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"Steve McQueen: King of Cool" photographs by John Dominis on view at Atlas Gallery
Steve McQueen aims a pistol in his living room, California, 1963 © John Dominis/Time Inc. All Rights Reserved.

LONDON.- Atlas Gallery presents the exhibition, Steve McQueen: King of Cool, photographs by John Dominis, on view from 20 September – 27 October at ATLAS Gallery in 49 Dorset Street, London.

In the spring of 1963, actor Steve McQueen was on the brink of superstardom, already popular from his big-screen breakout as one of The Magnificent Seven and just a couple of months away from international acclaim with the release of The Great Escape.

Intrigued by his dramatic back-story and his off-screen exploits — McQueen was a reformed delinquent from a very poor family who got his thrills racing cars and motorcycles — LIFE magazine sent the great photographer John Dominis to California to hang out with the 33-year-old actor in his Palm Springs home.

Three weeks and more than 40 rolls of film later, Dominis had captured some astonishingly intimate and now iconic images of McQueen and his then wife, Neile Adams — photos impossible to imagine in today’s restricted-access celebrity culture. Dominis followed McQueen through every action of daily life during their time together; the photographs that resulted lend insight into the life of an icon and reflect both his on-screen and off-screen personae – anti-hero, non-conformist, rebel, ladies-man and suddenly the hottest star in Hollywood.

July 12, 1963 LIFE magazine declared on its glossy cover: “Steve McQueen: Problem kid becomes a star” accompanying a photograph of a windswept Steve McQueen and Neile Adams riding a motorcycle. McQueen was an avid racer of both cars and motorcycles and before he made his big break in Hollywood occasionally supported himself by competing in weekend motorcycle races. His personal passion for racing helped to form some of the iconic characters he is most remembered for in his films. Likewise, McQueen was known for his expert ability to handle a gun. As a young aspiring actor, McQueen was obsessed with one day starring in a Western TV series and wanted to be able to outdraw the great wild-west character, Wyatt Earp, should he ever have the opportunity for an onscreen ‘pistols at dawn’ showdown. McQueen was abandoned as a child and spent the bulk of his youth in a reform school for juvenile delinquents. As a young adult, his behaviour in the Marines landed him repeatedly in the brig. As he became better known to the world as an actor, his rebelliousness and bad-boy image only helped to fuel international fascination in both his on-screen roles and his colourful private life.

Born in Los Angeles in 1921, John Dominis was a freelance photographer for LIFE Magazine, photographing the 1956 Olympics in Australia – his first of six total Olympic games; the celebrations of Buddha’s 2500th birthday in Burma; the early years of the Vietnam war; John Kennedy’s ‘I am a Berliner’ speech; Woodstock; Nixon’s trip to China; and entertainers such as Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert Redford, amongst others. Dominis was the Photo Editor of People magazine (1974 – 78) and later Sports Illustrated (1978 – 1982). Dominis would later look back at his three weeks with Steve McQueen as one of his career-favourite assignments. Now 91, John Dominis lives and works in New York City. For the first time in London, ATLAS Gallery presents John Dominis’ series of signed, silver gelatin photographs of Steve McQueen’s private life.

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