So how did a working-class boy from London‘s East End become Britain‘s most famous photographer? Hard work. being there at the right time. a lucky break and being cocky is the secret of his enormous success. But things weren‘t always easy: Bailey‘s dyslexia caused him much grief. He couldn‘t read or write and would get the cane when he couldn‘t spell. ()nly really excelling in drawing and painting. he became interested in photography.
‘It fascinated me that you could put a piece of paper in some water. well. what I thought was water. and a picture came out.” he says. ‘lt still amazes me. It wasn‘t until I was sixteen that I started to see pictures. I saw photography because I used to play the trumpet too. and there was this jazz photographer. William Claxton. and I saw his pictures on jazz LPs and 1
seen as a high living. promiscuous photographer. which wasn't helped by Michelangelo Antonioni‘s 1967 film Blow-l 'p about a womanising. idolised photographer. which was supposedly based on Bailey. And more recently. Mike Myers. of Austin l’mvi'rs fame. outed Bailey as the inspiration behind the film's protagonist's ‘shagadelic' exploits.
He indeed had a reputation. but what he should be remembered for is his unique photographic creations. 'I‘hc forthcoming exhibition at Edinburgh's Dean (iallery reveals his pioneering approaches to fashion photography. Also on show are Bailey"s celebrated black and white portraits of (Ms icons; Michael Caine. Marianne Faithfull. Andy Warhol. Mick Jagger. Peter Sellers. John Lennon and Paul l\1c(‘artncy to name but a
few. His colour portraits of [fast lim/ I-ia'es taken for
thought. “My god. there’s something to this photography." And then about a year later. I saw a Cartier-Bresson picture and that convinced me about photography.‘
And the rest. as they say. is photographic history. Having bought his first camera in I957 while posted
'lt fascinated me that you could put a piece of paper in some water,
The Sunday Times in [968 are equally striking. A couple sit in the Old Horn pub enjoying a drink. two women live it up in the Rio (‘lub and. in one of the most remarkable pictures in the series. the Kray Twins are photographed with their pet snakes.
And still today. his style is emulated. A recent
out in Singapore during his time in the RAF. he got a job as an assistant to fashion photographer John French after completing his national service in 1958. Bailey would experiment with his own ideas. Snapping informal portraits of friends. he would also go on location fashion shoots using his sister Thelma as a model. And by July 1960. he was snapped tip by Vogue.
There was a freshness about Bailey‘s style. He injected a streetwise energy into the static fashion portraits shots of the 1950s. For the first time. models were photographed outside the formal conventions of the studio. In his fourteen-page story New York: Yong Idea Goes West photographed for Vogue in February 1962. he captures the young. newly—discovered model
Jean Shrimpton wearing the latest fashion in the hectic streets of
Manhattan. This new approach to fashion photography soon earned him work offers from American magazines and a growing international reputation.
David Bailey became synonymous with the ‘Swinging London‘ scene of the l960s. becoming an icon himself. He was
First page Michael Caine (May 1965); left lean Shrimpton (Nov 1963); right The Kray Twins (Apr 1965); far right Catherine Deneuve (Aug 1965).
0 David Bailey
well, what I
thought was water, and a picture came
Time Out cover which looked at London‘s present- day gangland reproduced Bailey"s I965 portrait of the Kray Twins. But this doesn‘t seem to live him. ‘They copy that one all the time but I don't mind: it‘s good.‘ says Bailey. 'I think the computer has made life a lot easier for people. It’s dangerous because it makes mediocre people look better than they are and it makes good people look mediocre. if you‘re not careful.‘
With future photographic and film projects in the pipeline. including plans to make a small film about his childhood in London. I ask Bailey if he‘s ever had any regrets about his life. ‘Absolutely not. I love my life. I think I‘m very lucky. I wake up every morning and say shit. I‘m lucky. At this age. I‘m lucky to wake up at all!’
David Bailey: Birth Of The Cool opens at the Dean Gallery, Edinburgh on Sat 17 Feb. David Bailey: Archive One by Martin Harrison (Thames 8: Hudson £39.95) is out now. The paperback edition of If We Shadows (Thames 8: Hudson £24.95) is out on 5 Mar.
15 Feb-l Mar 2001 THE llST 25