Under the Influence

John Deakin, Photography and the Lure of Soho

Robin Muir

‘This beautifully produced book testifies to a talent that still astonishes’ — Guardian
‘Deakin’s work speaks for itself.… His work offers a fascinating glimpse into post-war London’ — Sunday Times
‘A marvellous record of the Soho of the 50s and 60s’ — AnOther Magazine
‘A fascinating retrospective’ — Black+White Photography
‘In his role as chief chronicler of Soho [Deakin] developed a candid and sympathetic eye’ — New Statesman, ‘Picture Book of the Week’
‘His portraits of Soho characters changed photography’ — Guardian G2 
‘Deakin was a legend in the style of postwar Soho: brilliantly original, reliably nonconformist, and belligerently self-destructive’ — The New Criterion
‘A beautifully produced book that does justice to Deakin’s extraordinary images’ — Photojournalism Now 
‘A stylish and well-produced volume … anyone with the slightest interest in photography should get their hands on a copy’ — Dublin Review of Books 


John Deakin was one of London’s greatest postwar photographers, renowned for his penetrating portraits, haunting street scenes and inventive fashion work. Though recognized as a genius by both peers and rivals – a ‘photographer with extraordinary eyes’, as one contemporary described him – he was prodigal and careless with his talent. He flourished briefly at Vogue, but the lure of nearby Soho with its pubs, clubs and subterranean watering holes led him away from regular employment. Loved and loathed in equal measure, Deakin was a legendary member of the quarter’s bohemian crowd of artists and misfits. His circle included the painters Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, the writers Dylan Thomas and Jeffrey Bernard, and the socialite Henrietta Moraes and Muriel Belcher, proprietor of fabled drinking den the Colony Room.

Coinciding with an exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery, Under the Influence: John Deakin, Photography and the Lure of Soho explores the hidden corners and colourful characters of this notorious part of London as seen through Deakin’s eyes. With dozens of his most compelling images, letters and contact sheets, it is an evocative record of life in and around the four parallels of Wardour, Dean, Frith and Greek streets in the 1950s and 1960s, the backdrop for this creative and maverick figure ‘whose pictures take you by the scruff of the neck and insist that you see’.

Robin Muir is a photographic curator and historian. A former picture editor for British Vogue, he is contributing editor to both the British and Russian editions of the magazine. He is author of numerous books on the history of photography, including David Bailey: Chasing Rainbows (2001), A Maverick Eye: The Street Photography of John Deakin (2002), Norman Parkinson: Portraits in Fashion (2004), Unseen Vogue: The Secret History of Fashion Photography (2004) and Terence Donovan Fashion (2012). 


What others say

‘Deakin’s portraits of Soho characters and artists changed photography.… His wayward talent, only partially recognised at the time, makes it essential viewing on its own merits.… [His] photographs are timeless … our best record of the old bohemia, and some are masterpieces. Deakin was out on his own, a pariah in his way, but also a pioneer. ‘ — Guardian G2

‘The images are a marvellous record of the Soho of the 50s and 60s – a time when the area enjoyed a wealth of bohemianism and dissolution, its bars stuffed with dipsomaniac writers and artists like Dylan Thomas, Frank Auerbach, Lucian Freud and Bacon himself, all of whom Deakin photographed, along with the general riff-raff of Soho.’ — AnOther Magazine

‘Deakin’s photographs reveal the hidden corners and colourful figures of the 1950s and 60s Soho scene.… The modern feel to his images is remarkable.’ — Black+White Photography

‘This beautifully produced book testifies to a talent that still astonishes. Clapping it shut you will be struck by a powerful sense that when the glory days of Soho are remembered it will be largely through the dark-adapted eye of John Deakin.’ — Guardian

‘Newsstands and drag artists sit alongside Soho’s inner circle in this nostalgic black-and-white series.’ — Nowness

‘He has a drunk’s sensitivity as well as a drunk’s aggression, and the lives of his sitters in all their glamorous and grotesque contradictions pour out of these pictures.’ — Time Out

Under the Influence is a beautifully produced book that does justice to Deakin’s extraordinary images in its exquisite reproduction of the black and white images in particular. These photographs leap from the page enhanced by the book’s design – clean and uncluttered, with blank white pages throughout – that allow the images to convey their stories without distraction.… Muir’s prose reads more like fiction such is the fascinating tale of Deakin’s numerous rises and falls and the pace of the narrative.… Wrapped in a dark aubergine fabric with Deakin’s portrait of author JP Donleavy, resplendent in a fur trimmed coat sitting in a Soho bar, inlaid on the cover, Under the Influence holds within its covers the unfurling of a story that once known is not easily forgotten.’ — Photojournalism Now

If you ever want to know what the 1950s looked like, seek out his images. Deakin shot the bohemians of Soho – the artists, the writers, the chancers and the drunks. He pinned them all to the page in images so sharp you could cut your eye on them.’ — Herald