John d Green On His First-Ever ‘Birds of Britain’ Exhibit and On Photographing the Birds

John d Green, Pattie Boyd

John d Green was an advertising photographer when he decided to narrow his focus and capture the 60s in a very unique way, in a way that pushed boundaries and allowed the women, which included actresses, models, aristocrats, fashion designers, boutique owners and pop singers, to be themselves, individual and a vision of London in the 60s.

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It was this work of Green’s that caught our attention. The images he captured can help tell a story of an era and offer insight into a time that will most likely not be duplicated again.

When Birds of Britain was published almost 50 years ago, model Pattie Boyd was featured on the cover while the inside saw actresses Charlotte Rampling and Jane Asher, Lady Mary-Gaye Curzon, Jane Birkin and many more.

Since publication, Green’s book has since been long out of print. And, there is now an opportunity to not only see his work on display at Snap Galleries in London for the very first time, but Ormond Yard Press will be issuing a limited edition run of The Big Book of Birds of Britain.

Whether you are a fan of photography, London, history, models or all of the above, this is the time to get excited. Now, it’s time to find out more, in our interview with Green.

John d Green
John d Green

MalenDyer: What drew you to photographing women in particular as opposed to say, architecture?
John d Green: Quite simply, females enjoyed having their photograph taken, especially in the 60s. Females appreciated being photographed more than males, and men were incredibly shy. Architecture? How boring! Though I have experimented with street photography before.

JDG: I did some reportage purely for my portfolio, but I didn’t find it challenging enough. Photographing girls was clearly more my forte.

John d Green, Viviane Ventura
John d Green, Viviane Ventura

MD: How much planning or preparation went into each shoot?
JDG: I knew a lot of the girls and most of the photographs were planned. Once the session started, the girls would ad lib and I would ad lib. In a lot of cases, the girls would come up with ideas they would want to do. One example that stands out in my mind is of the famous actress Sue Lloyd who decided to accessorize with a feather boa and a “fag end”.

“Architecture? How boring! Photographing girls was clearly more my forte.”

JDG: Another great example I can think of is from my shoot with Lady Mary-Gaye Curzon [which was the first shoot and took place on 29 April 1966]. I came up with the idea of covering her in engine oil as her father and her grandfather were both motor racing drivers. Also, it was one of my hobbies, it seemed like a fun, logical thing to do.

John d Green, Mary-Gaye Curzon
John d Green, Lady Mary-Gaye Curzon

MD: And, how would you characterize the shoots, as they were renowned as being “quite fun”?
JDG: All the girls were fun. We made every session as interesting and fun as possible and the girls really got into the swing of the session. All of the girls I photographed in the 60s were often successful in their careers, worked hard, played hard and wanted fun.

MD: Now, onto your book, Birds of Britain. Did you expect the book to work commercially?
JDG: When I published the book in 1967, I was hoping for sales of around 3,000 copies [the book sold around 60,000 copies] because that was normally the print run of a standard coffee table book. It really was one of those things that caught everyone’s imagination. I think this was because of the fact that really they are all fun pictures of girls from all walks of life.

John d Green, Fay Browning
John d Green, Fay Browning

MD: What did you make of the controversy surrounding the book?
JDG: I didn’t really think about it or expect it. Every girl was encouraged to come back to the studio and see the contacts. Some did, and some also brought their boyfriends. Chrissie Shrimpton brought Mick Jagger. If any of the girls had said “I do not want you to publish that”, we simply wouldn’t have.

MD: How did the exhibition “Birds of Britain” come about? Were the photographs created with an end exhibition in mind?
JDG: No. I have been asked on countless occasions over the last 50 years since creating the book to have an exhibition, to sell prints or to do a re-print of the book. I have simply never been interested. Birds of Britain was then and this is now.

John d Green, Julie Christie
John d Green, Julie Christie

JDG: I did have a number of people who had managed to get a hold of the book [that are now hard to find] and who encouraged me to show the images publicly. I didn’t want to at first, as the most valuable commodity to me is time, and I did not want to give up my precious time.

JDG: A dear friend of mine, David Owen, had talked to me on many occasions about his godson, Guy White [director of Snap Galleries]. He explained that Guy had a very successful business in exhibiting black and white photography and persuaded me to meet him. I remember thinking, upon meeting him, that he was a very charming man, and it was this same charm and art of the powers of persuasion, which made me consider exhibiting my photographs.

“I am very proud to leave a mark in life, and we are very excited about the exhibition.”

JDG: Guy, along with my lovely wife Katie, worked together to coerce me into exhibiting the images and so a conspiracy of sorts was born between them. Shortly after this, the exhibition was born, and its fruition really was down largely to my wife and Guy. Between the two of them, they made this exhibition possible.

MD: How do the girls from Birds of Britain differ from girls in our modern society?
JDG: I’m afraid I can’t really answer this question, as I have absolutely no idea! I retired from photography, and I find the girls today quite serious and celebrity-focused. They are a different breed entirely and becoming a celebrity seems to be of the most paramount importance to them in their careers.

MD: How do you feel about Birds of Britain, as a book and with the upcoming exhibition?
JDG: It gives me great pleasure. I am very proud to leave a mark in life, and we are very excited about the exhibition.

John d Green, Edina Ronay
John d Green, Edina Ronay

Shop the Interview:
Signed and limited edition photographs from Birds of Britain are available at Snap Galleries.
The Big Book of Birds of Britain, published by Ormond Yard Press, is available for pre-order via Snap Galleries.

Visit the Exhibition:
“Birds of Britain” by John d Green is on display at London’s Snap Galleries until 26 November.