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Proud Chelsea Presents - Image of an Icon: A Collaborative Exhibition

Muhammad Ali, The Champ, Fifth Street Gym, Miami Beach, Florida, 1978 © Michael Gaffney

Proud Chelsea's latest exhibit features rare and never-before-seen photos of some of the 20th Century's most influential icons.

If you’ve ever wished you could be in the same room as some of the greatest and most influential icons of the 20th Century, then you’re in luck. Proud Chelsea’s latest exhibit offers visitors a unique opportunity to explore photographs of the most prominent figures of this past century, all under one roof.

Proud Galleries is known for its engaging, pop-centric photography exhibits, so it is fitting that they should celebrate their twenty-year history by presenting Image of an Icon: A Collaborative Exhibition at their Chelsea gallery. In this singular exhibition, visitors are taken on a journey through the past as they get the opportunity to view rare and never-before-seen portraits of fashion, music, sport, and film icons, all through the lenses of the photographers who got up-close and personal to them.
Walking into the gallery, it immediately strikes you how special these photos really are. The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Andy Warhol, Jimi Hendrix, and Debbie Harry are all there, like long-lost friends you feel you’ve known your whole life. Looking closer at the individual photos, you see these superstars smiling, laughing, acting silly, and caught in magical, fleeting moments. They have been immortalized despite no longer being with us.
These rare, candid moments are beautiful reminders of these megastars’ humanity, despite their often god-like reputations. Particularly striking are the photos of Muhammad Ali and David Bowie, both of whom died earlier this year. It is strange looking at the huge portrait of Bowie as Ziggy Stardust and having the image stare back at you, almost as if he were there in person. Similarly eerie are the pictures of Edie Sedgwick, Andy Warhol’s troubled muse, whom we see looking carefree and happy. Knowing how tragic her life became after having been alienated from Warhol's inner circle, and the battles with fame and drug addiction that plagued her life, it feels oddly sad and curious looking at photos of a happy Edie.

Twiggy wearing a silver fox fur coat by Ossie Clark, 1972, © Justin de Villeneuve

Alongside these rather emotional photographic reincarnations of the deceased are wonderful photos of other celebrities that are still with us. A mesmerizing photo taken by Justin de Villeneuve of Twiggy, the world’s first supermodel and fashion muse, is particularly special, and is a reminder of why she was such an inspiration to aspiring models growing up in the Swinging Sixties. Seeing Mick Jagger and Keith Richards looking young and fresh-faced in their early days of stardom is also a fascinating trip down memory lane and these photos stand as testaments of these stars’ lasting effect on popular culture.
Jane Birkin, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, and racing driver Ayrton Senna are just some of the other stars that are featured at Proud Chelsea. If you’re a Beatles fan, you’ll love the never-before-seen shot of the band filming Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane by photographer Mike Champion. And for all you cinephiles, there is a collection of captivating behind-the-scenes snaps of Withnail & I, captured by internationally renowned photographer Murray Close.
It’s interesting seeing these photographs displayed at Proud Chelsea, a gallery located on the main drag of the King’s Road. In the 1960s, this road was the epicentre of of the Swinging Sixties, and The Rolling Stones could often be found hanging out at the Chelsea Drugstore which was once a hip complex of bars, cafes an record shops but which has since been turned into a McDonald's. Whereas this area was once known for its rebellious, counter culture reputation, the Chelsea we know today is quite the opposite. With its luxury shops and even a popular T.V series dedicated to exposing the lifestyles of its rich and privileged residents, Chelsea’s punk, anarchist status is a distant memory.
Displaying the portraits of people who were known for their rebellious attitudes in the very sanitized environment of modern Chelsea unavoidably feels a little disjointed. However, in the same way that the photographs conjure up the past in the most wonderful of ways, Proud Chelsea’s exhibition brings to life the King’s Road’s legacy.
Whether you’re a history fan, a photography enthusiast, a music lover, or a pop-culture junkie, Image of an Icon: A Collaborative Exhibition is a wonderful glimpse into the more private personas of our most beloved celebrities. Go get yourself some satisfaction and take a trip down memory lane with this unique exhibit.
Image of an Icon: A Collaborative Exhibition is showing between 11th August  – 18th September at Proud Chelsea, 161 King's Rd, London SW3 5XP. Visit Proud Galleries' website for more information.