This is the story of a political scandal, a chair, and a photograph. It was 1963 in London, at the height of the Profumo Affair. The photographer, Lewis Morley, had been commissioned to shoot some publicity shots for a forthcoming movie featuring the woman at the centre of the scandal, Christine Keeler.
The urban myth that the photograph of Christine Keeler astride an Arne Jacobsen chair was taken when she was a model is false in more senses than one.
First, the chair used in the photo turns out to be a copy of the original. The hand-hold aperture cut out of the back was a ploy to avoid the legalities of copyright. Secondly the photograph was taken, not on a modelling session, but at the height of the revelations regarding the exposure, of the going-ons, of the War Minister and a young female, caught up in an affair which became known as ‘The Scandal’ or ‘The Profumo Affair’.
Photographer Lewis Morley recalled the photo session which led to the creation of a modern icon:
“This photograph was one of a series of publicity shots for an intended film which never saw the light of day. It was not until 1989 that a film of the 1963 happenings was released under the title Scandal. The photographic session took place in my studio, which at that time was on the first floor of the ‘Establishment’, a satirical night club, part-owned by Peter Cook of ‘Beyond The Fringe’ fame. The satirical sketches took place on a small stage on the ground floor of the club. The Dudley Moore Trio played Jazz in the basement.
“During the session, three rolls of 120 film were shot. The first two rolls had Christine sitting in various positions on the chair and on the floor, dressed in a small leather jerkin. It was at this point that the film producers who were in attendance demanded she strip for some nude photos.
“Christine was reluctant to do so, but the producers insisted, saying that it was written in her contract. The situation became rather tense and reached an impasse. I suggested that everyone, including my assistant leave the studio. I turned my back to Christine, telling her to disrobe, sit back to front on the chair. She was now nude, fulfilling the conditions of the contract, but was at the same time hidden.
“We repeated some of the poses used on the previous two rolls of film. I rapidly exposed some fresh positions, some angled from the side and a few slightly looking down. I felt that I had shot enough and took a couple of paces back. Looking up I saw what appeared to be a perfect positioning. I released the shutter one more time, in fact, it was the last exposure on the roll of film.
“Looking at the contact sheet, one can see that this image is smaller than the rest because I had stepped back. It was this pose that became the first published and most used image. The nude session had taken less than five minutes to complete. It wasn’t until I developed the film that I discovered that somehow I had misfired one shot and there were only eleven images on a twelve exposure film. How this came about is a mystery to me.”