As a friend and photographer of the Rolling Stones, Michael Cooper (1941-1973) is well known for his intimate photographs of the sixties music scene. For a long time he was “court” photographer to the Stones and formed a particularly close friendship with Keith Richards. In addition, he counted amongst his closest friends other leading musicians such as The Beatles, Marianne Faithful, Eric Clapton, artists Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, Peter Blake and David Hockney and writers Terry Southern, William Burroughs, Jean Genet and Allen Ginsberg.
As a pivotal part of the London scene, Vogue hired him to take fashion photographs. It is generally recognized that it was Michael (rather than David Bailey) on whom the film Blow-up was based. Because Cooper was known, liked and totally accepted by the subjects of his photographs, he was in a unique position to record them all, usually with remarkable intimacy. However, although officially commissioned by Conde Nast, Cooper’s natural, almost nonchalant style is closer to reportage than to studio or fashion photography.
For the last half century, the photographs of Michael Cooper have been identified, for the most part, with the chronology of the Stones. His documentation of the years as he knew them (from around 1963 until his early and tragic departing a decade later) has ensured that his name is synonymous with the band, part of the fact – the mythology – of the strange and exciting times they shared together. Through luck or foresight, he was always there when it mattered, an alchemical presence, Keith Richards has said, “The amazing thing, is I don’t really remember meeting him. He slipped into my life and then very sadly slipped out” – “on my down days, which we all have, I often look up to him for a touch of guidance, we all need that from time to time”.
So strongly is his name associated with the band’s narrative that Michael appears to have a substantive existence as “Photography Royal at the Court of the Rolling Stones” or as their “photographer in waiting” – terms which imply a degree of intimacy but at a deferential distance. This belies the true nature of his relationship with the band and, as a photographer ignores Cooper’s considerable range. He had a concomitant career in the art world, fashion and social political events, for example, in which the involvement of the Stones was marginal.
A person who, through an almost obsessive involvement, was able not just to record the moment, but to participate in it. For that ten-year period, he was constantly out there doing his thing. Everybody valued the authenticity of his work, as you will see in the Gallery, his range of subject matter was extensive, Warhol, Magritte, Burroughs, Genet, Southern, Ginsberg, Hollywood Stars, Lennon to name a few and of course the iconic album cover for the Beatles Sgt Pepper´s Lonely Hearts Club Band which still today is considered one of the greatest album covers of all time.
“One of the great qualities for me about these photographs are their honesty. There was, and still is to my mind, a lot of rubbish talked about the era, but Michael managed to capture it the way it really was.” – Keith Richards