What did Paul Joyce, filmmaker, writer, photographer and painter, make of Jane Fonda? Why did Joyce and David Hockney fall out? And which of his photographs did Sophia Loren choose as a personal gift?
Paul Joyce (credits include director and producer of four series of Dr Who, 1981) spent his childhood in Winchester so it seems entirely fitting that a city gallery is hosting an exhibition celebrating his life and work, now in his 80th year. Paul Joyce: A Life Behind the Lens features a selection of well-known faces, as well as photographic landscape works and paintings from the past five decades. Many images are accompanied by some blunt commentary from Joyce.
The great and the good
Joyce believes a ‘great photographic portrait’ is created because the ‘Elements of the untouchable and unknowable demand that you keep your distance… and not enquire too closely’. This contrasts entirely with the photographer’s commentary elsewhere where he seems to relish his ability to ‘jam’ his camera into his sitters’ faces.
One of the most famous images in cinematic history is surely Jane Fonda as the character Barbarella, the 41st century astronaut out to defeat evil scientist Durand Durand in the Sci-Fi cult classic of the same name (1968). The film was based on the French comic series by Jean-Claude Forest. Fonda’s sexy image as Barbarella is one that clearly had a marked effect on the life of the award-winning American actress, political activist and environmentalist. The film’s director was Fonda’s then husband, Roger Vadim, and her remarkably candid biography My Life So Far (2006) explores that period of her life and ‘that role’.
Jane Fonda had the most perfect body I had ever seen.Paul Joyce, British photographer and filmmaker.
Joyce’s photographs of Sophia Loren show a mature, reflective woman. Loren has played many passionate characters in films and here Joyce reveals an inner core of strength. They are powerful images of one of the most beautiful women – a ‘Helen of Troy’ beauty – of all time.
The divine Sophia seemed to me to combine in one astonishing presence the greater virtues of both humanity and femininity: compassion, understanding, humour, familial roots, honesty, loyalty, attractiveness and certainly sexiness!Paul Joyce.
Christ without Arms, Tap without Handle, Brecon (1977)
Joyce photographed the weathered crucifix in a garden at a Welsh youth hostel. “When I offered Sophia Loren a print of mine as a gift, this was the one she choose”.
Commentary by Joyce alongside the images provides an insight into his prolific career, and a little of the man himself. On reflection, you get the impression that this is someone who ‘does not take prisoners’.
At the 1994 Sundance Film Festival, I asked Robert Redford, its director, to sit for a portrait. I jammed my camera up to his face to get a sense of his middle aged visage. He wanted approval before I released the picture, but he never got it!.Paul Joyce: A Life Behind the Lens.
The ‘Pool’ series
Also on display are the 1990 ‘Pool’ series of photographs featuring Hockey at home in Los Angeles and exploring Joyce’s fascnation with the movement, reflections and distortions of water. These photographs apparently took just 10 minutes to capture.
Hockney’s photographic collages or ‘joiners’ in the early 1980s were seen as a seismic shift in perception of space and time from the previous two-dimensional, flat surface. The exhibition features a colourful collage by Joyce of Hockney asleep on a train. The form flows as in a dream sequence.
Disappointed with his early attempts to paint, Joyce has, since 1995, pursued this element of his work over photography and film. An exhibition in Santa Monica organised by the late Dennis Hopper in 2007 proved highly successful.
This portrait marks my first encounter with the second of three geniuses I have known (the others were Samuel Beckett and Pater Maxwell Davies). Hockney, Acryllic on canvas (1981).Paul Joyce: A Life Behind the Lens.
Joyce and Hockney further collaborations include Hockney on Photography: Conversations with Paul Joyce (1988) and the companion volume Hockney on Art: Conversations with Paul Joyce (2000).
Nevertheless, Joyce’s previously close relationship with celebrated artist David Hockney which has resulted in mutual drawings, paintings and photographs has soured it seems. Joyce on Hockney; “It’s no longer an intimate friendship”. (Evening Standard, 24 September 2021). Not one to gossip, but pssst… apparently, they fell out over Hockney declining to attend the funeral of Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider, 1969).
The exhibition is a Who’s Who of celebrated figures, well known and much loved, from stage, screen, books and films. Further photographs include: Anthony Hopkins (“…prickly and unaccommodating”) who contributed to Joyce’s documentary on Marlon Brando; actor Martin Sheen (“it was only later in life that he achieved real recognition”); and acclaimed British novelist, Jean Rhys, CBE (“clearly over the limit on martini when I arrived mid-morning…”).
A small but beautifully curated selection of work. The exhibition space is contemporary, light with a white background, the perfect foil to the monochrome photography and saved from feeling chilly by the warm parquet flooring.
Paul Joyce: A Life Behind the Lens is curated by Colin Ford CBE, a former director of the National Museum of Wales who curated Elders, Joyce’s first London exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery (1978). The exhibition runs until 10 November 2021. Entry is free. The Discovery Centre is part of the city library and there is a large contemporary café area where you can while away an hour reading the generous selection of the latest newspapers and magazines. www.hampshireculture.org.uk