behind the scenes in “Barbarella.” He shot Michael Caine and Jean Shrimpton.
 
But Mr. Hurn, who is still working in his home village in Wales, has often said that he was more interested in capturing ordinary people and the rhythms of daily life — the stuff of post offices and crummy workplaces that get crowded out of many photographic depictions of the era. Then as now, most people spent most of their time going to work, managing families, eating, looking for love, worshiping or just milling about. Even in New York City, American flags were as prevalent as freak flags.
 
The results here are a tension between the celebrated 1960s and the one more commonly lived. Mr. Hurn’s best celebrity pictures, such as those of the Beatles, depict celebrity as a new burden imposed on the boys by outside forces, one that they are relieved to shed. His James Bond isn’t just cool, he’s frozen.
 
The most human pictures here are the least glamorous, from a 1966 mining disaster in Aberfan, Wales, when a mountain mudslide swept over 20 houses and a school, killing 144 people, including 116 children. Mr. Hurn captured the desperation of the rescue effort, which seemed to unite the whole mining village, reducing everyone to a churn of arms and legs.
 
In later decades, Mr. Hurn largely gave up the celebrity work for its more quotidian counterpart. But even in his star turns, he found the messy, unpretty reality beneath the era’s oh-so-pretty faces.

New York Times Lens

25 Aug, 2015

John Leland