At the age of seven, Harold Chapman was already taking, developing and printing photographs. His creativity was allowed to develop freely when he left his native town of Deal in Kent and moved to London. Meeting John Deakin in Soho in 1954 was a turning-point in his career which was to influence his style that developed during the late 1950s and early 1960s in Paris. Alex Noble, Exhibition Organiser at The Photographers’ Gallery, London, writes in her monograph on John Deakin’s life for an exhibition in the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1984/5: “…his documentary work…was enormously influential on a younger generation of photographers, including Harold Chapman and probably Anthony Armstrong-Jones.”
Harold Chapman moved to Paris in 1956 and lived in a thirteenth-class hotel on the Left Bank, which became known as the “Beat Hotel”. Its owner, Madame Rachou, fiercely protected her brood of artists. Sometimes her residents were so out of pocket that they paid their room-rent in paintings. It was there that Harold Chapman met and photographed William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Brion Gysin and a host of other people who were to become prominent in the world, particularly in the arts and publishing.
Harold Chapman spent seven years in the hotel, during which he worked ceaselessly to produce a documentation of Paris everyday street life. There he met and photographed Peter Golding who, some thirty-five years later, became a major collector of his work. Whilst living in Paris, Harold Chapman also met Ted Joans and photographed ground-breaking happenings. But much of the Paris he photographed – such as the central food market of Les Halles – was soon to vanish. Long after the Beat Hotel had closed in 1963, some of the work he did during that period was published by Quadrangle/ The New York Times Book Company in a book called Vanishing France. Of its text and photographs, Claude Lévi-Strauss, an eminent anthropologist of the Académie française, wrote: “John L. Hess’ text and Harold Chapman’s photographs not only make up a book both moving and poetic; they will also prove immensely valuable to future scholars when the France which they describe will have completely disappeared and given place to a new, albeit different one.”
The Beat Hotel was a major turning-point in Harold Chapman’s career. Whilst there, paying a mere four francs a night for his room, he started a colour cookery book for Flammarion, one of Paris’ prestigious publishing houses. Another cookery book, a cheese book and contributions to a book on wine were to follow. His room was so cheap that he was able to afford frequent trips to England where he freelanced for Fleet Street newspapers and documented the colourful, zany London of the Sixties – but often with an emphasis on vanishing aspects of London, juxtaposed with the new.
In the late 1960s and early 70s, Harold Chapman photographed street fashion on the King’s Road, London, for The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
In the 1970s and early ’80s, he worked in Britain doing picture research and produced several books including Victorian Life in Photographs (Thames & Hudson, 1974); The Day Before Yesterday (J.M. Dent, 1978); Memory Lane (J.M. Dent, 1980); and Those Were The Days (J.M. Dent, 1983).
In France, he travelled extensively photographing monuments, buildings and landscapes and contributed to the Librairie Larousse series of books and magazines, Beautés de la France. He also covered fashion for the New York Times in Paris and contributed to Medical World News and Medical Tribune.
In 1973 he was a founder member of a Southern French regional magazine, Connaissance du Pays d’Oc, for which he did reportage and illustrated guides to several départements. In 1974, he illustrated Thames & Hudson’s The Complete Guide to London’s Street Markets. His interest in megaliths led him to travel extensively in England, Brittany, and the Languedoc where he lived, photographing dolmens, menhirs and stone circles for use in books and magazines.
In 1979/80, he spent a year living in his Deux Chevaux van, travelling round France taking the photographs for Everyman’s France, published by J.M. Dent in 1982.
In 1984, The Beat Hotel was published by Montpellier/Geneva based publisher, gris banal. Valued at $400-600 in the Allen Ginsberg and Friends Auction in Sotheby’s New York in 1999, a copy of this book sold for $2,250. It was also described in a Sotheby’s Olympia 2 catalogue (Inspirational Times) in 2003 as a cult work.
During the 1970s and 80s, Harold Chapman took photographs for stock agencies, including Fotogram (France); Topham Picture Library (UK); The Image Works (USA); The Bettmann Archives (USA); Firo-Foto (Spain). In the 1990s, he illustrated calendars (black and white and colour); brochures for hotels, a lycée, etc.; two landscape books on the Hérault; and contributed to Vacances en Campagne, a British self-catering holiday company.
Moving back to Britain in 1993, Harold Chapman spent some time in his native Kent photographing the remains of World War Two coastal defences and writing and illustrating articles for Syndicated Features.
But interest in his earlier black and white work started to grow, and after a couple of exhibitions in his home town of Deal, he was invited in 1997 by the French Institute of South Africa and the British Council of Johannesburg to have a Beat Hotel exhibition in an old factory now turned cultural centre in Johannesburg. This exhibition was then shown at the Grahamstown Festival and travelled to Cape Town where it was shown in the Joâo Ferreira Fine Arts Gallery. The entire Beat Hotel exhibition was purchased by art collectors Rolf Goellnitz and RoxAnn Madera from Duesseldorf.
In 1998, Harold Chapman’s work appeared in the thirtieth anniversary issue of Creative Camera, a leading British photographic magazine, to which he had contributed thirty years previously in the first issue. Interviewed in December 1968, Chapman declared: “…there is no need for the contrived shot. Pictures are everywhere. So why set up a photograph when the natural one is infinitely better?” He added: “I am photographing for the future, not for the present… All I aim for is to record the trivial things that ordinary people use and consider unimportant.”
In 2000, the Beat Hotel exhibition was shown in Europe for the first time, in Restaurant Le Pressoir de Saint Saturnin in the South of France. A limited edition portfolio of twenty pictures from the Beat Hotel was produced by João Ferreira Fine Art, Cape Town, and Rolf Goellnitz and RoxAnn Madera of Open Mind Communication (OMC), Duesseldorf, to coincide with the exhibition.
In April 2000, Booker Prize winning British novelist, Ian McEwan, who had met Harold Chapman in 1974, wrote an article about the photographer entitled A spy in the name of art, which was published in the Saturday Review of the Guardian. Summing up Harold Chapman’s work, he concluded: “If Chapman were merely a chronicler in a great documentary tradition, his achievement would be impressive enough. His lustrous landscapes of the Herault valley in the Languedoc, his priceless record of the Beat Hotel, his omnivorous, year-on-year transcription of daily life and its little undercurrents, would ensure his reputation as a photographer of the first rank. But it was constructive paranoia that made him an artist.”
In September 2001, OMC co-published with Edition Michael Kellner of Hamburg a book called Beats à Paris. In May 2003, OMC teamed up with world famous dinner host, Jim Haynes, to show the exhibition, Beats à Paris, in his atelier in Matisse’s old studio in Montparnasse.
From January – May 2005, Vancouver Art Gallery held an exhibition called Real Pictures, celebrating a major acquisition of photography by the gallery, and produced a large book with a photograph of the Beat Hotel cafe used as a wrap-around cover. The same image was also used on the Preview invitation card sent to members of the Leadership Circle who support the gallery.
In February 2006, the first InterZone Beat Festival celebrating William Burroughs’ birthday was held in the Beat Hotel, Desert Hot Springs, California. Accompanied by photographs from the OMC Gallery (now of Huntington Beach, California) showing the original Beat Hotel in Paris, it marked the first exhibition of Harold Chapman’s work in the United States.
A year later, to celebrate his 80th birthday on March 26, 2007, a retrospective of his work was shown at the OMC Gallery. Another retrospective opened simultaneously at Elisabeth Sephton’s gallery in Deal. His eightieth birthday year continued with several more exhibitions, including a restored negative of the One Man Band, which was his first picture published in a national newspaper called Reveille for the Weekend, in 1952.
From the early 2000s to the present day, Harold Chapman documents his locality, makes slide shows and is working on future exhibitions.
Reviews of Harold Chapman’s work
“… Harold Chapman’s photographs will… prove immensely valuable to future scholars when the France which they describe will have completely disappeared and given place to a new, albeit different one.” (Claude Lévi-Strauss de l’Académie française, 30 July 1975, in a letter to Roger Jellinek, the publisher of John L. Hess’ Vanishing France, Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Co., 1975).
“Accompanying Hess’ words on every page are exceptional photographs by Harold Chapman, a Briton who has lived for many years in southern France. Alongside Hess’ essays, each of Chapman’s people and places assumes the quality of a relic.” (Gene Bourg, in his review of Vanishing France, The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, La., 5 October 1975)
“They are very fine photographs… the publisher should have… published Mr. Chapman’s photographs in a volume of their own, accompanied by extended captions written by someone fond of France, well acquainted with it, and sensitive enough to provide words worthy of the pictures – Mr. Hess, perhaps?” (Waverley Root, in her review of Vanishing France, International Herald Tribune, 19 November 1975)
“I hope this book sells by the thousands… The photographs are wonderful, and a good change from the picture books of France which we have been served for the last few decades. My only problem was in adjusting to the fact that more often than not the photographs are not illustrations of the text. Shots of Les Halles continued after John had stopped talking about that subject. But when one gets used to the fact that these are two separate books, each to be appreciated by itself, one has the feeling of receiving double value.” (Laurence Wylie, C. Douglas Dillon Professor of the Civilization of France, Harvard University, 5 August 1975, in a letter to Roger Jellinek, publisher of Vanishing France)
“I want you to know that I will always be interested in how your work evolves.” (Jean-Claude Lemagny, Cabinet des Estampes, Bibliothèque nationale, Paris, 4 April 1971, in a letter to Harold Chapman)
“Harold Chapman has captured the more spontaneous side of Les Halles, its quirks and comedies, the magical spectacle…” (Claire Parry, in a limited edition portfolio of Les Halles, published by Editions Ottezec, Codognan, 1985)
“Halfway between the real world and pure imagination, Harold Chapman: an eye fascinated by urban civilization, people threatened by giant advertising posters, faces distorted as if by mirrors.” (André Laude, Combat, in his review of club 30 x 40’s exhibition of thirteen photographers, curated by Jean-Claude Lemagny, in the Galerie de la Bibliothèque nationale, rue de Richelieu, Paris, 5 Febuary 1972)
“A lens is intended to peer and to pry, is it not? Harold Chapman is from the same school as Cartier-Bresson: his pictures are timed to the split second in shots of street corners, brief moments, glimpses of people.” (Christine Rigal, L’Alsace, in her review of Harold Chapman’s exhibition in the Musée du Château de Belfort, 14 July 1979)
“An album in the style of Hemingway, Henry Miller or Vian… a wonderful book that sums up an era.” (Vif, Brussels, January 1985, on the photo album, The Beat Hotel, published in 1984 by François Lagarde of gris banal, Montpellier)
“It is not just nostalgia but a slice of cultural history and illustrates, in passing, why photography will never be ousted by other media.” (Colin Osman, Creative Camera, in his review of The Beat Hotel, February 1985)
“Harold Chapman, a passionate enthusiast of the Bohemian scene in Paris at the end of the 50s, has compiled a document that is will fascinate not only those who love Paris, but equally those who are interested in American literature.” (Liliane Giraudon, in her review of The Beat Hotel, Impressions du Sud, December 1984)
“This rivals anything from the Beaux-Arts. A great achievement.” (Lise Ott, in her review of The Beat Hotel, Journal de Montpellier, 1984)
“Here with Harold Chapman’s photographs is a long loving look at many aspects of French life – in towns and in the country, today and in neolithic times.” (The Daily Telegraph, 24 June 1982, in its review of Everyman’s France by Maxine Feifer, published by J.M. Dent)
“…Harold Chapman… has often been a catalyst, enabling other artists and writers to discover themselves.” (Pius Wetzel, owner of the Auberge du Pressoir de Saint-Saturnin, in an interview for the Midi Libre, a regional newsaper in the South of France, marking the first European showing of the Beat Hotel exhibition in May 2000)
“For Harold, who taught me how to hold my breath and press!.. Affectionately, Martine” (Martine Franck, 1976, in a handwritten message in her first book, Contrejour, designed by Robert Delpire)
“For Harold Chapman, who showed the author how to see. With love and gratitude, Gloria Emerson.” (Handwritten message in Gloria Emerson’s book, Winners & Losers, March 1977, published by Random House, New York, which received the 1978 National Book Award for Nonfiction)
“I just wanted to thank you very much for your help in the photographs for my ‘Markets’ book for Thames and Hudson which is just about to be published. Everyone I have shown the book to is immensely enthusiastic about the photographs, and indeed I have great admiration for the way you have captured the naturalness of the scenes. I am afraid in many instances, the text falls short of the photographs in quality.” (Jeremy Cooper of Sotheby’s Belgravia, in a letter to Harold Chapman on 5 August 1974)
“His pictures are always simple, never exotic or faked… he doesn’t show regret for the passing of time. But he is there, to act as witness.” (Jean Pallarès, La Marseillaise, October 1982, on Harold Chapman’s exhibition of “Portraits of Women”)
“Chapman… can be readily compared with Cartier-Bresson, Brassaï or Doisneau.” (Bernard Fichet, Midi Libre, April 2000, in an article about the photographer and announcing the Beat Hotel exhibition to be held in May-July in the Auberge du Pressoir, Saint-Saturnin, Hérault, South of France)
“If Chapman were merely a chronicler in a great documentary tradition, his achievement would be impressive enough. His lustrous landscapes of the Herault valley in the Languedoc, his priceless record of the Beat Hotel, his omnivorous, year-on-year transcription of daily life and its little undercurrents, would ensure his reputation as a photographer of the first rank. But it was constructive paranoia that made him an artist.” (Booker Prize winning novelist, Ian McEwan, who met Harold Chapman in 1974, in an article about the photographer entitled A spy in the name of art, which was published in the Saturday Review of the Guardian, 29 April 2000)
“Through Harold Chapman’s photographs of a brief moment in time, many of us are able to meet the Beats at one of the most important periods in their development; we see the potential and the benefit of tolerant cultural environs; we encounter their revolutionary antics; we see writers who mattered, at work.” (Paul Wessels, in his review article, “Devoured by Myths”, on the Beat Hotel exhibition in the João Ferreira Fine Art Gallery, Cape Town, 1998)
“Harold Chapman’s book, The Beat Hotel, is a unique photographic document that has captured both the images and memories of the principal characters.” (Frédéric Jacques Temple, translator, writer and critic, in an article published in Nomades, 2000)
“Because of the excellence of the research that has gone into choosing the photographs, this is a perfect pictorial history of that period of immense social change between the hungry thirties and the dawn of a better life nearly a decade after the war.” (Catholic Herald, March 1981, in a review of Memory Lane – A Photographic Album of Daily Life in Britain 1930-1953, J.M. Dent 1980; picture research by Harold Chapman)
“…Harold Chapman’s picture research is a dire warning of where we may be heading.” (Derek Foster, in his review of Memory Lane. Yorkshire Post, 1980)
“Certainly not the stuff of nostalgia, but a sharp visual reminder of how much more sleek and better-equipped we have become in the past generation.” (Church Times, in its review of Memory Lane, December 1980)
“350 poignant photographs” (The Jerusalem Post, on Memory Lane, 1980)
“In a magnificent collection of over 350 photographs, Memory Lane tells the story of daily life in Britain… The grim days of the Depression, life on the Home Front…and the period of post-War recovery are illustrated in pictures that are sad, funny and full of surprises.” (The Lady, November 1980)
“…I have worked very closely indeed with the picture researcher, Harold Chapman, who has marvellously combined a dedicated pursuit of my guidelines, with indefatigable research in the most intractable archives… (doing) pioneer work… in basements and attics, sorting through uncatalogued material for which often only negatives existed.” (Professor Arthur Marwick, in his introduction to his book, The Home Front. Thames and Hudson, 1976)
“The Home Front contains the best, or at any rate the most original, collection of photographs (assembled by Harold Chapman) that I have seen.” (Brian Inglis, in The Guardian, December 1976)