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Interview: Perry Ogden on Lipstick

published on 31 July 2015

Perry Ogden speaks to Lou Stoppard about creating Lipstick magazine while studying at Eton.

Perry Ogden speaks to Lou Stoppard about creating Lipstick magazine while studying at Eton.

Lou Stoppard: Did you always love magazines when you were growing up? Which titles in particular inspired you?

Perry Ogden: I got into magazines very early on. Growing up in the seventies in London, there were a lot of music magazines. Sounds, NME and Melody Maker were the main music mags I was into and from there I started looking at Rolling Stone. It was quite a different magazine in the seventies; it was much bigger in terms of content with more political stories, a much broader range of what it covered – things like Vietnam. Of course I was looking at Vogue and when I was sent to Eton I discovered that you could get a subscription; you could order all these magazines! Your parents would get the bill but not for about six months! Other magazines that were inspiring me included Ritz - David Bailey and Litchfield’s magazine, which was inspired by Interview magazine. At that time there were far fewer magazines. I would say that the dominant publications were about music. Then in 1976 punk arrived, which for people of my generation was phenomenal. It was just incredibly exciting, revolutionary, and of course, the magazines that started out of that were fanzines – Sniffin’ Glue and all those magazines. They were photocopied in the cheapest possible way and look brilliant now that everything is so polished. Those were the kinds of magazines that I was looking at and inspired by.

LS: Those rough zines look better than ever today don’t they? So, where did that interest in print lead you?

PO: I started working as an assistant photographer in the school holidays when I was about fourteen or fifteen - I was very keen on photography. My mother had been a journalist and she was the Women’s Page Editor of The Times. When I was eleven, I went to the City of London School in Blackfriars and The Times was across the road. After school I’d play football and eventually get thrown out of the playground, so I would go to Mum’s office, hang out there, and be sent off to the printers. Nobody prints like that any more, but I would be sent off to hang out with the printers, set some type and get a cheese roll. I became fascinated by the printing presses - the smell of the printing press, the lead type and just the whole process. I think that was my introduction to photography and the dark room. Later, I went to work for a photographer who had his own darkroom, a photographer called John Timbers, who died in the last few years. He had been assistant to Tony Armstrong-Jones [Lord Snowdon] for five years. He had a lovely studio with daylight in Netherton Grove, Fulham. It was a very old-school, traditional apprenticeship; I worked for him in the school holidays, just sweeping the floor, making cups of tea, then processing film, printing, everything. I got a very rounded view of photography. That was my introduction to the professional side of photography. I was also reading all these magazines, looking at pictures, seeking out books like David Bailey’s Box of Pin-upsand Goodbye Baby and Amen, Avedon books, Penn books - those were what I was looking at at that time. Then I just wanted to do a magazine of my own. There was an opportunity at Eton in the final year for someone to do a magazine for the school, it was part of a thing called the ‘Fourth of June’, which is like the school open day. So some friends and I applied and we were given the opportunity.

LS: Was there stiff competition for that, do you remember?

PO: There were always people applying to do it and for some reason - I can’t even remember what we said in our application - we were given it. It was co-edited by my friend Rory Phillips and I, and there were a few other people involved, like Justin Adams - who now plays with Robert Plant’s band - he was with me when we went to interview Joe Strummer. But the magazine could only make £25 profit. Everything else had to go to charity, which was fine. But I really concentrated on the advertising because those magazines like Interviewand Ritz had really great ads; Fiorucci ads, or Olympus ads, ads that were almost specifically tailored for the magazine. We contacted some of the same people, like Olympus, and Fiorucci, and Lotus, and a lot of them came up with really lovely ads to put in the magazine. They were paying for the space so we had made quite a big profit before we even sold a copy, which gave us an excuse to go to New York. I went for the first time in the Easter holidays of 1979, on Freddie Laker, for £49 return and stayed with some friends of my parents on the Upper East Side. I went to interview Diana Vreeland in the Costume Institute at the Met; she was running it at the time. She was amazing - incredibly warm, generous, enthusiastic, inspiring. She was the most amazing person I’d met and the hour or so I spent with her will remain with me for a long, long time. She actually rang up Richard Avedon, while I was sitting there, saying, ‘Dick you have to meet this cute young English photographer!’ He was in New York for a few days, but was going away the next day and I actually never got to meet him. I also interviewed and photographed Andy Warhol in The Factory, which was on Union Square at that time. It was the second Factory and I went up and spent a couple of hours there and then he and Fred Hughes invited me to Studio 54.

LS: Tell me about that night, it sounds amazing; it was the night of the Oscars?

PO: I guess my eyes were slightly out on stalks. I thought I was this eighteen year old who knew quite a bit because I had grown up in London, but actually seeing all these girls in Studio 54 was quite something. The Oscars were on and they had these huge screens everywhere and I’d never really seen massive TVs. Huge screens everywhere - I remember it really well. Laurence Olivier was given the Lifetime Achievement Award. It was an incredibly interesting night; there was so much to take in. It was just wave after wave of seeing things and New York/Studio 54 life couldn’t have been more different to Eton life or London life for an eighteen-year-old.

LS: What did your Eton pals think? Was this idea of doing a fashion and culture magazine quite different for the school? Did most people apply to do a political magazine?

PO: I think so, yes. I think that magazines had been quite straight up until that point or had more of a narrow focus - there were traditions. I was aware of people like Nick Coleridge and Craig Brown - a few years older than myself - who had edited the Eton College Chronicle, and maybe gone on and done an independent magazine themselves. But theirs would have been more literary/political/school based, chronicling the school’s comings and goings. Whereas Lipstick was really trying to do what had never been done before, with a fashion/music slant. The people we interviewed were Joe Strummer, Andy Warhol, Diana Vreeland, David Bailey and the actress Diana Rigg. There were different articles and my aunt, Brigid Keenan, wrote a book called The Women We Want To Look Like, so she gave us permission to use a piece of that and a lot of the photographs from it. There were also some Bailey photographs. Warhol gave us permission to use some of his images - I think they were sports images. It was a very visual magazine.

LS: Why do you think people agreed to take part? Was it Francis Bacon who said no?

PO: Francis Bacon was the first painter I was really aware of and was drawn to. Through being at Eton and the art schools there, we did ceramics and screen-printing and all kinds of things, there was a wealth of books, a great library, and that’s where I first picked up John Russell’s book on Bacon. I remember it very well and getting a copy myself. So I’d actually wanted to go and photograph Francis Bacon but I didn’t have any contact for him, I think I wrote to the Marlborough Gallery and never heard another word. At that time I guess I was a little shyer and I just left it at that. I didn’t know that he lived at 7 Reece Mews and I could have gone and knocked on the door and he probably would have opened the door and been intrigued, which would have been amazing. Much later I did get there and did my whole Bacon series of photos. I think we were also keen on Bob Marley at the time, but we couldn’t track him down either.

LS: That’s funny. Why do you think the people who did it said yes? Do you think it was something about it being schoolboys? What was it that made people give up their time?

PO: It’s hard to know. Diana Vreeland, I just wrote to, I didn’t have any introduction or anything. But I guess I wrote to her on Eton College headed notepaper, so, you know, that obviously helped. And Bailey I think my aunt probably twisted his arm, because she had worked with him a lot in the seventies. But Joe Strummer we had to pursue. There were many occasions where he didn’t show up, or we couldn’t get hold of him. Then he turned up eventually, we were in a milk bar in the Edgware Road and he turned up with this girl, all sort of decked out and punk-y. She didn’t really say anything - but after about five minutes we said, ‘Oh yeah and this mag is for the ‘Fourth of June’,’ and she says ‘Oh! I’ve been to the ‘Fourth of June’!’ It was like, ‘Oh! So you’re quite a posh girl, masquerading as this sort of London punk!’

LS: It’s interesting to think of it as 1979 - was it very important to you to reflect punk in the magazine? And was that quite a conscious decision by putting Strummer in there?

PO: The Clash were such an important band that there was nobody more important at the time in a way. For us, certainly for myself and Justin, it was just this incredible attitude they had. I think the only other thing would have been Jamaican reggae and Bob Marley. It’s interesting - when I came back from New York, The Police were on the Freddie Laker flight, down the back with me. But we just loved The Clash. I was talking to people about it the other day - you know, that one group obsession - and it’s very hard to tell because you’re never the same age again and things aren’t rolling over you in the same way, but I wonder if there’s been anything like that since, as powerful as that - such a radical sort of transformation.

‘When you’re that age and when you’re taking your first photographs, you start trying to emulate something or someone. You’re looking at things and thinking, ‘How did they do that? And how can I do that?’ You’re finding your way. In that sense, Lipstick is definitely a homage.’

LS: I’m intrigued by how Lipstick is such a reflection of that period, but doesn’t seem that much of a reflection of youth culture. It’s not like you were trying to talk about your own experiences, it was more about the icons. Was that the Interview and Ritz influence?

PO: I guess it was the fact we were keen to get a certain number of people to interview and we had to think very carefully; Who would those people be? What did they represent? So you had music, you had photography, you had fashion, painting/art and then theatre/film. I think those were the five things I was really interested in. Each person was somebody representing that world and the best person we could get.

LS: It’s very interesting that you approached it less like an exercise in journalism or photography but more like this process of creating an object, almost like a tribute to your favourite magazines, or your favourite people.

PO: When you’re that age and when you’re taking your first photographs, you start trying to emulate something or someone. You’re looking at things and thinking, ‘How did they do that? And how can I do that?’ You’re finding your way. It’s definitely a homage. But I think in terms of the content, we knew it was a one-off. It probably wasn’t going to be done again. When I left school and started working full time as an assistant, I went to see Terence Donovan and I showed him the magazine. He said, ‘You should start up a magazine, you should do a magazine.’ But I kind of felt that I didn’t really know enough to do it. I got involved in different magazines around the time - I remember one called Midnight and I remember shooting pictures for them when I was still assisting. They did this big format magazine that probably had 2 or 3 issues. There was a lot of activity at the time. I think I was set on being a photographer and making that work. I dedicated myself to assisting, so I could learn the trade, as it were, and set up on my own, which I did in 1982. My own studio was in Rosebery Avenue, close to where I grew up. At that time, it was a very small world. Now there are so many magazines, there are so many photographers; the whole thing’s radically changed.

LS: Were you very proud of Lipstick when it came out? Do you remember the reaction to it? Did the people who you interviewed write to you after they’d seen it?

PO: Diana Vreeland wrote. Diana Rigg wrote. I didn’t hear anything from Bailey. [both laugh] Fred Hughes acknowledged it. Strummer - I don’t know if he ever saw it. I remember it though in a funny way, because I guess I was proud - but it was also just that feeling of, ‘We’re done.’ We’d pulled it off. It was like doing a big shoot or whatever - you’re just like, ‘Great, we did it.’ It actually went really well and better than we’d expected – we were really happy with the pictures, but the next day or the next week you’re onto something else. You know how it is, you’re making it and you’re doing it and putting it out there and you’re the last person to be able to reflect on the response to it. But we sold quite a lot of copies - it was 50p a copy. Now they are so hard to find. I’m sure at the time I had a few boxes left! We might have had 2000 printed, or 1500. We figured that whatever we printed, that we would sell them all. But I have a few copies. But you know I sort of forgot about it for many years when I was doing all my photography and then suddenly people started asking about it - Idea Books and a few people before - but I couldn’t find a copy of it. I guess as I became better known as a photographer people were sort of intrigued about me - ‘How did you start out? What did you do?’ that sort of thing. But it’s not something I’d ever really publicised, that I’d done it, some people had just heard of it. I was like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s what I did at school … Don’t look at that!’ [both laugh]

LS: It must have been scary when you couldn’t find it.

PO: It’s funny because it wasn’t like a great loss at the time, but now, of course, I would be saddened if I didn’t have a copy because it’s just good for the archive.

LS: One thing we haven’t spoken that much about is the process of you actually shooting the people. We’ve talked about contacting and meeting them… Did you feel experienced enough to do it or was it that feeling of kind of going into something and thinking, ‘I have no idea if this is going to be okay…’

PO: When I went to photograph Bailey it was a little nerve-racking. I think I had an Olympus OM-1 then and I remember we had to wait quite a long time - he was doing a shoot. He had a house in Primrose Hill and the ground floor of the house was a studio and he was doing the shoot there. Caesar, this guy who sort of looked after his house, showed us around. There were a lot of parrots and birds and things - he had a little aviary out the back – and there was a dark room in the basement. And finally we were ushered into the studio. I think I did the photo after the interview - so I think Bailey asked his assistant to light it. With Strummer we just went out into the street on the Edgware Road, and Diana Vreeland was in her dressing room so everything was different. I didn’t really have a major plan - I was just trying to photograph everyone in situ and just check that the light looked alright!

LS: Do you like the images, looking back on them?

PO: They’re fine. I guess what’s interesting about them is they’re very front-on. They’re very portrait-y in a sort of semi-confrontational way. Just very straight on to the subjects - not trying to do anything too clever. You just get what you see. I guess that was my thing – I’d say ‘I really want to get you head-on, straight-on like that.’ I don’t think I was referencing anybody’s photography specifically. It was probably a bit daunting, because I wasn’t in a position to be taking lights anywhere and I was still very much learning all of that. I was still very much in school. But I guess I did have a sense of lighting because I’d already been working as an assistant. But I wasn’t in a position to be able to kind of bring a whole load of Balcars, as they would have been at the time, and sort of light the room or light the person, I don’t think. So it was just really trying to work with what was available.

LS: And how did your family influence you? Your aunt, and your mum - her being a journalist?

PO: I knew my mum was a journalist and everything, but I guess because she had died when I was eleven I didn’t know that much about it. She and my aunt Bridget were very tight and I guess I knew a bit more about what my aunt was doing, but I still didn’t really know what she was up to. You know how it is when you’re a child at that age and stuff - so it was only later that I really became fully aware of what they were doing. But maybe it was enough just that I was exposed to that. I did become kind of interested, more and more interested, in that world. And certainly the idea of writing has always been something within me - I still enjoy if I get asked to write a piece or do something for a magazine, but it’s very time consuming, writing, as you know, because it’s like sculpting.

LS: It’s the worst feeling if it’s not coming to you as well.

PO: And you’re forever chipping away as well - chipping away and taking things away and every word has got to have a reason for being there. But hey, I love writing myself and I love reading and I love being exposed to good writing.

LS: Does Eton still offer that opportunity and let people do a magazine? Have you seen anyone’s since yours?
PO: You know I haven’t seen anything for years and years, so I have no idea what’s going on there now. But certainly I know that there were more magazines after that and I know too that Jay Jopling did a magazine. And I see Jay every now and then and I know that he said that he did a magazine because he was inspired by my magazine. I think his was probably arts based as well. I am sure I did see it years ago. But at the time you see these things and it’s only much later that you think, ‘Oh I should have hung onto a copy of that and a copy of that.’ It’s a bit like books sometimes - you had them, but where have they gone now? We were so lucky at Eton. I was very lucky that there was a photography course. I chose to do it when I was thirteen, so in my first term there I was exposed to a dark room and pin hole camera and processing sheets of film. That was definitely a catalyst too for taking more and more interest in magazines and pictures. When I looked at a magazine I had a sense of what was going on – I could think, ‘Okay, I understand how that’s been made, how that picture’s happened,’ rather than, ‘Oh, how did they do that?’ For me, it was a great school to go to and it afforded me so many opportunities.

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