‘John sort of wrote ‘The Book'; for all the London Photographers who followed him - Bailey, Duffy and Donavan.’ – Howard Grey
John Cole ventured into the world of fashion photography in the 1940s, initially working with his brother Kenneth at their camera shop and studio in North London. Soon Cole began taking photographs for the original Tatler & Bystander magazine, which was owned by the Illustrated London News. He became a prolific figure in the commercial fashion photography world; he was published in The Sunday Times, The Guardian and Evening Standard. During the 1970s, Country Life magazine ran a dedicated fashion segment for which Cole was the principal photographer.
His style was distinguished by his confidence in his instincts and his interest in shooting from unusual viewpoints. His commercial success stemmed from his ability to bring a fresh perspective to fashion.
Following this initial success, Cole subsequently set up his infamous ‘Studio Five’ in Mayfair, a small studio lit by natural daylight. Studio Five further developed into a hub for up-and-coming photographers to advance their practice. This included a line-up of Brian Duffy, Norman Eales and Laurence Sackman, (who later worked for Harper’s Bazaar), all of whom developed their technical and creative skills under the supervision of Cole.
Years of experience in the darkroom and observing other artists enabled Cole to master the technical aspects of his practice. It was noted in the 1960s that even though Cole was regarded as a leading figure within the industry, he was always eager to learn from others. He translated this into a willingness to help other photographers to learn and grow.
Many young photographers admired Cole’s delicate and sensitive approach to his work, alongside his ability to quickly build a strong rapport with models, clients and colleagues. David Bailey, for example, became a photographer at Studio Five after publishing a striking image of the model, Paulene Stone. Many reacted strongly to the image; Terence Donovan pronounced himself as ‘disturbed by its freshness and its oblique quality’. Following his time at Cole’s studio, Bailey began a contract at British Vogue. With Cole’s assistance, Bailey revolutionized fashion photography and became known as one of Britain’s greatest portrait photographers.
Several successful fashion models of the 1960s also established their careers at Studio Five. Jean Shrimpton, a Studio Five model, wrote of her success following her bookings with Norman Eales in 1960: ‘He persevered with my inexperience and even volunteered the information to the Evening Standard that I would be the new face of 1961. Many other iconic models were photographed at Cole’s studio including Twiggy, Joanna Lumley and Grace Coddington. Cole himself suggested that ‘There has to be complete affinity between photographer and model to take a really good picture.’ This reflects the value that Studio Five placed on the relationship between photographer and model. The studio additionally had an impressive roster of customers including leading fashion magazines: Vanity Fair, Tatler and Country Life.
The iconic photographer, Vic Singh, noted that ‘Studio Five became a popular and famous London studio at that time. With the young photographers “doing their thing” seeing in the birth of the “Swinging 60s” a mix of fashion, music and industry… Dudley Moore would arrive and play the piano with George [Hastings] on the double bass.’ Many of the models photographed at the studio also noted the constant presence of music.
Cole had an ability to fuse music and commercial fashion into art. This allowed his studio to encapsulate the energy of the Swinging Sixties. He was known for his talent for conveying the glamour and playfulness of this era. This is reflected throughout his archive, such as in the iconic image of Twiggy and Jane Birkin modelling a fashion line in 1967. Following the success of Studio Five, Cole went on to establish a new eponymous studio in Mayfair. It operated until 1983.
Cole’s glamorous archive continues to preserve the style and spirit of the Swinging Sixties. He captured the ephemeral nature of fashion photography and the beauty it can bring to ordinary clothes. He was described by reporters and his contemporaries as having a sensitive and romantic disposition which was clearly expressed in his work. John Cole remains a celebrated symbol of British 1960s style, renowned as the genius behind the much respected Studio Five.
Contact our sales team for enquiries about licensing images and clearing copyright.