David Royston Bailey - Swinging Sixties - Barbican

David Royston Bailey was born in Leytonstone, East London (a street over from where Alfred Hitchcock was born) on 2 January 1938. Bailey married Rosemary Bramble 1960-61, Catherine Deneuve 1967-70, and Marie Helvin 1975-85. He is currently married (from 1986) to Catherine Dyer with three children, sons' Fenton (16) and Sascha (6), and daughter Paloma (15). It was his photograph of Jean Shrimpton ("the Shrimp") which he took in NY for Vogue in 1962 that earned him international acclaim. To think that he originally worked as a window-cleaner, was also dyslexic and still became so famous with his cool image of the '60s is inspiring. He had his exhibition, Birth of the Cool, in February at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. I saw it at the Barbican in 1999. His other exhibitions were at the National Portrait Gallery 1971, V&A 1983, and the International Centre of Photograph NY 1984. His film photography included Marhol (1974), Who Dealt? (1993), The Lady is a Tramp (1995), Models Close-Up (1998), and The Intruder (1999) starring Nastassja Kinski and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Michelangelo Antonioni's 1996 film Blow-up, about a womanising, Bentley-driving, cool photographer (played by David Hemmings) is based on David Bailey; you can understand how he is a legend, at least as a character. (I love the Bentley car, once described as the "world's fastest truck" and coming back to racing after 70 years. The founder W. O. Bentley had five epic victories at Le Mans in 1931. The Bentleys acquired by Rolls Royce are now trying to get back into racing with the help of Volkswagen. )The photos of swinging London in the film were really taken by Don McCullin and the character played by David Hemmings was also drawn from two other East End photographs, Brian Duffy ad Terence Donovan (who committed suicide in 1996). Bailey says of Donovan's death, "it was the worst thing that ever happened to me. "David Bailey - both in the film and in the studio when addressing his models - made famous the cliche "That's great, that's great", he coaxed the supine girl "Again with the hair. Do that again. C'mon, c'mon. More, much more. "The rest they say is history!

He took photos of Mick Jagger (the best man at his wedding when he married Catherine Deneuve in 1957). Roman Polanski introduced Bailey to Catherine Deneuve while "shooting" her in Paris for Playboy. The marriage was a scandal. She wore a black dress and smoked throughout the ceremony and he wore jeans. He also photographed the Kray twins playing with their pet snakes and the first supermodel Jean Shrimpton emerging from the crowd on a Manhattan street. He photographed Penelope Tree who became another one of his lovers; she was an American. He says he had four marriages and six wives including a four-year relationship with Jean Shrimpton while he was still married to Deneuve. In 1968 he began to live with American model Penelope Tree; she was 17 - he was 30. He claimed to have slept with 350 of his models. He says, "I've always been more interested in the girl than the dress". He made a career in the fashion industry. I read in the newspaper that he has a studio near a tourist area and sometimes tourists would stop him (not knowing who he is) and ask him to take their picture and the tourist - much to his amusement - usually ask him if he knows how to press the button. Even at the age of 63 he keeps going as an artist, still taking portraits and travelling the world. He doesn't like to be associated with the glamorous 60s because he thinks it makes him look too old!!

The National Portrait Gallery has some of his work - portrait of Julie Christie and Princess Diana. He said the cinema influenced him, which in the East End was the only cultural thing he had. He said, "We went there because it wascheaper than putting a shilling in the gas. We'd go seven nights a week sometimes. I was already taking pictures before I even saw work by Irvine Penn or Bill Brandt. "

He has one younger sister Thelma and an Aunt Dolly. He says "Everyone had an aunt Dolly in the East-End. "He dislikes football and likes bird watching. At the age of 10 Bailey stopped eating meat, "My father thought I was a fucking queer, but queer didn't mean homosexual. In those days it just meant a bit of an oddball. "With his dyslexia undiagnosed he says that while the idea of him being a visual, rather than a literary, person cannot be ascribed to his dyslexia, he says it definitely pushed him in that direction. He was good at drawing and he still paints and produces six pieces a year for his pleasure but has sold a few including two works to the artist Julian Schnabel. His first exposure to photography was "mucking around with the chemicals, not taking pictures. " as he puts it. His mother had a box brownie and did her own developing in the cellar.

He held many jobs including debt collector for a boxing referee, carpet salesman, and window-dresser. He was in the army at 18, transferring to the air force and was posted to Singapore and Malaysia, training in parachuting and jungle-rescue. He says he read a lot in the air force, around five books a week: an autodidact. "Yes, we visual people read more than you literary people look. " he said. He also says the air force changed his life. He saw a Cartier-Bresson photograph that completely knocked him sideways and a painting by Picasso of Dora Maar. He had a copy of Picasso's study of Dora Maar above his head in his room in Singapore, when years later he was asked to photograph Picasso he said "no. . . . not wanting to risk spoiling the myth - although I regret that now. "He bought his first serious camera in Singapore. When he left the air force in 1958, he applied for a photographer position to a top London studio. The photographer John French made Bailey third assistant and introduced him to John Parsons, the Vogue art director. Bailey says,"They were both gay, and looking back I realised that I was a outsider like they were. They were beyond the class and the accent thing. "After five months he began working as a freelance photographer, taking pictures for the Daily Express. Then he was offered a contract with Vogue. He turned it down because, as freelance, he was getting more money for one picture than they paid for a week. At that time he did not know exactly what "Vogue" meant. He preferred reportage and portraits. In 1961, a year later, he was working for the British Vogue and was given a contract by American Vogue. He attended the appointment with Jean Shrimpton (always known as "the shrimp"). The magazine's editor Diana Vreeland said to her staff "Stop! The British have arrived!". Robin Derrick says, "Bailey invented the persona of a British fashion-photographer. And the body of work is colossal. "

He has photographed and romanced the most beautiful women in the world. He has reputation of being difficult, partly because he calls models "silly bitchs" but for him it is meant affectionately. Despite 40 years into fashion photography, his name is still associated with the Swinging Sixties. The exhibition included the key images from the 60s as well as more recent work. You can see Jean Shrimpton next to Kate Moss, very graphic works, a lot of close-ups - quite an exhibition of contrast. When I visited the exhibition in London at the Barbican the last room was a made into a replica of his studio. Some of his assistants were there taking photos of the public with the digital cameras, working on the photos, manipulating the photos and then printing the photos in front of the public. I was completely dazzled with the power of the computer and the digital equipment. I remember one of his assistants saying that no court could take a picture as proof any longer because you can manipulate anything with the computer. He said it was more then three months ago when he bought a normal film for a 35mm as he was only using digital camera. The studio equipment that was made entirely by Lexmark, who was the sponsor of David Bailey and the exhibition, fascinated me. I must say that their little selling tactic worked because I went out and bought a Lexmark printer.

I really enjoyed walking round the David Bailey studio even if it was a fake one. It had the atmosphere of his studio in King's Cross where he also has his London flat. His wife and children live in Devon. He says that having children made him more tolerant and he says, "My assistants have benefited". He must have been a terrible character!!! He also said, "Photography is always about dead. You look at a Picasso and you don't think that the people in it are dead. But if you look at an old photograph of a couple you think about the fact that they are both dead. A painting removes death, but in photography you retain death. "

Bailey started his commercial advertisements in the mid-60s and has directed nearly 500 total. He had the first "ad" banned by British TV (the famous Cadbury's flake). He had the unique distinction of featuring both in front of the camera - who do you think you are? David Bailey ? - and behind. In the Volkswagen ad the woman discards her fur coat and jewellery; in the Lynx anti-fur ad "it takes a dozen dumb animals to make a fur coat and just one to wear it". "Bailey and Richard Avedon were the two British photographers (said Ranking) who influenced me most in portrait photography. I thought the sensitivity and emotion he could capture from his subjects was inspiring. And his style still stands up. He does shots of Johnny Depp like he would have done 40 years ago and they are great. "To coincide with the exhibition at the Barbican, David Bailey was featured in Conversation with David Puttnam, agent the mid-60s and great friend and filmmaker; he discussed his long career - four decades in fashion and portrait photography.

Verinha Ottoni.


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