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