Saturday, 4 July 2009

Research: David Bailey

Now for me, with the first project being on portraits, there is only one photographer I can look at. There are a number of excellent portrait and fashion photographers, Guy Bourdin (who I researched in a previous course), Annie Leibovitz, Cecil Beaton, Harry Peccinotti, but with having worked in a camera shop, and being a photographer, there is one name I hear all the time: David Bailey. The customer's favourite in the camera shop "I'm no David Bailey or anything", or the conversation on someone discovering I'm a photographer "oh so you fancy yourself as a bit of a David Bailey then?". If there is one man in photography, who could himself be considered a celebrity, it is certainly David Bailey.

David Bailey first took up photography when he was in his national service with the RAF, after the appropiation of his trumpet, he looked for other creative outlets, and bought a Rolliflex camera. Later he was determined to follow a career in photography and also bought a Canon Rangefinder camera, and he became a second assistant to David Ollins. His career took off while he was a photographic assistant at the John French studio when he was contracted as a photographer for Vogue magazine.

David worked himself to become what is probably recognised as the first "Celebrity Photographer" along with Terence Donovan who he worked with. David himself summed up his appeal very well; "The pictures I take are simple and direct and about the person I'm photographing and not about me." This really underlines David's sense of a portrait. He really looks to do more than just take a photograph, he looks to capture the essence of a person, or at least make the viewer of the photograph connect with the person in the photograph in some way. Again Bailey states; I don't care about composition or anything like that. I just want the emotion of the person in the picture to come across.... to get something from that person."

David Bailey as so many portraits to pick from, spanning many different types of person, every one is individual, there is no "photographic style" as such when it comes to Bailey in my opinion at least, there is just a varied assortment of very personal photographs, and I think this is where his appeal stems from. One of his most controversial images is that of the London gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray:

This image portrays the Kray brothers exactly how you would imagine them to be; tough and confrontational. Bailey has manged to get the exact expressions to portray this from the two brothers, but also created an odd juxtaposition between the two, to create an unease about the photo.

This is another exquisite image by Bailey, he's taken a famous person (Jack Nicholson), got him into a fun pose, but only that controlled the light extremely well, to really mould the face. This is another key feature in Bailey's photographs. With his photographs of men he usually uses strong directional lighting, to pick up every line about the face, and gets them to pull strong fun poses. With women it is usually softer, less harsh lighting, to really give a soft, beautiful look to the skin. I shall post two more pictures below to emphasise this, the second being a self portrait by Bailey, which is just an excellent image of himself.

Unseen Vogue (edited by Robin Derrick and Robin Mur)