David Hamilton was a photographer and film-maker who specialised in images of young, often teenage women. He used soft focus to create painting-like effects, and achieved iconic status in the nineteen seventies. He committed suicide in November last year, at the age of 83, after a former model wrote a book denouncing him.
His photographs found a huge market in the nineteen seventies, for instance as wall posters and photobooks. According to Perry Hinton (a British specialist in cultural theory) Hamilton was in fact "one of the most popular photographers in the world" back then. Whether you like them or not, his works represent something of the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the time.
The word "iconic" also has religious overtones — an "icon" was originally a sacred image.
This makes "iconic" a fitting word here, because Hamilton's work has been described in religious language, for instance by July Stars (Jaja Hargreaves), a professional photographer of a later generation. Writing in the magazine I.T. Post, she describes how she first saw some of Hamilton's photos during her own adolescence, and what they meant to her:
I used to be a very shy girl growing up and his photographs just took me to this fantasy place where unconventionally and classically beautiful teenage girls could live innocently in bohemian settings. The intimacy and various stages of undress only added a necessary frisson. I just fell in love with David Hamilton’s work and was immediately converted. It was a revelation and I saw nothing crude, pornographic or vulgar in his images, only compelling and intensely moving portraits in caressing pools of light... Delicate and elegant beyond belief.
High praise indeed. Yet for me also, Hamilton's work has meant something which could only be described by words like "revelation".
In my early 20s, I bought a wall-poster version of a Hamilton photograph called Tender Illusion. The poster shows a young woman wearing a dress and a head scarf, sitting in a cane chair with her eyes gently closed and her legs uncovered. To me, she was a visible form of the goddess Aphrodite, and I remember saying so to another member of my family.
Hamilton specialised in photography of young females, aged from 13 to mid 20s, both clothed and nude.
He clearly did not photograph for pedophiles, i.e. adults sexually obsessed with prepubescent children.
That's why I have preferred the term "young women" to "girls" in the title of this article.
David Hamilton was publicly accused of many things, but legally convicted of nothing.
The chief witness in his trial-by-media was a woman named Flavie Flament, who modelled for Hamilton in the 1980s, when she was 13. She claimed she experienced mental suffering for 30 years because of the way Hamilton dealt with her in her youth, until therapy enabled her to remember the trauma and come to terms with it. A powerful and damaging claim.
However, there are a number of reasons to doubt what Flavie Flament says:
While Flavie Flament was the star witness in the media trial of Hamilton, she was not the only witness. An article in the news magazine L'Obs quotes a woman identified by the pseudonym "Alice", who says she continued modelling for Hamilton for several summers after he "raped" her. According to L'Obs, Alice and her father played a part in recruiting Flavie Flament to David Hamilton's team.
After David Hamilton's death, the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag did an interview with the actress Anja Schüte. She too modelled for David Hamilton as a teenager, but her recollection of him is very different from Flavie Flament's.
She described the photographer as a sensitive man, who abhorred violence, taught her a lot, and never treated her inappropriately. She had never heard of him treating other young women badly either.
Anja Schüte spent quite a lot of time working for David Hamilton — she appeared in three of his movies; and for her it was the beginning of a long career as a cinema and television actress.
Reflecting on sharply divided descriptions of David Hamilton, I was reminded of the way leaders of religious or quasi-religious groups and movements sometimes get similarly polarised reviews, with former acolytes often being among the most forceful denouncers.
Specifically, I began to think of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (later called Osho), who had his peak of popularity around the same period as David Hamilton, the 1970s (and early 1980s). The word "bohemian" is applicable to Rajneesh too — he and his followers characteristically seemed relaxed and spontaneous, free from conventions...
Like David Hamilton, Rajneesh was accused of many things, but convicted of nothing, except (in Rajneesh's case) some breaches of US immigration law. Conceivably his huge popularity enabled him to get away with other crimes...
With regard to both Hamilton and Rajneesh, I think it is important to get beyond both romantic enthusiasm and righteous denunciation.
By all means let's discuss, fairly and specifically, what they may have done wrong, but also what they may have got right. What was it that made them so popular in their heydays? In what way did they address the needs of their time?
Colin Robinson, January 2017
© Colin Robinson 2017
13 January 2017
Sorry Colin I cant get your feed back form to work so here is my comment on your David Hamilton Story
I was very aware of David Hamilton's work in my teen years. I did have horrendous child hood trauma including christian religious and family abuse and I was able to utilize Hamilton's work to over come this.
I was very conflicted about my gender, as I had been abused by my mother. I felt I needed to be strong and masculine and somewhat repulsive in order to survive. I still however, as all teenage girls do, had dreams of love. I craved human intimacy. So I lived suspended in the dichotomy of the emotional roller-coaster of youth, unsure of what would attract others to me in a safe way.
A mentor suggested that I do a project on femininity, what it is, what purpose it served, if any, and what its power is.
My project began with me cutting out David Hamilton's images and images of photographers copying his style in fashion spreads in magazines as varied as "Vogue" to "Dolly". I then pasted them into a scrap book along side essays on femininity, chivalry and the magic and power of being a woman. I continue to write about these topics to this day and have been privileged to have much of my work published.
There was even a trans-gender fashion spread copying Hamilton's work which made me really understand why a man would desire to become a woman. My project on femininity worked so well that after my divorce and the birth of my first child, I became a model. I live and worked for 4 years with a photographer who was also in love with David Hamilton's work and understood it the way that I did. The majority of Hamilton's work was not semi-nudes. I had pictures of girls wheeling pushbikes down country lanes, dressed in chambray summer dresses. Groups of girls, friends, having picnics, dressed in white and lace. They were timeless portraits of effortless attractiveness. They could have been from any place in any age. This was a universal principle. It was esoteric. Picnic At Hanging Rock took his genre to a mass media audience.
Many years later after I married I saw the Hamilton's movie Bilitis. The film was loosely based on a poem cycle by Pierre Louÿs entitled The Songs of Bilitis set in ancient Greece, although the film is set in modern Europe. Though very sexual, it was the story of a 16-year-old doing her own project on femininity and writing it down in the form of poems in her scrap book.
David Hamilton took me on a journey of self-discovery and helped me understand myself and the power of my femininity, as I am sure his work did for many other young women of my age.
Every Blessing to you
Here's one of Ric shots of me from that modeling period attached
its the only one of that style that I could find quickly
Every Blessing to you
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Sorry my feedback form didn't work with your browser.
Thank you for emailing your substantial comment, sharing about your past work with feminine images made or influenced by David Hamilton, and for the beautiful and very relevant photo.
What you've said about Hamilton's influence on magazine and film photography is in agreement with what Perry Hinton says in the academic paper I mentioned — Perry Hinton mentions Picnic at Hanging Rock too.
It sounds like there was some very serious pain in your childhood, leaving you with a lot to work on afterwards.
But isn't it a blessing to remember those who have helped us in our journeys? Both those we knew personally, like the mentor who suggested your femininity project, and those we knew through their published work, as you and I knew David Hamilton...
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It is always refreshing to hear from you.
All that stuff that happened to me seems like it was from another life time ago - I have had many beautiful partners and friends, not the least of which is the Goddess Kali, who have lifted me to allow me to be what I am today. At 53 I still feel powerful and feminine!
Jia Kalî ma !
I hope my little comment may be able to assist another who is either conflicted about David Hamilton or their own life.
In the deepest admiration of your work always
Every Blessing to you
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I think your comments — your personal tribute to David Hamilton — have enhanced the page very much. I'm confident that others will find your comments helpful.
It's wonderful that you feel so empowered by Goddess Kali, and it's very encouraging that you find my writings relevant.
Jai Ma Kali
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