Running until 26 October at the famed London venue, the Dean Chalkley: Look Hear and Young Souls exhibition is a breath of much-needed fresh air for photography in the capital. Jason Holmes ventured west to meet the man
It's an enormous body of work. Dean Chalkley's distinctive and iconic portraits of the likes of The Arctic Monkeys, Jay-Z , Paul McCartney, Depeche Mode, Amy Winehouse, Pete Doherty, Paul Weller, Miles Kane and Liam Gallagher, to name a mere few, have made him London's go-to portrait photographer.
As a photographer, filmmaker and DJ, and with a precisely knotted tie and neatly-cut pepper and salt hair, it is immediately evident that this self-effacing Southend-on-Sea-born man is at one with his craft, ostensibly picking up from where David Bailey and Terry O'Neill have left off.
In partnership with UK charity the Royal Albert Hall, Dean is this month exhibiting two collections: Look Hear and Young Souls.
Look Hear features the essence of established and new musical talent, from The Kings of Leon and The White Stripes to The Horrors and Florence and the Machine, while Young Souls focuses on the current generation of young people participating in the Northern Soul scene.
The former collection comprises portraits of iconic music makers, while the latter shows those music lovers who have immersed themselves in the Soul genre. So the exhibition can be seen as one document of two tribes: those who give music and those who receive it whole-heartedly.
Both Look Hear and Young Souls comprise incisive studies of sub-cultures and styles. With mainstream youth culture, or what's left of it, now a depressing mish-mash of TV-generated pop gunk, what you find in Young Souls is heartfelt photographic reportage of one of the most enduring British musical movements, that of the Northern Soul scene. Those rare 7-inch soul records of yesteryear still draw in new devotees, year on year, who naturally possess an ear for real musical excellence.
'My loves are music and fashion,' Dean tells me over a glass of red in the Albert Hall's Spitfire bar, as rare soul cuts drift in from the DJ's decks in the foyer. 'I'm excited to present both these bodies of work at the Royal Albert Hall. I've loved this building since I was a kid. As a venue it's vital to music, and is associated with some absolutely legendary performances, so I'm proud to hang these collections of photographic portraits of some heroes and heroines on its famous circular walls.'
I ask him if he's got a press release for me. 'No,' he says with a grin, 'it's good to keep things a bit exclusive.'
The Royal Albert Hall's head of programming and education Lucy Noble says: 'We are incredibly lucky to be exhibiting Dean's work, which reads as a who's who of the music industry.'
In 2006, Dean was voted Portrait Photographer of the Year at the Picture Editors Awards, and the following year was included in the prestigious Getty Images list of New Photographers of 2007. Dean featured in The Creative Review Photography Annual 2011 with three pieces of work accepted across three categories, and in 2012 he received an Outstanding Contribution to Music Photography Award from the NME.
There's a quality to Dean's photographs that puts this critic in mind of paintings by Caravaggio, Degas and Grant Wood. Northern Soul dancers emerge from shadows, their clothes of rich hues, some colours as vibrant as brushstroked oils, others as gentle as pastels. His portraits possess a softness of tone and are composed by a painter's eye, allowing a subject as brutalised as Pete Doherty to be rendered in a way that is reminiscent of a Renaissance Christ. But perhaps these are unnecessary comparisons. The photographs are stand-alone Chalkley works, identifiable by their subjects and by their maker's sense of visual humour.
A case in point is Dean's portrait of The Specials. The entire band is hidden from view under a black and white checked sheet, only several pairs of feet remaining visible. It's a Two Tone, quintessential ska image. It's obvious who they are. It may even have proved more difficult to name the band had their faces actually been revealed.
Nevertheless, it makes everyone smile, and these days that is a rare thing indeed when visiting a gallery of photographic work.