A hundred and fifty thousand people camped out at the 1969 Isle of Wight festival to see Bob Dylan return to a live stage for the first time in three years. The photographer David Hurn, then 35, got a few pictures of Dylan’s set, but he was more interested in turning his camera on the crowd than the performers. That year’s festival, at the end of August, came a couple of weeks after Woodstock and was perhaps the closest Britain’s festivalgoers ever came to the authentic spirit of the summer of love.
Hurn, who grew up in Wales, had been on the frontline of much of the 1960s; as well as documenting indelible images of early Beatlemania, he had shot the film posters for Sean Connery’s James Bond in From Russia With Love and Jane Fonda’s Barbarella. The 1969 festival, which came a month after the moon landing and the death of Brian Jones, felt like a last hurrah for the decade. Hurn slept near the beach without a tent with the other festivalgoers and when hundreds of people plunged bare-arsed into the sea on the Sunday morning he felt he ought to join in and get naked himself. No other photographer was around to capture this scene, which, for all the cheerful nudity, is made by the presence of the boat at anchor, making the festivalgoers appear like a recently discovered, and distinctly hedonistic, island tribe.
It is included in a new monograph of Hurn’s favourite pictures from the weekend. Others show parents with babies and young children mingling with stoned teenagers and one or two game older residents of the island. “There was no violence, people took drugs and had sex openly and the police were tolerantly indifferent. It seemed to me incredibly human,”Hurn, now 86, suggests. “I really do like watching lots of people enjoy themselves.”