11 x 14
Bailey has always been keen to explore the possibilities of new technologies for photography. From the family’s ‘Box Brownie’ of his childhood, the imitation Rolleiflex he bought in Singapore, his 35mm single-lens reflex, Speed Graphic and Polaroid cameras and a host of small-, medium- and large-format film cameras along the way, to the most sophisticated digital cameras, Bailey has used them all.
The photographs in this section were taken with a very large format camera that produces negatives 11 x 14 inches in size. Bailey has used the camera occasionally since the mid-1970s, usually working with it in his studio; at the time of its manufacture it was one of only a handful of its kind in England. Due to the technically demanding loading process and the high cost of the film, Bailey only uses two exposures for each sitting.
‘Curiosity is everything. If you don’t have curiosity, you don’t have anything. That’s the thing that keeps you going – you’re curious about what’s around the corner. And if there’s no “around the corner”, then you’ve lost it.’
In 1983 Bailey travelled to Australia to produce a photographic survey of the continent. He spent time on the eastern side and intended to return to photograph the western side, but the project was cancelled. Very few of the portraits Bailey made in the first part of the project were ever published or exhibited. Using Polaroid negative film, Bailey has been able to achieve unusual effects in some of the finished images.
The images of the Aboriginal people Bailey met were taken in Townsville and Cairns in Queensland. He often felt that cameras were not welcome and taking photographs could incite conflict. Bailey was keen to record the powerful murals that the Aboriginal people had created, some of which contained political messages.
ANDY AND DALÍ
Bailey had first met artists Andy Warhol and Salvador Dalí individually in the 1960s, but made portraits of them together in Paris in 1972. Dalí was attending a ball and invited Bailey to visit him at the Hôtel Meurice and Warhol happened to be in the city at the same time. Several of the portraits here were made on that occasion.
Bailey had made a documentary film about Warhol for British television shortly before the Paris encounter. The film was said to cross the boundaries of ‘taste and decency’ and its transmission was delayed. It included some nudity and an interview with Bailey and Warhol in bed – Warhol’s stipulation to participate in the film. Bailey also made portraits of Warhol’s friends and associates in New York at the same time.
Bailey has made portraits of many important and influential practitioners of the visual arts including painters, film directors and fellow photographers. Some are friends such as Terence Donovan and Brian Duffy who were Bailey’s colleagues from the 1960s onwards. Others were great artists captured in their later years such as Man Ray, Bill Brandt, André Kertész and Brassaï.
Bailey’s portraits of British artists include Francis Bacon, whom he first encountered in London in the late 1950s, and describes as ‘probably the greatest English painter of the twentieth century’. Among contemporary artists, Bailey’s friendship with Damien Hirst has resulted in several photographic portraits of the artist and a collaborative joint exhibition in 2004
BLACK AND WHITE ICONS
‘The pictures I take are simple and direct and about the person I’m photographing and not about me. I spend more time talking to the person than I do taking pictures.’
Bailey is perhaps best known for his black and white portraits, taken against a simple white background, made throughout his career. Some of the most memorable are of actors and musicians, some taken early in their careers that became their defining image. Two sitters Bailey particularly admires are the actors Jack Nicholson and Johnny Depp, despite his claims that actors are difficult to photograph.
In the case of Nicholson, their existing friendship made the sitting successful.
Bailey’s close association with musicians has also resulted in striking images. The two portraits of Marianne Faithful, one from 1964 the other from 1999, capture the singer in contrasting phases of her career. The series of portraits of bands and individuals made at the Live Aid concert in London in 1985 to raise money for famine relief, were shot in a makeshift studio created for Bailey backstage at the event.
BOX OF PIN-UPS
The publication of David Bailey’s Box of Pin-Ups in 1965 came about after Bailey had increasingly turned his attention to portraiture in the previous year. The portfolio contains thirty-six portraits of contemporary cultural figures from the worlds of fashion, pop and members of the Ad Lib club in London. They were mostly Bailey’s friends, and although some went on to achieve even greater fame, such as John Lennon and Paul McCartney, David Hockney and Terence Stamp, others have since fallen into relative obscurity.
In his accompanying text Francis Wyndham wrote: ‘In the age of Mick Jagger, it’s the boys who are the pin-ups’ and the selection includes only four women. Other images include Cecil Beaton, Rudolf Nureyev, the Kray brothers and a double exposure of the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein.
‘I’m lucky in my personal life – I’ve got such a great wife. She’s the best thing that ever happened to me, maybe, besides being born. She’s a beauty in the classical sense – a Roman beauty, really.’
Bailey met the model Catherine Dyer in 1983 and they married three years later. Catherine has been wife, muse and mother of his three children, Paloma, Fenton and Sascha. Catherine has been photographed by Bailey in many contexts and a selection of portraits was published in Bailey’s book The Lady is a Tramp (1995) with a foreword by Fay Weldon. On being asked whether she feels used or objectified in any way, Catherine replied ‘Good God, no. I’m always in control. Always.’
‘I feel more at home walking down the street in Delhi than I do walking down the street in Paris.’
Delhi is a place that Bailey has visited many times and knows well. It is a city that has been photographed continually from the 1840s onwards and Bailey wanted to try to make a brief history of Delhi in the twentieth century. The images on display here were all made in 2011 as part of this project.
The portraits include black and white images of sadhus (holy men) and colour images taken of the decaying wax works and dioramas at the Tribal Museum, Bharatiya Adimjati Sevak Sangh.
‘My style is nothing. It sounds really pretentious – my way of making everything minimal, just concentrating on the person and getting rid of everything else. It’s just the person I want. That’s the only thing I want. I don’t want anything else.’
From 2001 to 2005 Bailey invited visitors to his studio to pose naked for a series he was working on. The photographs were made with the consistent approach of each session lasting ten minutes, using a white background, even lighting and only six exposures with the subject placed about six feet in front of a 10 x 8 camera. The images were processed and printed in the same way without cropping or retouching. Bailey’s ‘democratic’ method meant that the only variations came from the sitters themselves.
The results were published in Bailey’s book Democracy (2005), with an introduction by the zoologist Desmond Morris. He observed that whereas nude models are usually chosen for their idealised qualities, this self-selecting group were images of naked people and therefore more informative about humankind.
‘My mother was from Bow, my father it seems was from Hackney, my grandfather from Bethnal Green. Before him they were all from Whitechapel, as far as records show.’
David Bailey was born in Leytonstone in London’s East end in January 1938, the son of a tailor. As he grew up he spent time in areas including Bethnal Green, Shadwell, Brick Lane and Whitechapel. The exhibition includes Bailey’s black and white photographs of these areas taken in 1961 and 1962 showing the post-war landscape with bomb-damaged streets and ruined buildings. These areas were soon to be rebuilt and Bailey’s images capture the neighbourhoods before their regeneration.
The colour portraits were taken for The Sunday Times Magazine and published in June 1968 for the feature, ‘East End Faces’. They were made in the pubs, clubs, gyms and cafés of east London and represent a social scene that is now almost lost.
FASHION ICONS and BEAUTY
‘I like beauty that creates itself. I don’t like the obvious beauty.’
Despite not regarding himself as a fashion photographer, it was Bailey’s work for Vogue in the early 1960s that made his name. Fashion photography has remained an important element of his work ever since. In selecting images for this section, Bailey’s choice has been clear: ‘These are the ultimate ones. There’s no one like these people.’ They include the stylist Anna Piaggi, the editor Diana Vreeland and designers Tom Ford, Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld.
However, the models that Bailey holds in the highest esteem are Jean Shrimpton and Kate Moss, photographed here in a sitting for French Vogue. He says of the two women: ‘There’s a magic about them. The reason they’re so successful is that everyone adores them.’
‘People didn’t see much difference between the police and the gangsters in the East End. They were pretty much the same thing.’
While growing up in the East End of London, the criminal underworld was never very far away from Bailey and his family. His father owned a club and in the mid-1960s Bailey got to know the twins Reggie and Ronnie Kray. Bailey first photographed the brothers for his Box of Pin-Ups and was invited to photograph Reggie’s wedding. He was then commissioned by The Sunday Times to photograph a story on the Kray twins, however the feature was not published.
More recently Kate Kray, Reggie Kray’s former wife, collaborated with Bailey on her book Diamond Geezers (2002). The portraits in the exhibition chosen from the project are selected from her list of the ‘toughest, hardest men in Britain’.
‘It’s the hardest trip I’ve been on – it made Afghanistan look like a walk across Primrose Hill.’
In October and November 2012, Bailey travelled to Nagaland, a small state in the north-east of India that lies on the border with Burma. The arduous trip to the mountainous region of the Naga Hills was physically extremely demanding.
Bailey made portraits of local elders, who still uphold the traditional way of life, and younger people who may choose to move away and make their lives elsewhere. The subjects are shown with large images Bailey made of their environments that aim to convey as much information about the lives of the individuals as their portraits.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA
In 1974 Bailey had the opportunity to travel to Papua New Guinea and make portraits of the tribespeople there. The project was undertaken with a spirit of adventure as the people of the region were only encountered by westerners in the early twentieth century and little was known of the country.
Bailey made portraits of the different groups of people he encountered, each with distinct cultures. In the Highlands he photographed the Kukukuku tribe whose clothes were decorated with feathers from the bird of the same name. At Wagbag he met the wigmen with their distinctive hairstyles and in the lower regions he met the Sepik tribe who produced elaborate carvings.
‘Al Pacino used to make me laugh, because he’d run to get out of breath to do the scene, and then his hair was done like he’d just come out of Vidal Sassoon.’
In 1985, Bailey was invited by American film producer Irwin Winkler to create a photograph for the poster for Revolution, a British film starring Natassja Kinski and Al Pacino, about the American War of Independence. While waiting on set for filming to start, Bailey began to make a series of tableaux with about thirty extras in costume. Imagining that photography had been invented at the time of the Revolution in 1776, he considered how those images might look.
To give the degraded effect, Bailey transferred the Polaroid images to 10 x 8 x-ray film and printed them under water to give the appearance of being taken through an imperfect lens. Bailey did go on to produce the poster for the film with an image of Pacino, however the tableaux conceived by Bailey here do not appear in the film.
THE ROLLING STONES
Bailey first met Mick Jagger when the musician was in a relationship with the sister of Jean Shrimpton with whom Bailey was living at the time, and the two men’s friendship has endured ever since. Jagger would sometimes stay at Bailey’s house and Bailey would go on tour with the Rolling Stones and photographed the band on many occasions.
Bailey photographed the Rolling Stones for a number of album and single covers and made candid portraits of the group backstage on tour, as well as formal portraits of Jagger with friends and family.
‘I think about death all the time. I know there’s nothing out there, but I’m curious.’
Skulls are a recurring theme in Bailey’s work and are objects that he has incorporated into many portraits. These have included model medical skulls, animal and human skulls.
Bailey has produced powerful images of skulls embellished with flowers, fruits and plants to form complex still-life compositions. Bailey brought together a number of these in his book Flowers, Skulls and Contacts (2010). Bailey observes of human mortality: ‘I think they are portraits. They’re just portraits without skin and flesh. I like the idea that we all end up as a piece of art. To me, the ultimate sculpture is a skull.’
‘I couldn’t believe that his hand was as big as a baby. And covered in flies.’
In the autumn of 1984 the disastrous famine in Ethiopia was widely reported on British television. Caused by civil war, sustained drought and a series of poor harvests, the death toll was estimated at 200,000 people and it was thought that 900,000 would die by the end of the year. Shocked by the scale of the emergency and the reluctance of Western governments to take action, pop musicians led by Midge Ure and Bob Geldof collaborated to form Band Aid and record the single ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ to raise funds for the relief effort.
Thousands of Ethiopian refugees fled to neighbouring Sudan at a rate of about 2,000 per day. Bailey offered to help Band Aid to raise public awareness of the famine and, taking no fee for his work, flew to the region to photograph conditions in the refugee camps on the Ethiopian/Sudanese border. In 1985 the resulting images were exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London and published as Imagine: A Book for Band Aid.