It’s not the camera that takes the picture; it’s the person.”
- David Bailey
David Bailey’s bold and striking style has made him one of the most renowned photographers of our time. With an artistic practice of over six decades, his photographic work spans genres - from fashion to portraiture, nudes, to still lifes, documentary, landscape, and reportage - and expands into painting and sculpture. Bailey’s photography discarded the formal structures of the medium and introduced fresh energy and a new way of looking that came to define a new generation.
Self-taught, Bailey’s photographic style is epitomised by his sense of minimalism, stark contrast, and striking movement. His fashion photography revolutionised the culture by capturing his models amidst the experiences of the metropolitan and free use of 35mm film. His iconic portraits are known for their high definition and contrast; often setting his subjects against white, he removes the nuances and traditions of background and often closely cropped, portraying his sitters with incisive clarity.
David Bailey was born in London in 1938. His childhood shaped his early experiences in the East End during the Blitz of WWII. Having left school at fifteen, he was conscripted to the Royal Air Force in 1956. Whilst posted in Singapore, he bought his first camera and was inspired to be a photographer after seeing Cartier Bresson’s photograph, ‘Kashmir’. Bailey started working with fashion photographer John French as his assistant in 1959. He left soon after to strike out his career as a photographer and published his first portrait of Somerset Maugham for ‘Today’ magazine in 1960. Discarding the rigid rules of a previous generation of portrait and fashion photographers, he channelled the energy of London’s newly informal street culture into his work. In 1965 he published David Bailey’s Box of Pin-Ups, which is now seen as defining an era and shaping the future of photography.
In 1976, he launched Ritz magazine with David Litchfield, both of whom acted as co-editors. Alongside his photographic practice, Bailey has produced documentaries and commercial films, for which he was awarded an Emmy in 1990. He has been recognised internationally for his filmmaking skills and won the Lion d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for his Greenpeace commercial, Meltdown. His documentary subjects include Cecil Beaton, Andy Warhol, and Luciano Visconti. In 2005, David Bailey received the Centenary Medal and Honorary Fellowship from the Royal Photographic Society. In 2014, David Bailey was commissioned to photograph the official portrait of Queen Elizabeth II to celebrate her 88th birthday. In 2016 he received a Lifetime Achievement award from the International Center of Photography in New York.
Alongside photography, Bailey has always had a passion for music. His taste is an eclectic mix from the melodies of Cole Porter to jazz, blues and rock and roll. A close friend since the 60s, Bailey has photographed Mick Jagger through the years as he evolved into an icon of British rock and roll. From the small venues of their early days to their stadium tours, Bailey has photographed The Rolling Stones in action and has been responsible for some of their most memorable album covers.
Bailey also photographed the other 60s British music icons, Lennon and McCartney and, in subsequent years, John and Yoko Ono and Paul McCartney’s Wings. Bailey has had the opportunity to photograph some of his jazz heroes, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. In the 70s and 80s, his portraits of musicians included artists from both sides of the Atlantic, from Alice Cooper and Patti Smith to David Bowie, Elton John, and Cat Stevens; as well as British Punk scene leader Johnny Lydon of the Sex Pistols and reggae master Bob Marley. There is no shortage of female stars in his archive, Cher, Barbra Streisand, Tina Turner, Dusty Springfield, Grace Jones and Bjork, amongst others. His portrait of the Gallagher brothers in the 90s is a significant image of the “Cool Britannia” period of British music history.
Bailey has travelled extensively, and although best known for his fashion and portraiture, his interests are varied, extending beyond photography to TV commercials, film, painting and sculpture.
Books of his photographs include Box of Pin-ups (1964), Goodbye Baby & Amen: A Sarabande for the Sixties (1969), Another Image: Papua New Guinea (1975), David Bailey’s Trouble and Strife (1980), David Bailey, London NWI: Urban Landscapes (1982), Imagine (1985), David Bailey: If We Shadows (1992), David Bailey’s Rock and Roll Heroes (1997), David Bailey: Chasing Rainbows (2001), Eye (2009), followed by Bailey’s East End in 2014. David Bailey: Bailey Exposed (2014) features observations by Bailey, interviews with a number of his subjects, and photographs. Taschen published the self-titled book David Bailey in 2019; this limited edition Sumo book presents a retrospective of this artist’s photographs, reflecting the culmination of an incredible career and two years’ worth of research into his personal archives. In 2020, the artist released his autobiography, Look Again.
Bailey has exhibited worldwide, with the first of his landmark exhibitions in 1971 at the National Portrait Gallery, London, featured alongside the works by David Hockney and Gerald Scarfe in the exhibition SNAP! Other exhibitions have been held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (1983), International Center of Photography, New York (1984), Birth of Cool, Moderna Museet, Stockholm (2000), and Bailey’s Stardust, National Portrait Gallery, London (2014), which travelled through 2015 to Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea, Milan, and Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh. Bailey’s work is held in private and public collections, including the National Portrait Gallery in London, Victoria and Albert Museum, and Los Angeles County Museum of Art.