David Bailey challenges the codes and traditions of photography. He has a love for the purity and the authenticity of a picture taken on the spot. His approach is personal and peculiar. His work is his passion, his way of expressing his will, his desires, his fantasies. The enfant terrible of the world of fashion was born in London in 1938. As a self-taught photographer, his new found popularity brought tremendous change to the world of fashion and advertisement photography thanks to intimist approach. His models are true and proud women who wish to no longer be considered as mere coat hangers. He is, often wrongfully, simply considered as a fashion photographer due to his partnership with vogue.
His more personal works include landscapes, journalism and nude; an approach to photography strongly influenced by cinema and documentaries. In 1948, he comes across a black and white picture of a woman in prayer, taken by Henri Cartier Bresson. He immediately proceeds to acquire a analog camera. This photograph and his discovery of Stravinsky and Picasso will mark a turning point on his artistic journey. “I saw a piece by Picasso in Look magazine when I was seventeen years old. I had no idea what a work of art was before this point, and it excited me. If I had to choose a moment that felt anything close to a revelation in my entire life, it would be this moment. Picasso had shown me that there were no rules. A bycicle wheel doesn’t necessarily have to be round. He had a simplistic visual ingenuity that was never complicated or pretentious. It is this simplicity that I strive to express through my pictures”.
After applying to work for several magazines and photographers, David Baily became an assistant to the John French studio in 1959 before making his debut as a photographer with John Cole in May of 1960. He was later hired at the age of 22 as a fashion photographer for the british magazine Vogue. A studio shot picture taken for the Daily Express, representing Paulene Stone on her knees with a squirrel in her hand, is the impending sign of Bailey’s creative force. This picture marks the beginning of his seperation with the period’s standards. He rapidly gets his first front page on the cover of Vogue in february 1961. In only a year, he shot 800 editorial pages for Vogue and acquired an incredible rise in popularity. In 1966, famous italian director Michelangelo Antonioni took inspiration from David Bailey when working on this movie Blowup, which depicts the surreal life of a fashion photographer in London.
David Baley immortalized John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Yoko Ono and the Rolling Stones before creating an album cover for The Who. He captured portraits of celebrities such as Mia Farrow, Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve, Peter Sellers or Michael Caine and more recently Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell. Bailey is also the creator behind several television advertisements and documentaries. From 1968 to 1971, he directed and produced TV documentaries such as Beaton, Warhol and Visctoni. He was appointed Commander of the British Empire in 2001. For this interview, we met the Master in his London based studio. Now at the age of 80, David Bailey is still active and creative. He still takes photographs, but also paints and sculpts... This is a reflection of a world, an era, the potrait of a captivating, saavy, honest, fun and innovative man.
Do you consider yourself a photographer, a portraitist, an artist?
None of the three. I do not particularly like photography. It's just a medium, a tool. It's exactly like a brush. I do not like cameras either, but they are tools with which I can express myself, they are only tools.
What seduces you in a model?
Everyone is different so it's up to you to find what you like in someone! And you have to do it before you shoot the right person. The actors are just hard to photograph because they are still playing comedy. But I love everyone, I like masons, ice sellers, poets ... Everyone!
Do you like to destabilize people?