The first thing to say about the David Bailey retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery in London is that it is HUGE. It occupies eight rooms on the entire ground floor as well as the corridor space joining the rooms together. Even the gift shop has been turned over to mostly Bailey merchandising (more of which later).
Bailey has called the exhibition ‘Stardust’ (the title comes from the name of his favourite song by Hoagy Carmichael) and has not only chosen all of the images himself but has printed many of them as well. This is no mean feat given there is in excess of 250, mainly black and white, images. No wonder the exhibition took over three years to plan!
I’d booked tickets to see Stardust as soon as they had become available and despite the odd negative review (well it was the grauniad) was really looking forward to it and have to say it did not disappoint. All of the Bailey staples are here, images from his Box of Pin-Ups, the classic Michael Caine portrait, Francis Bacon (see above), the Kray twins and various pictures of his wives in different stage of undress.
As well as these well known images there are lots of his lesser known works on display as well. These include images of other photographers (Don McCullin, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Jacques-Henri Lartigue to name but three), those from his travels to Africa, Australia, India, and Papua New Guinea and a number of pictures that illustrate London life in the 1960s as well as colour portraits published in The Sunday Times Magazine feature “East End Faces” (1968) made in pubs, clubs, gyms, and cafes.
The most personal, and I think my favourite, images are to be found in the room Catherine Bailey, completely dedicated to his wife and his family.
These include not only the more ‘formal’ portraits you would expect but lots of ‘snaps’ like many of us would have around our house. The impact of these is made more personal in the way they are laid out in a haphazard fashion around all of the walls in the room.
This is definitely a 5-star exhibition and worth a visit if you are in London (or even if you are not). Some say David Bailey not only defined the 60’s with his images he is also Mr Photography himself (largely due to the wonderful television adverts he did for Olympus, see this and this for example). At the age of 75, with over 50 years of image taking behind him, this exhibition shows it was not only the 60’s that was the Bailey decade but all of the decades since then as well as this image, specially commissioned for the exhibition, of Kate Moss surely shows.
Finally of course there is the gift shop! You can take away your own piece of this exhibition whether its the official book, an update to the Box of Pin-Ups (Bailey’s Box of Postcards) or a superb little book called Bailey Exposed containing not only several of his images from the exhibition but many of his famous quotes, my favourite of which I’ll end with.
“Everyone is going to take one great picture in their life and hopefully I’ll do two so I’ll have the edge.”
Bailey’s Stardust is at London’s National Portrait Gallery from February 6—June 1, 2014.