The documentary Fame, Fashion, Photography: Bailey’s 70s, first shown on BBC 4 to coincide with his exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery in 2014 provides a great insight into probably one of the best known names in photography.
Bailey’s success, and endurance, as a photographer is as much down to his charm and personal style as it is to his hard work photographing pretty much everyone who is anyone over six decades. He goes out of his way to connect with his subjects, often spending an hour or more just talking to them and sometimes less than 15 minutes actually taking their picture.
Bailey’s name is one of the few owned by a photographer that has entered the national lexicon. I suspect that if you asked the average citizen of the UK to name a photographer most would be hard pushed to think of anyone other than David Bailey (maybe Snowden because of his royalty connections would be another). Part of his fame came from him being associated with Olympus cameras through a series of television adverts in the 70s for the Olympus Trip. His name has also become well known through one of the enduring catch phrases that people often use when passing, sometimes less than complementary, comments on someone’s photographic ability – “who do you think you are, David Bailey?”
The BBC 4 documentary throws up a couple of interesting back stories on this phrase. One is that it was actually first used when Bailey was spotted in an East-end pub with the infamous Kray twins (whom he photographed). Bailey was spotted by one of the Kray’s accomplices taking photographs of the twins and asked, “who the fuck do you think you are, David Bailey?”. The other anecdote is from the equally famous photographer Don McCullin who says that the comment has even been fired at him when he’s been spotted out and about taking pictures.
Bailey’s influence has certainly impacted my style of photography and his iconic black and white portraits where he placed his sitter against a white background and often framed them with a black border is one that I love and often (try to) emulate.
Here are a few such images taken from a recent shoot I did for the fashion designer, entrepreneur and founder of Zimbabwe Fashion Showcase Chiedza Dawn Ziyambe.
Dawn’s Zimbabwe Fashion Showcase runs an annual fashion show highlighting the best of African fashion. This years show is at the exclusive members club Tramp in Mayfair, London on 28th September where I will be photographing the proceedings.
All images in this post were taken with a mix of Fujifilm and Olympus cameras/lenses as well as Elinchrom lighting equipment at the workshop of Dolls of Decadence in the Jewellery Quarter of Birmingham.