Yellow Poppy


I'm Ed O'Keefe, a recently retired Creative Director whose work for major agencies around Europe has involved me traveling the World, working with top London, European and American photographers and directors on still shoot’s and TV campaign’s.

I first met Les after he had answered a National Advertisement for a 'Photographer Extraordinaire” and not surprisingly, got the job!

It was with the JCB Publicity, Advertsing Agency for the manufacturer of those 'big yellow machines'. Les' first assignment, was to produce a portrait of Joseph Cyril Bamford (1916-2001), the founder and Chairman of JCB Ltd. That photograph now proudly resides in the National Portrait Gallery.

Les & I spent many hours on 'working shots' of diggers, waiting for that golden hour for the sun to emerge from behind the clouds before Les could get the shot in the can. This was because the colour of the machines had to be a specific yellow – long before the days of Photoshop!

Back to Les.

It was March1968 that Les met Ida Kar (the Russian-born of Armenian heritage, bohemian photographer who was instrumental in encouraging the acceptance of photography as a fine art) at an exhibition in the Midlands. Ida showed an interest in Les's work and invited him to visit her and her husband in Mayfair the following weekend.

The outcome of the meeting was that the poet and art dealer Victor Musgrave, Ida's husband, (whom, in 1967 had collaborated with the American film producer, Tony Cox and his then wife, the artist Yoko Ono, in making of the avant-garde film, 'Bottoms') had the concept that Ida should change direction and form a group of budding photographers. Les was one of that group along with John Couzins and Lawrence Ellar and of course, Ida, now named KarSEC, made up from Ida's surname and the initials of the other members.

Les lived at Ida and Victor's home in Rex Place, Mayfair, which was bursting with works of art, and even enjoying fingers of toast spread with caviar – for breakfast! Through Yoko, Les met Mal Evans, ex-roadie for the Beatles and during the following couple of years, while freelancing for Apple Corps’ Press Officer Derek Taylor, Les was privileged to meet all four of the Beatles.

KarSEC came to an unfortunate conclusion in 1969, due to Ida's over ambitious plans for the group. However Les stayed in touch with Ida & Victor at Rex Place and they were delighted when Kodak awarded Les a solo show at their West End Gallery. The success of the exhibition led to freelance work for Harrods “Way In” boutique, BOAC (BA) and Faberge.

Combining freelancing with study, Les assisted Zoe Dominic (Britain’s leading Arts Photographer) and John Timbers (assistant to Lord Snowdon) at their Chelsea Studio. Work included Theatres such as the RSC (Aldwych and Stratford upon Avon), The National Theatre (The Old Vic), The Royal Court Theatre, The English Natioal Opera at The London Coliseum, Sadlers Wells Theatre, The Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the Chichester Festival Theatre and the BBC. Les was privileged to work with such legends as Dame Peggy Ashcroft, the Redgrave’s, Maggie Smith, Alan Bates, Nicol Williamson, Marianne Faithful, Alastair Sim, Lindsay Anderson and Sir Frederick Ashton.

When Les left JCB, he enjoyed freelancing on various leading brands such as Slumberland Beds, Royal Doulton, the Britannia Building Society, Kodak, Liberty’s of London, Massey Ferguson, Sharps Fitted Bedrooms, George Butler Cutlery and The House of Fraser to name but a few. He also shot campaigns for me both in the UK and Europe including the Halifax Building Society’s ‘X’ campaign. Les had already photographed an elephant lying on a mattress, so two hundred sheep forming an ‘X’ was right up his street! Traveling globally and producing several memorable campaigns, his attention to detail in both photographing and arranging the shoots is second to none.

After Rolls Royce approached Les to shoot a Bentley brochure (not many photographers can claim that) Les began to specialise in the automotive industry. His portfolio of clients soon grew to include Jaguar, Ford of Europe, VW, Range Rover, Volvo Trucks, Peugeot, Citroen, BMW, Skoda, Rolls Royce, Daf Trucks, Mitsubishi and Mercedes Benz. He was thrilled when his old Art College, now Coventry University, bestowed on him an Honorary Fellowship in recognition of his work.

Throughout the years, Les has remained true to his first love, portraiture. His real passion and talent for the subject was first exposed in his sensitive portrait of Joseph Cyril Bamford. Back then, Les was a young developing photographer of just twenty-two. But more recent proof of Les's sensitive approach (as if it were needed) can be seen in the portraits of the Equine Artist Melanie Wright, the Abstract Painter Howard Watson, the Sculptor Jennine Parker, the Master Furniture Designer/Maker Sean Feeney together with the engaging portrait of Author and Local Historian Peter Drinkwater and Squidge.

I hope the showreel that accompanies this profile not only gives you an insight into the standard of the work consistently produced by Les, but an insight into the talent and dedication of the photographer. As I did, you'll enjoy working with Les – and let's face it, if you can come up with the the goods between you and enjoy the shoot at the same time – you've cracked it!