Dean Chalkley’s exhibition reimagines Sgt. Pepper 50 years on at The Book Club
- Credit: Dean Chalkley LTD
Shoreditch’s The Book Club will be hosting photographer Dean Chalkley’s latest exhibition, a contemporary interpretation of the Beatles’ 1967 album
Iconic photographer Dean Chalkley is presenting his latest exhibition: a contemporary interpretation of the Beatles’ 1967 “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album through images reverberating off the 14 tracks.
Together with designer Ciaran O’Shea – an old friend from their mod days in Southend – Chalkley talks about creating pictures that fuse meanings, nuances and word associations from the album’s songs, whilst playing with psychedelic aesthetics and remaining conscious of the Beatles’ desire to hide their global fame behind the fictitious characters of Sgt. Pepper and his Lonely Hearts Club Band.
And so the two have spent the last three weeks locked in a room above Chalkley’s studio, often until the early hours, listening to “Sgt. Pepper” on repeat. Was it as maddening an experience as it sounds?
“Maybe,” says O’Shea. “But we’ve found that we now like it even more than we did before.
“We started listening out for nuances delivered through the album and it felt like falling into a hole. You can listen to the album and interpret it in a certain way; then you think about the cultural, social, historical contexts surrounding it, and the benefit of hindsight allows you to add biographical details from the Beatles’ lives that widen the web of references even more.”
Both Chalkley and O’Shea agree that they were driven by “mood, atmosphere and feeling,” which they then distilled into prints. “Some elements are more graphic, others are more photographic – and then there’s a point in the middle,” Chalkley says, pointing at O’Shea. “I’m taking the pictures, you’re creating the designs, and we’re a real partnership.”
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The tip of his finger has gone numb from working with materials during post-production, and O’Shea confirms the whole process has been “intense”, yet Chalkley worries that people might find some of the pictures “brutally simple”.
“They may just think we haven’t even bothered to retouch them! But that was actually a very conscious decision. We haven’t confined ourselves to one approach. Often in exhibitions there can be a theme, a narrow margin of aesthetics. This exhibition is much wider: shackles are off.”
There are many risks to tackling such an iconic work, though – not least that audiences might get the impression that Chalkley and O’Shea are putting forward the definitive guide to “Sgt. Pepper”, which would cause a riot. How did they get around it? “The pictures are not a series of films,” says Chalkley. “They’re just pointing out interesting aspects. The hope is that people will see pictures, be touched by them, and try to make their own connections as to where our ideas came from. We’d like people to get inspired. And we hope they see how joyous this exhibition is.”
The Book Club – a watering hole in the heart of Shoreditch – seemed the perfect setting for Reverberation:
“I love that it’s a popular place,” says Chalkley. “There’s going to be a populist notion to it. It’ll provoke a different emotional response to a cold gallery.”
Amongst the vast amounts of mystique and rumours that have surrounded “Sgt. Pepper” for the last five decades, one crucial matter remains: was Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds always supposed to spell out LSD – or is the story about Lennon’s son’s nursery school drawing of his classmate Lucy to be believed?
Both Chalkley and O’Shea laugh: “They could’ve just changed the title and prevented the rumours – but they didn’t! I think it shows what a great sense of humour the Beatles had,” Chalkley says.
O’Shea agrees: “Actually I think that in 1967 Lennon was living with Cynthia in the suburbs and his drug of choice was daytime TV! And you can tell, as a lot of the songs are rooted in the every day and what he saw around him and less about the… other stuff. But, like all great Beatles works, it’s open to interpretation.”
Reverberation runs at The Book Club, EC2A, September 7 to November 7. wearetbc.com