A SURPRISE phone call from a relative in Buenos Aires completely turned around a Sheerwater man’s life.
Twelve months ago, after years of nursing his mother through a long illness, David Steel’s mum sadly died. His wife, Helena, who is Woking born and bred, had given up her work to become his mother’s full-time carer.
Shortly after his mother’s death, and still very much grief-stricken, David was hit by another life-changing blow. At the age of 55 he was made redundant from his job in the is printing trade, which he had been in for his entire working life.
He said: “When my wife asked me what I was going to do, I can honestly say I had no idea. Print was the only trade I knew.”
Incredibly, though, about five minutes after that conversation there came a phone call from Argentina. David (right), who has lived in Woking for more than 30 years, explained: “Out of the blue I got a call from my second cousin, Adam, who lives in Buenos Aires.
“That conversation turned my life around. Adam’s dad, my cousin Michael Cooper, had been a legendary photographer of the 1960s, and was probably one of the world’s best photographers at the time.
“Sadly, in 1973, at just 32, Michael committed suicide, but left behind him a fantastic legacy of 70,000 unique, mostly unseen photographs. Adam said the pictures had been sitting around ever since, and that we should do something with them to keep Michael’s name alive, so he flew to the UK and assigned all copyrights to me.”
Michael had lived with Keith Richards for about 10 years and, as a good friend, was privy to the Stones’ inner circle. He went on tour with them and took 3,500 intimate pictures of the band, and of Mick Jagger’s then girlfriend, Marianne Faithfull.
But it wasn’t only The Rolling Stones he captured on camera. In The Michael Cooper Collection were also his iconic Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper and The Rolling Stones’ Satanic Majesties Request album cover originals, not to
mention photos of the singer Dusty Springfield, artist Andy Warhol, John Paul Getty III, Audrey Hepburn, Francois Truffaut, Twiggy, Julie Andrews, Natalie Wood, Brian Jones and the Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte.
Of course there was no such thing as digital imagery in those days. David and Adam are now bringing the long-lost images – both colour and black and white – back to life in the form of exclusive, high-quality, limited-edition, handmade British items.
These include prints, boxed T-shirts, lampshades, leather handbags with images on the lining, and hand carved chairs and tables, and sofas with images on the backs. David added: “My friend and I went to a lot of trouble
to source the best-quality British craftsmen we could find.”
The Michael Cooper Collection was launched on July 4 at Kingley Court in Carnaby Street, which has stars from the music and creative world popping-in.
“It was a great success,” said David. “A lot of famous people are involved.
“This is very personal to me. Whether anything comes of it, the whole process has been fantastic for me.”
The merchandise has been on show in pop-up galleries in the capital and is due to be displayed in a gallery near Harrods.
It has also been exhibited all over the USA, including in New York and at the Morrison Hotel Galleries.