It’s rare that a photographer becomes as famous as his celebrity subjects, but David Bailey proves the exception to the rule. Renowned for transforming fashion photography in the early 1960s, David Bailey’s life was as fascinating as his career. Now, new memoir Look Again aims to uncover the truth about the man behind the lens.
A world-renowned photographer, David Bailey’s opus was once described by Vogue as ‘a body of work that near defines twentieth [and twenty-first] century celebrity’. Clearly, his influence isn’t overstated. Bailey captured important figures from across all walks of life in his work, from Naomi Campbell to Diana Vreeland, The Rolling Stones to Salvador Dali, The Krays to HM Queen Elizabeth II (who he famously made laugh). Together, his photographs offer an important insight into modern social history.
But aside from his glittering career, Bailey’s love-life was always headline-worthy. Many of his lovers were also his muses, such as model Jean Shrimpton, who he propelled to fame (only to be threatened with a shotgun by her father). Later, when he married French actress Catherine Deneuve, Mick Jagger was his best man. Two more marriages to models Marie Helvin and Catherine Dyer would also follow.
In the memoir, Bailey describes his childhood growing up in East London, where he lived through the Second World War, experiencing the Blitz first hand. Today, he reveals, he still jumps when he hears a bang. At school, dyslexia led him to be written off as stupid. But experimenting with his mother’s box Brownie camera at the age of 12 was his first introduction in a passion which would change his life.
But before he found his metier, a series of dead-end jobs ensued – the low point being his time spent as a debt collector aged just 17. Then in 1956, he was called up for national service and served with the Royal Air Force in Singapore. It was here that he earned enough money to buy his Rolleiflex camera, as well as a second hand Canon – the instruments that would set him on his next path.
When he returned from Singapore, Bailey was determined to pursue a career in photography. Turning down a job with Lord Snowdon (who he called ‘Snowdrop’), he worked with fashion photographer John French for a year. But Bailey soon learned to disregard the rigid rules of 50s portrait photography, channelling the energy of London’s street culture into his images instead.
By the 60s, Bailey’s revolutionary photos for Vogue confirmed him as one of the most important and relevant photographers on the scene. No wonder then that he claims it was photographers who invented the 60s, capturing the real stirrings of change at the time. From the rise of the Nouvelle Vague in French cinema to the naissance of pop-culture, Bailey was at the centre of these modern movements, capturing them all.
Eye-opening and candid, Look Again is filled with plenty of irreverent anecdotes about the glamour and debauchery of 60s London. But as well as writing about life in the Swinging Sixties, Bailey also discusses his contemporaries, including his fascinating friendship with designer Nicky Haslam and photographers Donovan and Duffy, as well as his well-known rivalry with Lord Snowdon, later husband to Princess Margaret with whom Bailey ‘got on great’.
Now in his 80s, Bailey is still active and his body of work is prolific. To date, he has published over forty books as well as directing over 500 short films, documentaries and commercials, and his work has been exhibited multiple times at National Portrait Gallery – proof of the way in which his legacy has truly timeless appeal.
Look Again is out 29 Oct (Macmillan, £20)