David Bailey: Godfather of Cool

Posted on February 20, 2012

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“You adapt to who you are photographing. It’s their personality, not mine I want.”

By David Wren

Photographer, filmmaker, painter, sculptor. David Bailey possesses all of these talents as well as being an icon of Swinging 60s London. He has now been working in the photography industry for 53 years and it looks like the great man has no intention of stopping any time soon.

When it all began in 1959, Bailey himself would not have known the stardom, with which he would be blessed with in the coming years. In 1960 he was appointed as a fashion photographer for British Vogue. From here he would see great success and be given celebrity status – not to mention socialising with some of the biggest celebrities in Britain – at the time uncommon for a photographer.

Bailey’s ascent in Vogue was huge and his success was massive. Within months, he was shooting covers and at the height of his success he shot 800 editorial pages for the magazine in one year.
Bailey, along with Terence Donavan and Brian Duffy were known as ‘The Black Trinity’ and captured the 1960s ‘Swinging London’: a huge breakthrough in fashion and culture.

He also married twice in the 60s, first to Rosemary Bramble whom he divorced within a year to be with mistress and model Jean Shrimpton. He was briefly engaged to Shrimpton before ending the relationship and marrying actress Catherine Deneuve. Bailey was married to Deneuve for seven years before they divorced in 1972.
In 1964 the Swinging London setting was famously shown in Bailey’s “Box of Pin-Ups”. This included poster-prints of 60s celebrities such as The Beatles, Cecil Beaton and Andy Warhol.

American Vogue’s creative director Grace Coddington said: “It was the Sixties, it was a raving time, and Bailey was unbelievably good-looking. He was everything that you wanted him to be – like the Beatles but accessible – and when he went on the market everyone went in.”

Although Fashion was Bailey’s main protocol in terms of photography, he has also been responsible for album-sleeve art for artists such as The Rolling Stones and Marianne Faithfull. One of Bailey’s most famous pieces of work depicts the Rolling Stones and features Brian Jones who drowned in 1969 under the influence of drugs and alcohol. The picture shows Jones standing apart from the rest of the band, an image that conveys a great deal of irony now.
Over the years Bailey has also delved into the world of television. He has directed several television commercials and documentaries. Between 1968 and 1971 he directed and produced the TV documentaries, “Beaton”, “Warhol” and “Visconti”.

Martin Harrison, art critic, said of Bailey: “He’s Britain’s greatest photographer, it’s a visual medium, he looks through the camera and he doesn’t have to say any words. The words are here.”
The 70s again proved to be a fantastic decade for Bailey. In 1970 he was hired to photograph Cat Stevens for his upcoming album, Tea for the Tillermen. Although Stevens disliked having his picture on his albums, he gave consent for one of Bailey’s images to be on the inside sleeve of the album. This was followed in 1972 with Bailey photographing Alice Cooper for Vogue. Cooper was almost completely naked and covered by a snake. Cooper again used Bailey, in 1973, for the groups hit album “Billion Dollar Babies”.

1976 marked the start of Bailey’s partnership with David Litchfield. The pair published Ritz Newspaper, one of the first glossy, gossip and fashion magazines. The newspaper ran for 15 years before loosing sales to rival, Tatler. During the 1970s Bailey also married for a third time, to model Marie Hevlin.

His third marriage ended in 1983 after Bailey began an affair with young English model, Catherine Dyer. Dyer remains Baileys wife to this day and they have three children together Paloma, Fenton and Sascha.

In the 1990s, Bailey delved into the world of television once more, directing BBC Drama “Who’s Dealt?” starring Juliet Stevenson in 1992. He also directed and wrote The South Bank Film; “The Lady is a Tramp” featuring his third wife, Catherine Bailey.

As well as being involved in photography and television, Bailey is also a keen painter. He received a CBE in 2001 for his services to the arts.  In 2010 Bailey visited Afghanistan to photograph British troops raising money for the charity, Help the Heroes. In 2012 the BBC made a documentary about Bailey’s relationship with Jean Shrimpton entitled “We’ll Take Manhattan”. At 73, Bailey still has the same passion and drive he had in 1959.

The great man continues to work today and still remains the godfather of cool.

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Posted in: Profiles