Tony Reilly opens exhibition of British photographer’s work in Nairobi

Living Dangerously exhibition
Tony Reilly at the opening of the exhibition of Terence Spencer's work. Photo: Twitter/tonyreilly5

Yesterday evening, British Council Kenya Country Director, Tony Reilly O.B.E, opened the ‘Living Dangerously’ exhibition in Nairobi National Museum’s Cultural Dynamism Gallery.

This unique exhibition features photographs taken by LIFE magazine photo journalist and World War 2 RAF pilot Terence Spencer showing a variety of images from war and human struggles to film stars, personalities, The Beatles and other pop and rock stars.

Terence Spencer was born in 1918 during a Zeppelin raid in Bedford, England, the son of an engineering company owner. Educated at Cheltenham College, Spencer took an engineering degree at the University of Birmingham. Following his graduation, he joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, and then transferred to the Royal Engineers.

In February 1941, due to the losses of pilots during the Battle of Britain, an Army Council Instruction (ACI) was issued which stated that British Army personnel could apply to transfer to the RAF, which 18,000 officers took up.

In February 1946, after the Spitfire pilot was demobilised, he was asked by the Percival Aircraft Company to ferry solo a Percival Proctor, a small single-engine plane, without radio, dinghy or emergency supplies, on an 8,000 miles flight to South Africa, where he settled outside Johannesburg with his wife.

They launched a successful aerial photography business based around a Piper Cub. In 1952, he started shooting for LIFE magazine, covering war stories in African continent, including Sharpville and the Congo Crisis, many of the independence struggles in emerging African nations, the horrors of apartheid, Nelson Mandela on the run and Jomo Kenyatta in detention.

In 1962 he returned to England to photograph “Swinging London”. While there, at the request of his daughter Cara, Spencer followed the (at the time largely unknown) band The Beatles, and documented them for several months and shooting more than 5,000 pictures. It resulted in a definitive pictorial book on the band It Was 30 Years Ago Today.

Commissioned by LIFE to shoot in other war torn locations, he covered the Vietnam War, crises in the Middle East, Indonesia, and Cuba after the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

His work with the Beatles, in particular, resulted in him shooting celebrity stories for People magazine, the originals and classification of which were stored in the libraries of Rockarchive, although the copyright has since passed to Spencer’s daughters.

His subjects included celebrities such as Freddie Mercury, Bob Dylan, Ava Gardner, Katharine Hepburn, Princess Grace of Monaco, Richard Branson, and John Cleese.

The exhibition is open daily from 10am until 5pm and will run until 17th January 2018.