New Photographer: John Haynes

We are thrilled to represent the work of photographer John Haynes, who has photographed some of the most important theatrical productions in London since he started as a theatre photographer at the Royal Court Theatre in the 1960s.

Sir Ralph Richardson and Sir John (Johnnie) Gielgud in 'Home' by David Storey. © John Haynes / Bridgeman Images


John Haynes, like many great photographers, was untrained in photography and came to it by chance.

In fact he started his working career at the Royal Court as an electrician. It was there that someone showed him a book of Cartier-Bresson and its impact inspired him to become a photographer. During that time (i.e. the 1960s) the prevalent photographic style was very staged and posed. Cartier-Bresson’s photographs were refreshingly reportage like and real, which very much appealed to Haynes and sparked the idea that he too could become a photographer.

His father bought him a second-hand Leica and his interest in photography really took hold. He would go out in to the streets taking reportage-style images, teaching himself how to take a good photograph.

Through his connections at the Royal Court he managed to find work as a freelance photographer for the Sunday Times, where he worked on a variety of stories including hard news and travel pieces. It was there that he says he learnt most about the trade – having to adapt to new situations, and manage difficult personalities. At the same time as he was working for the Sunday Times he also worked as a photographer for small theatres, such as the Open Space, as well as doing some photography for the Royal Court. After work at the Sunday Times ended due to a change in picture editor in around 1970, he decided that he needed to specialise and was naturally drawn in to theatre photography. Attracted by the inspiring people and friendly family-like atmosphere, he started to work at the Royal Court Theatre as their full time photographer.


Lindsay Anderson directing The Farm by David Storey, 1973 © John Haynes / Bridgeman Images

Theatre Photography

While at the Royal Court, Haynes had privileged access to rehearsal, and dress-rehearsals as well as the public performances and was thus able to get images of actors and directors in more unguarded and natural moments. As he became a fixture at the Royal Court, he was able to photograph without his presence interfering too much with the work in progress.

His most well-known images taken during his time there were of the late great playwright Samuel Beckett. Beckett hated having his photo taken (he would not even let newspapers take his photograph), so images of him are very rare. Haynes famous portraits of Beckett were the first images of the playwright that he took. He says of this session:

I was called in to take a portrait basically, and I went downstairs and there he was sitting mid stage on a chair, and he had some magazines on his lap and his dark glasses on… There was a black background, white light, and there was Samuel Beckett sitting in the middle of the stage..”

As a nervous young photographer, Haynes – not wanting to impose too much on Beckett’s time – only took one film of photographs, but the few he got are amazingly powerful.


Samuel Beckett at the Royal Court Theatre, London in January 1973 (b/w photo)  © John Haynes / Bridgeman Images


Samuel Beckett at the Royal Court Theatre, London in January 1973 © John Haynes / Bridgeman Images


After this initial experience, he gained the trust of the playwright, and took photographs of rehearsal and performances of Beckett's plays, such as Happy Days and Krapp’s Last Tapes. He never photographed Beckett on his own again, but got some fantastic photographs of him in the process of rehearsing plays with his actors.

" went in to a rehearsal feeling like you were going in to a chapel or something.. I didn't feel that I wanted to distract his attention when he was talking to Billie Whitelaw, which the last [image] was about.."


Samuel Beckett at the Royal Court Theatre with Billie Whitelaw, London in May 1979 (b/w photo) © 
John Haynes / Bridgeman Images


John Haynes also developed a good relationship with the controversial British playwright, Joe Orton. His well known portraits of Orton were taken with the poster for Orton’s play Loot in the background, which was being performed at the Jeanette Cochrane Theatre at the time. He said of Joe:

“…he used to leave me really obscene messages on my answering machine in those days, and he was a character…I got that picture of him up against the post of Loot with words like murder, rape, written all around it…”


Joe Orton - in front of poster for his play 'Loot' at the Jeanette Cochrane Theatre, 1966 © John Haynes / Bridgeman Images


Max Wall - the British comedian and actor in 'The Entertainer' by John Osborne at the Greenwich Theatre, London, 1974 © John Haynes / Bridgeman Images


Haynes also worked as an in house photographer for the Hampstead Theatre where they put on more main stream plays which were aimed at the West End, and the National Theatre.

In 1986 Thames & Hudson published a book of Haynes theatre photography, called Taking the Stage: Twenty-One Years of the London Theatre, which was accompanied by an exhibition of his work at the National Theatre (and later moved to the Colnaghi Gallery in New York, and then to The Moscow Arts Theatre). One review said of the book:

"It may be that what really makes Haynes's photographs exceptional is that he has not only passively reflected a part of our theatrical tradition, but his work has somehow actually contributed to it"  - Robert Gore Langton , Time Out 

In 2003 Cambridge University Press published Haynes next book, Images of Beckett, with text by Samuel Beckett's biographer James Knowlson. This also received great reviews, with The James Joyce Supplement saying of it:

"...the photos show us not only what Beckett's plays looked like in original production, but also what Beckett had wanted them to look like. They are the closest we can get to seeing them realized in the way he had invisaged them today"  


Stephen Dillane performing in Angels in America by Tony Kushner, directed by Declan Donnelan. National Theatre, London, 1992 © John Haynes / Bridgeman Images


Samuel Beckett 's play 'Not I'. The mouth. Billie Whitelaw in 1973 production at London Royal Court Theatre © John Haynes / Bridgeman Images


Reportage photography – Up North exhibition

In 1972, influenced by the novels and plays by David Storey coupled  with a wish to widen his repertoire outside theatre photography, Haynes went on a trip around Yorkshire to take photographs of the people who lived there, which resulted in a body of work exhibited in an exhibition at the Royal Court Theatre called Up North

Haynes met Storey when Lindsay Anderson asked him to photograph David Storey's  Home in 1971, by then Haynes had already read Storey's first three novels, and was already a great admirer of his writing which inspired his trip north. Home was the first production of a 25 year relatonship with the Royal Court Theatre.  In that time Haynes was also the in house photographer of Hampstead Theatre, Michael Codron Ltd.& LAMDA , and was also working regulary for the NT , RSC fringe and West End theatre's.   He  did his last Theatre production in 2016, but continues his own photography, being  particularly interested in , shadow, light , and the random.


Catcliffe, 1972, John Haynes. From 'Up North' exhibition:   © John Haynes / Bridgeman Images


Coalman and boy, Lupset Estate, Wakefield, 1972​, John Haynes. From 'Up North': an exhibition of photographs of the West Riding of Yorkshire  © John Haynes / Bridgeman Images



Quotes taken from interview conducted with John Haynes at the British Library

See more of John Haynes photography

John Haynes website


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