In the late 1950’s the world began to change, young people were rejecting the ideas of the older generation and refused to follow the predetermined destiny set for them by their parents. Music, films and fashion was at the forefront of this revolution.
Appalling the older, more reserved generation in 1956 was Elvis Presley. His
provocative, sexy dance moves to ‘hound dog’ on live television took the world by storm and was widely controversial with viewers of all ages and social backgrounds. Presley performed with electrifying and fun energy and shook his hips in a way that had never before been seen on TV. It made the ladies in the crowd go wild but was frowned upon by many. Elvis’ rebellion influenced many young people all over the world, including young English rock band The Beatles. John Lennon himself said ‘nothing really affected me until I heard Elvis. If there hadn’t been Elvis, there would not have been the Beatles’.
The 60’s arrived and so did the incredible, iconic madness that was Beatlemania. Girls would scream so loudly that the band couldn’t hear themselves speak and the crowd couldn’t even hear them singing. The Beatles biographer Mark Lewisohn said ‘Speak to anyone who was a young person in the US when the Beatles arrived and they will tell you how much of a revolution it was. They were there and they will tell
you that the Beatles revolutionised everything’. This was supported when in 1964 The Beatles gave their first performance on US live TV on The Ed Sullivan Show and were watched by approximately 73 million viewers, it was said that after this performance, teens everywhere were picking up guitars and forming rock bands. Not only did they influence and revolutionise music but fashion also. As shown on the above picture, the ‘mop top’ or ‘Arthur’ was hugely popular among fans of the Beatles who wanted to echo their style, but was frowned upon by members of the older generation. The Beatles very quickly became representations of values shared by the 1960’s counterculture, they were the face and voice of young people.
From music to fashion and with the British Invasion sweeping through America, pop/rock bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were a huge influence along with young model Twiggy emerging with their unique, ‘mod’ style in their hairstyles and clothes.
The younger generation were no longer scared of going against social conventions set by their parents and were finally free to experiment. At just 17 British model Lesley Hornby, known as ‘twiggy’, burst onto the fashion scene with her highly controversial, unique modernist look, she appeared on the pages of nearly every popular magazine. Twiggy said that ‘there’s no need to dress like everyone else. It’s much more fun to create your own look’ which was demonstrated with her brightly coloured shift dresses and mini skirts and her short, boyish haircut that was widely coppied. Cooperating with 60’s counterculture and youth insurgency across america and most of Europe, twiggy, in the above photograph, is shown to be quite rebellious in her body language and facial expression, as if she is bored of the social ‘norms’ her parents generation have thrust upon her and her peers.
Known for their unique and bold sense of fashion in the 60’s were the hippies. With their bright clothes, tidye tshirts and long wild hair, the hippies were hard to miss. They strongly believed in being one with nature and were well known for their artistic experimentation in music, living communially with love and compassion, their use of recreational drugs and for strongly apposing the vietnam war and rejecting the duties of mainstream American life. One hippie movement was the burning of their draft cards in protest of being sent to war. This started in 1964 and was so popular within the group that President Lyndon Johnson passed a law banning the movement, he tried to enforce that you would be sent to jail for up to five years with a $1000 fine, nevertheless the protests continued. In 1967 the ‘summer of love’ was the hippie social phenomenon that saw 100,00 people come together in San Francisco and spread love and happiness through music and art. The Monterey International Pop Music Festival was a huge part of making the ‘Summer of love’ so legendary because of the attendence of world famous artists such as The Who, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. Hippies were not so popular with the government and the older generation because of there lack of repect for authority and frequent drug use.
The young generation were not the only ones who felt pressured to change who they were every time popular culture did. In this next section I am going to explore which photographers and directors felt they needed to change with the times to stay popular and who stayed true to their hearts with their personal ideas always in their mind.
Tim Burton’s work would definitely be considered as high art, his films are creative and unique but he is also the eighth highest-grossing director by worldwide box office. His work is artistic and a personal expression of the ideas he has in his own mind. He never lets money influence him, when Disney refused to comply with his ideas in making ‘frankenweenie’ in 1984 and as a result fired him for allegedly wasting their money and making kids films that were too scary. Burton himself has said ‘yes, we parted ways at that point…It’s all based on projects and how companies change’ which implies that he feels he never changed himself just to be the director companies wanted him to be. After his vast succession of movies such as Sweeney Todd, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands and Alice In Wonderland, it would be easy for Tim Burton to succumb to the commerce ideals of Hollywood but instead he stuck with his personal style and after 28 years finally got to see ‘frankenweenie’ come to life in his own vision. Perhaps the only thing that could possibly link Burton’s films to popular culture is his regular use of very famous actors Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.
Annie Leibovitz is a very famous portrait photographer who is known for capturing celebrities and her work has been on many album covers and magazines. Leibovitz has said she doesn’t like the word ‘celebrity’ and states that she’s always been ‘more interested in what they do than who they are’. However, her work over the years are only of people who are relevant in popular culture at the time and who are considered ‘celebrities’ by the vast majority. She compromised her artistic view when photographing John Lennon in 1980, Leibovitz wanted to photograph Lennon alone for the cover of The Rolling Stone, however he insisted on Yoko Ono being there as well. Instead of sticking with her ideas she took a photo of him lying naked curled up next to Yoko. This cover became world famous and significantly escalated Leibovitz’s value as a photographer. Speaking of her work Leibovitz says ‘A thing that you see in my pictures is that I was not afraid to fall in love with these people’ this statement could insinuate that Leibovitz herself believes her work to be high art, that she believes her photographs are a representation of her artistry and not just for commercial purposes. In 1980 Leibovitz changed her style completely and began a new career with Vanity Fair magazine, she traded in her rock n roll photography roots and as pop culture changed so did she. Her new style of bold colours and poses became even more popular with celebrities, magazines, Hollywood and even The Walt Disney Company who hired her in 2007 to do a series of photographs with celebrities portraying different Disney characters.
Photographer Annie Leibovitz names Richard Avedon as a major influence, describing his style as ‘personal reportage’, developing close rapport with one’s subjects. Avedon would be considered as a high art photographer who doesn’t conform to the standard techniques of studio photography or the counterculture pop culture.
However, In the 1960s Avedon was making studio portraits of civil rights workers, photographing patients of mental hospitals, politicians and protesters of the Vietnam War which were all very popular subjects at the time and gained him a lot of attention. He later became the lead photographer at popular fashion magazine Vogue and photographed most of the covers from 1973 until 1988. During this time, he worked with many famous models including Brook Shields who said about Avedon ‘When Dick walks into the room, a lot of people are intimidated. But when he works, he’s so acutely creative, so sensitive.’ This portrays Avedon as someone who is a role model to many who think he is an elite in his field but who also stays true to his artistry. Avedon’s models were revolutionary because they were always showing emotion in his photographs, they were laughing and smiling and doing the complete opposite of Twiggy, who always had a blank expression or a rebellious look on her face. Avedon definitely has his own unique style in photography as shown in the above photograph of popular supermodel and actress Stephanie Seymour, he walks the line between high art and commercial photography.
Steven Spielberg is an American director, producer and screenwriter whose films evoke many themes and genres. Wikipedia names him one of the ‘founding pioneers of the new Hollywood era’ and at the age of 70 he is the highest-grossing director in history. One reoccurring theme that has stuck with Spielberg through his career is extra-terrestrial life. In an AFI interview Spielberg himself said that he was interested in the possibility of extra-terrestrial life and how it definitely influences some of his films. This theme has stuck with him throughout his 4-decade career, from Close Encounters of the Third Kind to E.T: the extra-terrestrial to War of the worlds his passion for creatures that are out of this world has never faded.
However, Spielberg has had his critics, French New Wave filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard stated that he ‘holds Spielberg partly responsible for the lack of artistic merit in mainstream cinema’ and Film critic Pauline Kael, has expressed her disappointment stating that ‘he’s become, I think, a very bad director…. And I’m a little ashamed for him, because I loved his early work… And he’s become so uninteresting now…’. These are of course only two people’s opinions but the idea that Spielberg’s films may have become ‘uninteresting’ and with a ‘lack of artistic merit’ might possibly convey that some viewers and perhaps former fans believe his films have become a part of popular culture. Spielberg made ground-breaking cinema with his film Jurassic Park, no one had ever taken such risks with special effects and props before and this film was revolutionary. There is no denying how popular Spielberg’s films are and that they do tie in with popular culture but it is worth noting that his unique and creative view on life both real and fictional and his work with special effects is something that makes Spielberg truly a high art director.
In conclusion, popular culture was definitely a very important part in defining the younger generation in the 1960’s , they began to express themselves through music, film and fashion and followed their idols, instead of their parents, as they changed through the years. Photographers and Directors have looked at pop culture in different ways, some have embraced the idea and changed their work as pop culture changed and some have rejected it, believed in their own ideals and created artistry that will last forever.