David Bailey and the Story of Fashion Photography

British Fashion Council

Britain's greatest living portrait photographer who reinvented and revolutionised fashion photography.

Considered one of the pioneers of contemporary photography, David Bailey is credited with photographing some of the most compelling images of the last five decades. He first rose to fame making stars of a new generation of models including Jean Shrimpton and Penelope Tree. Since then his work has never failed to impress and inspire critics and admirers alike, capturing iconic images of legends such as: The Rolling Stones, the Kray twins, Damien Hirst and Kate Moss, these simple yet powerful black and white images have become a genre in their own right.


David Bailey, was born in Leytonstone East London to Herbert Bailey, a tailor's cutter, and his wife, Sharon, a machinist. Bailey developed a love of natural history, and this led him into photography.

Bailey 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 camera.

He was demobbed in August 1958, and determined to pursue a career in photography, he bought a Canon rangefinder camera. 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 earned £3 10s (£3.50) a week, and acted as studio dogsbody.


In 1959, Bailey became a photographic assistant at the John French studio, and in May 1960, he was a photographer for John Cole's Studio Five, before being contracted as a fashion photographer for British Vogue magazine later that year.

Along with Terence Donovan and Brian Duffy, Bailey captured and helped create the 'Swinging London' of the 1960s: a culture of fashion and celebrity chic. The three photographers socialised with actors, musicians and royalty, and found themselves elevated to celebrity status.

The film Blowup (1966), directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, depicts the life of a London fashion photographer (played by David Hemmings) whose character was inspired by Bailey.

The "Swinging London" scene was aptly reflected in his Box of Pin-Ups (1964): a box of poster-prints of 1960s celebrities including Terence Stamp, The Beatles, Mick Jagger, Jean Shrimpton, PJ Proby, Cecil Beaton, Rudolf Nureyev, Andy Warhol and notorious East End gangsters, the Kray twins.

 A self confessed industry 'outsider', Bailey is famous for his ability to put his subjects at ease, building up a rapport on set and focusing on the model as the most interesting part of the image. He famously met muse, girlfriend and modelling icon Jean Shrimpton on the roof of the Vogue offices. Bailey has also become a muse of sorts himself, as one of the first British photographers to garner a reputation that rivaled the rock stars, icons and models he photographed. 

David Bailey and Angelica Houston

"We were so young. I don't think Bailey or anyone had any idea how important the work we were doing was...we were just kids really, I was 18 when I first started working with Bailey. I met him on the roof of Vogue"
Jean Shrimpton

"I photographed women the way I saw them on the streets. People could identify with Jean because I didn't make her look like a stuffed shop mannequin. Suddenly she was someone you could touch, or maybe even take to bed"
David Bailey

"They’re the most peculiar women, I’ve never understood why everybody likes them so much. There are many more beautiful girls. But they’ve got this universal, democratic appeal. It’s like Dietrich and Garbo in movies, they’ve just got this thing that makes them stand out.”

David Bailey on Kate Moss & Jean Shrimpton

"I like people with depth, I like people with emotion, I like people with a strong mind, an interesting mind, a twisted mind, and also someone that can make me smile."
Abbey Lee Kershaw

Cara Delevigne and Pharrell Williams

Naomi Campbell is famous for being late. David Bailey claims the world record: whilst doing a job with Naomi in South Africa she kept him waiting for three entire days.

Baileys first official foray into the world of fashion photography was his appointment to British Vogue in 1960. He remained associated with the magazine first on staff, then as a freelancer for over fifteen years. His use of stark black and white backgrounds, closely cropped shots and sharp lighting lead to a new era of fashion photography. This new style epitomised the changing London cultural scene and Bailey's flamboyant personality was at the epicentre. 


'"That’s my favourite fashion picture of all time." It is the back view of a dress, as sculptural and sinuous as a wave, wrapped around a model whose face you cannot see. "Balenciaga. I did that in ’65 for [then Vogue editor Diana] Vreeland. Balenciaga was fantastic, but that’s it. I’ve done it now. The average fashion photographer is like a wedding photographer to me – they just do the same old thing."'

David Bailey, interview by The Daily Telegraph Newspaper

"But not only did he know how to seduce, he certainly knew his photographic history... what made Bailey refreshing was the fact he never set out to take a 'Vogue photograph'; he did what he thought would be best."
Vogue Historian, Robin Muir

"I never liked what happened to clothes in the '60s. I liked what Yves Saint Laurent was doing in Paris. I definitely did not like Carnaby Street. I thought it was all a bit silly. Remember, the '60s really ended in '65. When you had Sammy Davis come to London, you knew the '60s was over. It became a theme-park. It wasn't real. It was all about money and manufacturing, and selling the American flag and the Union Jack as pop art symbols. There was no substance, really."

David Bailey

"You treat each person as an individual...You adapt to who you're photographing. It's their personality, not mine I want."
David Bailey

"I don’t know what I do. All I know is that when other people do white backgrounds, they look like passport pictures."
David Bailey

A Bailey portrait shoot may take about two hours, but only half an hour of that involves the camera. He is watching the body language, the way his subjects use their hands, the little tics they may never have noticed themselves.

In December 1976, Bailey and his former 'The Image' colleague David Litchfield launched monthly magazine 'Ritz Newspaper'. Originally aimed to be a crossover for the British market between 'Interview' and 'Rolling Stone', the publication featured everyone from Andy Warhol to Bianca Jagger. David Bailey was involved with the magazine for eight of the fifteen years it was in print, and was credited with introducing paparazzi photography to the UK. 

The first Ritz newspaper was published in 1976, the year that punk broke in London. Ritz Number 1 included a special feature on Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm Maclaren's shop SEX and the new fashion revolution they were starting from the King's Road.

Andy Warhol would make the cover of Ritz in 1980. Warhol was an artist that David Bailey knew well after Bailey made a documentary about the founder of pop art in 1973. Bizarrely the film was banned in the UK for several months thanks to a protest by the 'silent majority'. Luckily you can now watch the documentary here.

Jerry Hall is a frequent subject for David Bailey and was photographed for The Ritz in 1981. Two years later Bailey would take the now iconic shot of Jerry Hall & Helmut Newton on the beach at Cannes - a vibrant study of that decades excesses and hedonism.

David Bailey's signature style may be stark black and white portraiture but his work in colour is equally distinct. Colour adds another layer to David Bailey's work and often the undercurrent of sexuality that is present in so much of his photography is magnified. Of course colour makes the work bolder and more vibrant but it also seems to make the imagery more daring and less self-controlled. David Bailey's colour photography shows the brilliant versatility of the photographer and adds yet another facet to his incredible body of work.


David Bailey is an accomplished film maker as well as a photographer; he has produced well over 500 commercials, short films, documentaries, TV programmes and even a feature film. David Bailey's TV commercials in particular show a genius for story telling and narrative. These commercials are by turn funny, shocking and stirring. In his film work David Bailey shows the same instinctive understanding of people and their motivations. It should come as no surprise that the most accomplished of his commercials are those that capture human emotion.

Volkswagen Golf 'Changes' directed by David Bailey for the advertising agency DDB

'Dumb Animals' directed by David Bailey in 1985

"It’s the moment that counts. It’s the only thing we’ve got in life really, and nothing captures it the way a stills camera does.”
David Bailey

Credits: Story

This exhibit was created by the British Fashion Council in collaboration with David Bailey and Camera Eye Limited; in particular, Mark Pattenden and David Bailey himself, must be thanked for all of their help in creating this exhibit.

All rights belong exclusively to David Bailey who has kindly given his permission for the British Fashion Council to use his work in this exhibit only. All models have been credited where known.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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