David Bailey is one of the greatest living portrait photographers. Although his body of work is varied, he has become synonymous with London during the 1960s – he was a photographer who was as famous as his subjects and, with a voracious appetite for work, parties and his female sitters, he became the principal inspiration for the photographer lead in Michelangelo Antonioni’s film, Blow-Up (1966). He and his friends, Terence Donovan and Brian Duffy, were together dubbed the “Black Trinity” by elder rival Norman Parkinson, and represented the young, working-class, heterosexual new face of fashion photography.
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David Bailey was born in Leytonstone, East London, on 2 January 1938 into a traditional, working class family, and experienced a typical wartime childhood. After his family home was bombed during the Blitz, the Bailey family moved to East Ham, where David grew up. After leaving school at the age of fifteen, he struggled to find a career until he was demobbed from National Service in 1958 and, settling on photography, bought himself a Canon rangefinder camera. Between 1961 and 1968, Bailey took photographs of his native East End, prior to its regeneration, depicting people in pubs, clubs and cafes, capturing a social scene that is now almost lost. Bailey’s first break was securing an assistant’s job at the studio of John French, the well-known fashion photographer. Later that year he was contracted to Vogue magazine, and became sought after for comissions.
Bailey’s reputation was backed up by a talent for photography that incorporated stark white backgrounds, uncompromising crops, and striking poses. He was to photography what the Rolling Stones were to pop music: his images radiated youth and sexuality, and helped to define the look of British fashion and style during the period. During the early 1960s, his professional and personal relationship with the model, Jean Shrimpton, was a key factor in cementing this fame. Championed by Vogue, Bailey and Shrimpton created numerous iconic fashion images, and became one of the key celebrity couples of their time.
In 1965, Bailey created his celebrated Box of Pin-Ups, a catalogue of the famous faces in London at the time. It included defining images of cultural icons early on in their careers, such as John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol and David Hockney. The portfolio lent further controversy to Bailey’s burgeoning fame as it also featured the infamous London gangsters, Reggie and Ronnie Kray. This only fuelled the nation’s appetite for David Bailey and, working mostly for Vogue, he became the most famous and influential British fashion photographer of the 1960s.
Still a working photographer, in recent years he has photographed well-known and celebrated personalities and cultural figures, including Johnny Depp, Kate Moss, Tracey Emin and Queen Elizabeth II.