Best and worst of Bai­ley

Plaza Magazine UK & Europe - - CONTENTS - BY CAMILLA ALFTHAN

Plaza nails down the ec­cen­tric Bri­tish pho­tog­ra­pher at the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery in Lon­don.


Few pho­tog­ra­phers have de­fined mod­ern pop cul­ture and the fash­ion scene like David Bai­ley. His pic­tures of swing­ing Lon­don in the 1960s set the tone for a whole decade. With love in­ter­ests in­clud­ing Pene­lope Tree, Jean Shrimp­ton and Cather­ine Deneuve, he be­came a nat­u­ral part of the scene. He was soon em­ployed as the royal pho­tog­ra­pher at Amer­i­can Vogue, where he worked for the leg­endary chief editor Diana Vree­land. Dur­ing the busiest time of his ca­reer, he pro­duced as much as 800 news­pa­per pages a year. When join­ing the Bri­tish air force aged 18, Bai­ley dis­cov­ered Henri CartierBres­son, whose work inspired him to be­come a pho­tog­ra­pher. It’s no co­in­ci­dence his work con­sists of starv­ing chil­dren in Su­dan as well as iconic mod­els, artists, star­lets and au­thors. The ex­hi­bi­tion Bai­ley’s Star­dust, which opened in Fe­bru­ary at the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery in Lon­don, show­cases over 250 pieces from Bai­ley’s ca­reer. He chats to us on Skype, un­afraid to voice provoca­tive opin­ions while slurp­ing his cof­fee.

Which are your per­sonal favourites in the ex­hi­bi­tion?

“They’re all my favourites. The pic­tures of Mick Jag­ger and Kate Moss get stuck with the fash­ion vic­tims and shal­low view­ers. Those are the only pic­tures they can re­late to. But there are un­known peo­ple fea­tured in the ex­hi­bi­tion. I have pho­tographed can­ni­bals and peo­ple who col­lect heads in Pa­pua New Guinea. I’m cu­ri­ous about peo­ple yet un­af­fected by ex­ter­nal civil­i­sa­tion.”

But it was within the 1960s fash­ion in­dus­try you first had the op­por­tu­nity to work cre­atively.

“It was the only place you got paid for be­ing cre­ative. I haven’t done fash­ion since the eight­ies. I shoot celebs and tal­ented in­di­vid­u­als. Some stuff I do for char­ity. I’ve never been in­ter­ested in money but have only ever done what feels right. The only time I ever com­pro­mised was when I di­rected ad­verts. It was purely com­mer­cial, not art.”

But isn’t art com­mer­cialised to­day?

“It’s al­ways been. My ex­hi­bi­tion at the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery is spon­sored by Hugo Boss. Who paid for the Ital­ian re­nais­sance? The church and the Medici fam­ily.”

Michelan­gelo An­to­nioni’s film clas­sic Blow Up from 1966 was inspired by your work as a fash­ion pho­tog­ra­pher.

“It wasn’t an amaz­ing film. Seven Samu­rai was. Also, I’m not a pho­tog­ra­pher, I’m an artist. I paint and make sculp­tures, those are dif­fer­ent ways to ex­plore my cu­rios­ity.”

Do you of­ten work with the same mo­tive?

“Yes, nowa­days I make paint­ings based on the an­nun­ci­a­tion. I think the whole process of an an­gel fly­ing down to tell the Vir­gin Mary she’s ex­pect­ing a child, it must have been pretty emo­tional for her.”

You also do self por­traits.

“Only if it can pre­vent a dull pho­tog­ra­pher stop­ping by and spend­ing three hours to take an ugly pic­ture of me. I can take an ugly pic­ture of my­self in two min­utes.”

Which pho­tog­ra­phers do you ad­mire?

“H. Cartier- Bres­son, Walker Evans, Hel­mut New­ton, Bruce We­ber.”

You’re work­ing on three books. How many have you pub­lished?

“Forty maybe, not count­ing the cat­a­logues. It’s like when some­one asks how many mod­els I’ve slept with. I’ve lost count.”

Was it more than 100?

“Hell no. It wasn’t some show on the telly.”

Were you al­lowed a greater artis­tic free­dom by be­ing born into a work­ing class fam­ily?

“No, in fact it was prob­a­bly a disad­van­tage. In the fifties you weren’t al­lowed to talk to some peo­ple if you didn’t have the right ac­cent. It was like the In­dian cast so­ci­ety. And on top of that I was dyslexic. I didn’t go to univer­sity, where peo­ple just get more stupid and are taught the wrong things.”

Is the school of life bet­ter?

“No, that’s the worst one. Most peo­ple don’t have a chance since their too busy sup­port­ing their fam­i­lies.”

Many envy your lifestyle.

“They couldn’t work as hard as me. I get up at six in the morn­ing and go to bed at 2am. I make sculp­tures and paint­ings. I’ve painted since I was three. That’s what I do. Some peo­ple make cof­fee, oth­ers cre­ate things.”

Mick Jag­ger, 1965.

Kate Moss, 2013.

Head hunter at Pa­pua New Guinea , 1974.

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