Today’s photographer is David Bailey. I had seen his image of Jane Birkin with her flowing long hair in the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle-upon-Tyne when I was still living there as it was part of a portrait exhibition. I decided to find out more about this incredible man. Its seems from the get-go that I might have the same views on photography as this man, judging from a quote of him:
“It takes a lot of imagination to be a good photographer. You need less imagination to be a painter, because you can invent things. But in photography everything is so ordinary; it takes a lot of looking before you learn to see the ordinary.”
David Bailey was born on the 2nd of January, 1938 in Leytonstone, as the older of two children. His family was forced to move to Heigham Road, East Ham when a World War II bomb destroyed their home. Bailey was three years old at that time. He went to Plashet Grove school, developed a love of natural history, and this led him into photography. Suffering from undiagnosed dyslexia, he experienced problems at school. He attended a private school, Clark’s College in Ilford, where he says they taught him less than the more basic council school.
He left school on his fifteenth birthday, to become a copy boy at the Fleet Street offices of the Yorkshire Post. He raced through a series of dead end jobs, before his call up for National Service in 1956, serving with the Royal Air Force in Singapore in 1957. The appropriation of his trumpet forced him to consider other creative outlets, and he bought a Rolleiflex.
After his service, in August 1958, he was determined to pursue a career in photography and purchased a Canon Rangefinder. Unable to obtain a place at the London College of Printing, because of his school record, he became a second assistant to David Ollins, in Charlotte Mews. He was delighted to be called to an interview with photographer John French and in 1959 he became a photographic assistant at the John French studio. He would come to work at John Cole’s Studio Five in May 1960 before being contracted as a fashion photographer for British Vogue magazine later that year.
Along with Terence Donovan and Brian Duffy, he captured and helped create the ‘Swinging London’ of the 1960s: a culture of high fashion and celebrity chic. Together, they were the first real celebrity photographers. The film Blowup (1966), directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, concerns the work and sexual habits of a London fashion photographer and is largely based on Bailey.
As well as fashion photography, Bailey has been responsible for record album sleeve art, for performers including The Rolling Stones and Marianne Faithfull. He photographed Terence Stamp, The Beatles, and notorious East End gangsters the Kray twins, Oasis, boxer Naseem Hamed and supermodel Naomi Campbell to name just a few. He has also directed several television commercials and documentaries. Together with David Litchfield he published Ritz Newspaper. Bailey was awarded the CBE in 2001.
He maintains that throughout the years his style of photography has remained the same:
” I’ve always tried to do pictures that don’t date. I always go for simplicity. “
His lighting set-ups are just that as well: simple. He likes to use (one) available light – anything that is at hand, be it a flash, bulb, torch or even just a candle. On the Independent forum he says:
“I hate photographers who go on about lighting and composition because you shouldn’t need to think about all that – it just comes. It’s not important anyway. It’s the emotion in a picture that counts.”
“You learn from everybody. You steal from everybody. Don’t copy. If you copy, you end up no good; you should steal and make it your own.”
My favourite images: