Photographer David Bailey’s London (Part 1)
A few years ago, I had the privilege of spending a day with legendary photographer David Bailey, exploring his home city of London, finding out his favourite hangouts as well as why the city is a constant source of inspiration for him.
We visited his studio in the King’s Cross area of London, an area known for its railway station and somewhat seedy elements that appear after dusk. The studio visit offered me a brief glimpse into the mind of the man many consider to be a pioneer of contemporary photography.
David Bailey, born in 1938 in London’s East End, says that as a youth he had very limited choices in the job market. “You could become a boxer, a car thief, or maybe a musician.”
Photographer wasn’t on the list and seemed an even dimmer possibility after Bailey’s failed early efforts to take snapshots with the family’s Brownie camera. Instead, he pretty much did anything and everything else to make money: carpet salesman, tallyman, shoe salesman, window-dresser… . It was only after being posted to Singapore while in the British Royal Air Force in 1956 that Bailey started getting more immersed in the field of photography. He discovered the work of Henri Cartier Bresson, which greatly inspired him, and started voraciously poring through copies of LIFE and various American photo journals. In 1957 he bought his first camera. “I was smitten, and gradually the prospect of becoming a photographer became less remote, perhaps even attainable.”
Andy Warhol by David Bailey
After finishing his national service in 1958, Bailey secured a job with David Olin, who was then the main supplier of photos to Queen Magazine. In 1959 he became an assistant to fashion photographer John French in London. In 1960, at 22, he was already working as a freelancer for BritishVogue, and soon became almost as famous as the people he was photographing: fashion designer Mary Quant, and everyone who was involved inBazaar, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, The Who, singers Marianne Faithfull and Sandie Shaw, actresses Mia Farrow, Catherine Deneuve and Geraldine Chaplin, actors Peter Sellers and Michael Caine, and models Jean Shrimpton, Twiggy and Penelope Tree. Bailey also photographed the period’s current fashions on the streets of London and New York for magazines like American Vogue and Glamour. “I wanted to be like Fred Astaire, but I couldn«t, so instead I went for the next best thing, which was to be a fashion photographer.”
Kate Moss by David Bailey
Bailey’s career and personal life seemed to thrive during the Heyday of the “Swinging Sixties,” and while at times the public seemed more interested in his colorful exploits than in his photography, it is his work which really speaks for itself and withstands the test of time. In the past, he’s cited Picasso as being his greatest inspiration. “The first half of the century belongs to Picasso and the second half belongs to photography. These days everyone is called an artist from Madonna to someone who can hold a paintbrush, but it is Picasso who really started the whole thing off and made me want to go and take pictures.” And in the past 40 years Bailey has held steadfast to the way in which he take pictures: Black-and-white, minimalist, very graphic with high contrasts between lighter values and darker tones, and shot on a variety of formats. “I take the same approach today as I did when I started.I’ve always hated silly pictures and gimmicks, which is all I see these days, or, to put it another way, ‘the Avant Garde has gone to Kmart.”
Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate by David Bailey
All told, Bailey has written and produced countless books, directed films, arranged photographic shows and made commercials. His book Goodbye Baby and Amen is the complete record of his work and captures the decade he first flourished in, with portraits of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, as well as actresses, politicians, artists and writers of the day. His first book of portraits, David Bailey’s Box of Pin-ups, was published in 1965.David Bailey’s Rock and Roll Heroes, 1997, showcases more than 80 of his most vivid images of the pop scene from the 1960s on - images of Mick Jagger, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and The Who - and also includes more recent photographs of recording artists like Seal, Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis, Sting, and Dave Stewart. Two noteworthy films are Beaton by Bailey, 1971, and Andy Warhol, 1973. In 1984 there was a major retrospective of his work at Manhattan’s International Center of Photography, and in 1999 another major show, “The Birth of the Cool,” at London’s Barbican Centre.
Info from PDN Legends Online.