From his attic room in the Beat Hotel in Paris, the photographer Harold Chapman was ideally placed to capture the central players in a literary revolution.
Born in Deal, Kent, in 1927, Harold Chapman began developing and printing photographs at the tender age of seven.
In his twenties Chapman moved to London and found work as a wedding photographer. He had a chance meeting in London’s Soho with legendary photographer John Deakin, who became something of a mentor.
Inspired by Deakin’s documentation of Parisian life, Chapman began to move between his small Bayswater bedsit and cheap hotels in Paris, where he photographed everyday life on the street.
In late 1957 another chance meeting led Chapman to Allen Ginsberg and a run-down 42 room residence hotel at 9 Rue Gît-le-Cœur, in the famed Latin quarter of Paris, The Beat Hotel. In 1958 Chapman moved into the hotel and began photographing the residents. He spent five years there and was the last resident to vacate in 1963, when its owner sold the property.
Described as “one of the best photographers of his generation”, Chapman meticulously chronicled the life and times of his fellow residents, among them William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Harold Norse, Gregory Corso.
It was here that, in front of Chapman’s camera, William S. Burroughs completed his famous Naked Lunch text, and here that Burroughs began what was to be a lifetime collaboration with artist Brion Gysin. It was at the Beat Hotel that Gysin and Ian Sommerville first conceived the Dream Machine, an art piece, and experimented with cut-up techniques. It was here that some of the most influential modern poetry was penned.
After moving out of the Beat Hotel, Chapman moved back to England and shot London’s Kings Road at the height of the swinging sixties, including fashion in the backdrop of Biba, Mr. Freedom, Granny Takes A Trip and I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet. His unique approach to photography made sure he rose through the ranks as one of the most respected photographers of his era, contributing to dozens of high-profile publications. Through the years Chapman has been the subject of countless exhibitions, both nationally and internationally.
Booker prize-winning novelist Ian McEwan wrote of Harold Chapman: “If Chapman were merely a chronicler in a great documentary tradition, his achievement would be impressive enough… But it was constructive paranoia that made him an artist.”
Harold Chapman’s photographic archive is exclusively represented by his agent of 50 years, TopFoto
To see a selection of Harold Chapman’s work click through to a curated gallery here