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Photographer recalls David Bowie fracas as unseen photos go on show in Norwich

PUBLISHED: 15:25 06 December 2017 | UPDATED: 15:54 06 December 2017

Photographer David Koppel at his David Bowie exhibition at St Giles Street Gallery.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Photographer David Koppel at his David Bowie exhibition at St Giles Street Gallery. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2017

Photographer David Koppel tells the story of how David Bowie hit out over his paparazzi pictures. The unseen images feature in a new exhibition in Norwich.

Photographer David Koppel at his David Bowie exhibition at St Giles Street Gallery.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY Photographer David Koppel at his David Bowie exhibition at St Giles Street Gallery. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

It’s 1987 in world famous London nightclub Bootleggers, midway through the Glass Spider tour, internationally renowned paparazzi David Koppel sneaks in to the club through the basement kitchen, with a camera hidden in his coat.

Despite all photographers being banned from the party, Koppel seizes his chance, approaches the table, pulls his camera out and points it at Bowie, who happens to be sitting next to Mick Jagger.

David Bowie explodes into fury, screaming ‘No’, hurls himself across the table and strikes the snapper around the head screaming ‘You are so rude’.

Fast-forward 30 years, Koppel is telling us that after the confrontation, minders pulled him into a side room and ripped the film out of his camera.

Unseen photo of David Bowie featured in exhibition in Norwich. Photo: David Koppel/Pap Art Unseen photo of David Bowie featured in exhibition in Norwich. Photo: David Koppel/Pap Art

“He was right to do it,” exclaims Koppel about the encounter. “I intruded into a private gathering and paid the price. That didn’t bother me, but what did, was that three days later I was the official and only photographer to a music charity awards ceremony.

“I was terrified when Bowie arrived in the VIP room. I thought he would recognise me and give me another wallop. I hid behind my camera asking him to pose for various photos. It was extremely awkward being the official photographer but unable to talk to him.”

This little known story about Bowie comes to light as the St Giles Street Gallery in Norwich, in collaboration with the David Koppel Archive, is showcase the work of the ex-paparazzi photographer.

Koppel served his photographic apprenticeship in the rough-and-tumble world of the Fleet Street paparazzi in 1980s London, when his skills captured the very essence of the ‘Me Decade’ that gave birth to the celebrity culture of today.

Unseen photo of David Bowie featured in exhibition in Norwich. Photo: David Koppel/Pap Art Unseen photo of David Bowie featured in exhibition in Norwich. Photo: David Koppel/Pap Art

His latest show — titled simply ‘Bowie’ — showcases previously unseen photographs including David Bowie in concert and at the press conference for the Sound & Vision Tour in the Rainbow Theatre, at the aforementioned Music Awards ceremony and also in Legends Nightclub.

The exhibition also marks the launches Koppel’s limited edition digital silkscreen prints of Bowie merged with ticket stubs and press passes. All prints are stamped, numbered and signed by the artist in limited editions. Prices start at as little as £20 for a souvenir poster.

It demonstrates how far paparazzi photography has come from its street snapped origins. Celebrity images, particularly capturing off guard, not PR staged moments, are highly sought after and have jumped from straight reportage to the art gallery.

Koppel’s classic photographs of Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton and the Royal family have appeared in every major newspaper and magazine, marking him out as a rarity amongst press photographers: the artist with a camera.

Photographer David Koppel at his David Bowie exhibition at St Giles Street Gallery.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY Photographer David Koppel at his David Bowie exhibition at St Giles Street Gallery. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

In 2002 he bought the St Giles Street Gallery in Norwich with the express purpose of displaying and selling the best of local and international contemporary art and photography.

Koppel’s exploration of collage led him to revisit and re-master some of his old ‘celebrity’ works, merging them with memorabilia collected over many years.

Koppel’s work has developed through experimentation with digital images of his photographs on canvas. This new approach of “Pap Art” – a term that is now a Koppel trademark – led him to collaborate with artist John Kiki, and they have exhibiting their work in several galleries.

In the tradition of its predecessor pop art, and under the direct influence of pop art’s acknowledged master Andy Warhol, Kiki and Koppel have brought pop art into the digital age.

Unseen photo of David Bowie featured in exhibition in Norwich. Photo: David Koppel/Pap Art Unseen photo of David Bowie featured in exhibition in Norwich. Photo: David Koppel/Pap Art

The majority of the images focus on celebrities, drawn from Koppel’s odyssey on Fleet Street. Experimenting with digital technology, he began manipulating his photographs to produce distortive effects, which are then printed on large canvasses. These are then over painted by Kiki in acrylic in his hallmark simple, spontaneous, idiosyncratic, imaginative and vibrant style.

Their collaborative work in this medium has produced several masterpieces, such as one canvas of Mick Jagger and Keith Richard as two Regency wraiths, and another of Marlon Brando looking more godfatherly than the Godfather himself.

This body of work continues to generate interest both here in the UK and abroad, with shows in London and Zurich, as well as in Norwich.

Koppel continues to combine his work as a jobbing photographer for the press with his newer explorative work as a photographic artist. And building upon the reputation he gained through the photographs taken for his book Still Waters, his black-and-white portraits of ordinary people now also rank among the many famous names in his portfolio.

Photographer David Koppel at his David Bowie exhibition at St Giles Street Gallery.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY Photographer David Koppel at his David Bowie exhibition at St Giles Street Gallery. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

• Bowie is at The St Giles Street Gallery, St Giles Street, Norwich, until December 24. Open by appointment on 07831 838378, pap-art.com

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