The Current Issue
Nikon Owner Issue 11
Blow-Up - David Hemmings: In Memoriam
Editor Gray Levett says a personal farewell to David Hemmings who played the jaded photographer in Michelangelo Antonioni's movie Blow-Up.
David Hemmings, the actor, director and producer who died late last year aged 62, was involved with more than 160 films during his career. A lauded child soprano for whom Benjamin Britten wrote the boy’s role in The Turn of the Screw, David Hemmings became one of the best-known faces of the 1960s after starring in Michelangelo Antonioni’s movie Blow-Up (1966). The film has been described as a baffling, beautiful critique of the “Swinging London” of the 1960s that many saw as a profound indictment of cultural vacuity, and some applied this observation to the film too. I was sorry to hear the news of David Hemming’s passing as I have held Blow-Up and David Hemmings in some affection since I first saw it in 1966 as it precipitated my growing interest in photography and Nikon in particular.
When I was in my teens my interests were broadly divided into music, photography, reading and movies. I read voraciously and I carried a camera with me almost everywhere I went. And in those far-off days I walked almost everywhere, every evening and every weekend. Covering seven to ten miles per day was not unusual. Walking enables you see things that others speeding past in their cars or motorbikes do not. I took roll after roll of film, shooting rock bands in sweaty clubs between the South Coast and London and then escaped into the forests and wandered the ancient paths of the Dorset coastline to shoot landscapes and old buildings. I enjoyed myself immensely but had little idea what the future held except that somehow photography and music would, I hoped, become a part of it.
Then I saw Blow-Up. In the film Hemmings plays Thomas, a very successful, yet bored English fashion photographer. As the film opens Thomas has slept the night in a dosshouse so that he can gain photo-reportage material for a book. The first signs of his success are obvious as he is seen driving away in a Rolls Royce convertible.
Later we track him while photographing in a London park and we watch him shooting a man (Ronan O’Casey) and a woman Jane (Vanessa Redgrave) embracing. Jane runs over to stop him taking pictures but he returns to his studio. Then Jane appears, demanding the negatives, and he gives her a substitute roll. On developing his shots in his darkroom creating huge “blow-ups” of his negatives, he is startled to notice what appears to be a man with a gun in the bushes and, in a later shot, a body. In the middle of the night he ventures to the park where he finds the body, but on his return to the studio all his pictures have disappeared. When he subsequently goes back to the park in the morning, the body, too, has gone.