Issue 31
David Bailey’s Stardust
The ‘Bailey’s Stardust’ exhibition at London’s National Portrait Gallery
celebrates the photographer’s distinctive images, his life from humble
beginnings, as well as all the fun and debauchery.
Famed photographer David Bailey was paramount in capturing the spirit of London’s 'Swinging 60’s ' turning the lens on stars of the ‘60s across all creative mediums: art, music and fashion.

Born in East London, he turned his hand to photography via a love of natural history and art. School wasn’t easy for Bailey, who was struggling with undiagnosed dyslexia. This led him to pursue a more creative forte; he left school on his fifteenth birthday and became a copy boy at the Yorkshire Post. Forced to consider other creative outlets, he bought a Rolleiflex camera and the rest as they say, is history.
Bailey became second assistant to photographer David Ollins then photographic assistant at the John French studio. The turning point of his career came when Bailey was contracted as a fashion photographer for British Vogue. Young, talented and handsome, Bailey captured the culture of fashion and celebrity chic that was swinging through London. He socialised with actors, musicians and royalty, and found himself elevated to celebrity status.

Bailey continued to climb the career ladder, within months he had gone from freelance projects to shooting the acclaimed magazine’s covers. At the height of his time at Vogue, he shot 800 pages of editorial in one year. American Vogue's creative director Grace Coddington, then a model herself, 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. We were all killing ourselves to be his model, although he hooked up with Jean Shrimpton pretty quickly."

The essence of the times and London’s star scene was aptly reflected in Bailey’s Box of Pin-Ups; one of two large bodies of work displayed at the Gallery. The box of poster-prints include The Beatles, Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol and notorious East End gangsters, the Kray twins.

Of his model muse Jean Shrimpton, Bailey said, “She was magic and the camera loved her too. In a way she was the cheapest model in the world – you only needed to shoot half a roll of film and then you had it.”

Stardust captures so many of their best collaborations, famed as much for their ability to produce striking image after image as the pairs much publicised relationship that has been depicted most recently in BBC Four’s film, ‘We'll Take Manhattan.’

Bailey has created so many memorable photographs; it is a treat to see his chosen selection on show for the first time. It is hard to ignore some of his stand out images that will still be cited as inspiration and noteworthy long after his and his subject’s time. The 1972 Alice Cooper Vogue magazine portrait, where the singer is almost nude albeit for a slithering snake is a shining example of Bailey’s brave and iconic style.

The exhibition guides us from room to room through eras of excitement through image, helping us imagine the star-studded life Bailey viewed through his notorious lens. His life has been sprinkled with stardust, but he manages to make every subject a star in their own right. This is evident in his capturing of the lives of inhabitants he has encountered on his travels to Delhi, Papua New Guinea, visiting aborigines in Australia, Sudan and war torn Afghanistan. Bailey remarks, “'It's not the camera that takes the picture; it's the person.”

Such is Bailey’s iconic tie with British culture that in 2001, he was appointed CBE for his services to Art. Top of FormThe exhibition also features images taken on his personal phone, an insight to the newest technology, (though he is not a fan of the selfie) that contrasts with the art form of photography from his heyday.

Bailey says of his long running career “I've always tried to do pictures that don't date. I always go for simplicity.”

See that ‘simplicity’ for yourself 6th February till 1st June.
Bailey's Stardust
6 February - 1 June 2014, National Portrait Gallery, London.
Sponsored by HUGO BOSS
Spring Season 2014 sponsored by Herbert Smith Freehills.
Opening image: Jerry Hall and Helmut Newton, Cannes by David Bailey, 1983 © David Bailey
Words by Jenny Brownlees