The Sixties was a time of rapid change in art, music, fashion, graphic design and photography. London was shaken from its mood of post-war austerity to one of commercial optimism and experimentation. By 1965, the city was the new world centre of culture, and at its heart was a young photographer called David Bailey.
Born in Leytonstone and raised in East Ham in London, Bailey left school at 15. After completing national service in the RAF, he began working as an assistant to the fashion photographer John French. In 1960 he shot his first fashion spread for Vogue; it featured the model Jean Shrimpton, who became his muse.
Bailey was part of a generation of photographers, along with Terence Donovan and Brian Duffy, who brought a much needed realism to fashion photography. He credits his working-class roots for this, saying that he always felt an outsider and was compelled to kick against the Establishment. He once said that if he hadn’t become a photographer he’d have been a boxer or a car thief, the only careers open to a lad from the East End.
His photographs of 1960s celebrities defined the decade: Mick Jagger wrapped in fur, The Beatles glowering at the camera, and Michael Caine with an unlit cigarette. He was the inspiration behind the cult 60s film Blow Up and in 1971, at just 33 years old, he had his first museum exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.
In recent years Bailey has published several books on the changing face of London’s East End and in 2014 he made a series of portraits of British centenarians. To celebrate his 75th birthday, the National Portrait Gallery held a retrospective of his photographs that spanned his prolific career. The NPG’s Director at the time, Sandy Nairne, said, ‘Bailey produces images of people that cut to the quick. Never bound by stylistic convention, the engagement between artist and subject is palpable in the final print.’
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