David Bailey was born 1938 in Leytonstone, East London, to Herbert Bailey, a tailor’s cutter, and his wife, Sharon, a machinist. From the age of three he lived in East Ham.
He once said that as a youth he had very limited choices in the job market. “You could become a boxer, a car thief, or maybe a musician.”
David Bailey is almost as well-known for who he’s slept with as for who he’s photographed, has lived a life most of us only read about in the tabloids. He cohabited with British ’60s model sensation Jean Shrimpton, married sultry French actress Catherine Deneuve, and became best friends with Rolling Stone’s Mick Jagger.
David Bailey has produced books, paintings, directed commercials, documentaries and feature films, and even served as model for Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni’s classic film Blow-Up (1966). This “revolutionary” photographer’s true fame, though, lies in his photographic creations, images that move effortlessly from fashion photos for British and American Vogue to “intimate, almost friendly” portraits of celebrities and rock stars to street photography à la William Klein and Robert Frank.: “The pictures I take are simple and direct and about the person I’m photographing and not about me,” Bailey modestly sums up. “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.”
In his earlier life, David Bailey Photographer wasn’t on the list and seemed an even dimmer possibility after Bailey’s failed early efforts to take snapshots with the family’s Brownie camera. Instead, he pretty much did anything and everything else to make money: carpet salesman, tallyman, shoe salesman, window-dresser. . . . It was only after being posted to Singapore while in the British Royal Air Force in 1956 that Bailey started getting more immersed in the field of photography. He discovered the work of Henri Cartier Bresson, which greatly inspired him, and started voraciously poring through copies of LIFE and various American photo journals. In 1957 he bought his first camera. “I was smitten, and gradually the prospect of becoming a photographer became less remote, perhaps even attainable.”
After finishing his national service in 1958, Bailey secured a job with David Olin, who was then the main supplier of photos to Queen Magazine. In 1959 he became an assistant to fashion photographer John French in London. In 1960, at 22, he was already working as a freelancer for British Vogue, and soon became almost as famous as the people he was photographing: fashion designer Mary Quant, and everyone who was involved in Bazaar, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, The Who, singers Marianne Faithfull and Sandie Shaw, actresses Mia Farrow, Catherine Deneuve and Geraldine Chaplin, actors Peter Sellers and Michael Caine, and models Jean Shrimpton, Twiggy and Penelope Tree. Bailey also photographed the period’s current fashions on the streets of London and New York for magazines like American Vogue and Glamour. “I wanted to be like Fred Astaire, but I couldn’t, so instead I went for the next best thing, which was to be a fashion photographer.”
Bailey’s career and personal life seemed to thrive during the Heyday of the “Swinging Sixties,” and while at times the public seemed more interested in his colourful exploits than in his photography, it is his work which really speaks for itself and withstands the test of time. In the past, he’s cited Picasso as being his greatest inspiration. “The first half of the century belongs to Picasso and the second half belongs to photography. These days everyone is called an artist from Madonna to someone who can hold a paintbrush, but it is Picasso who really started the whole thing off and made me want to go and take pictures.” And in the past 40 years Bailey has held steadfast to the way in which he take pictures: Black-and-white, minimalist, very graphic with high contrasts between lighter values and darker tones, and shot on a variety of formats. “I take the same approach today as I did when I started. I’ve always hated silly pictures and gimmicks, which is all I see these days, or, to put it another way, ‘the Avant Garde has gone to Kmart.”
All told, Bailey has written and produced countless books, directed films, arranged photographic shows and made commercials. His book Goodbye Baby and Amen is the complete record of his work and captures the decade he first flourished in, with portraits of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, as well as actresses, politicians, artists and writers of the day. His first book of portraits, David Bailey’s Box of Pin-ups, was published in 1965. David Bailey’s Rock and Roll Heroes, 1997, showcases more than 80 of his most vivid images of the pop scene from the 1960s on – images of Mick Jagger, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and The Who – and also includes more recent photographs of recording artists like Seal, Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis, Sting, and Dave Stewart. Two noteworthy films are Beaton by Bailey, 1971, and Andy Warhol, 1973. In 1984 there was a major retrospective of his work at Manhattan’s International Center of Photography, and in 1999 another major show, “The Birth of the Cool,” at London’s Barbican Centre.
David Bailey, Archive One 1957-1969, published in 1999, includes the bulk of his early fashion and portraiture work, but also unearths some photojournalistic gems taken in the early Sixties, mostly of London’s East End. Today, Bailey’s still going strong and shows no signs of slowing down. His most recent work includes portraits and celebrity shoots for Harper’s Bazaar, Italian Vogue, The London Times and Talk magazine, among other publications.
On 16 June 2001, as part of that year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours, Bailey was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire “for services to Art”.
He was awarded The Royal Photographic Society’s Centenary Medal and Honorary Fellowship (HonFRPS) in recognition of a sustained, significant contribution to the art of photography in 2005.
In 2005, he was involved in a feature titled British Rule for GQ, charting the British influence on rock and roll, photographing several musicians including Paul Weller, Jarvis Cocker, Razorlight, Brian Eno, M.I.A., Ian Brown, The Futureheads, Belle & Sebastian, Damon Albarn, Dizzee Rascal, Kaiser Chiefs, Robyn Hitchcock, Super Furry Animals, and Colin Blunstone.
In 2010, he visited Afghanistan to photograph British troops raising money for the charity Help For Heroes. Bailey maintains that his style of photography remains the same:
I’ve always tried to do pictures that don’t date. I always go for simplicity.
Bailey takes a keen interest in art. An exhibition of his paintings and mixed media works was held at London’s Scream, opening in October 2011. It presents portraits and paintings inspired by his childhood, influences, inspiration, fears and desires.
Bailey has been married four times: in 1960 to Rosemary Bramble; in 1965 to the actress Catherine Deneuve (divorced 1972); in 1975 to American fashion model and writer Marie Helvin; and in 1986 to the model Catherine Dyer (born 20 July 1961), to whom he remains married. He is a long-time vegetarian and refrains from drinking alcohol. An art-lover with a long-held passion for the works of Picasso, he now lives near Glastonbury, Somerset. Bailey has three children.
On 26 January 2012, the story of his relationship with Jean Shrimpton was broadcast on BBC Four in a film, We’ll Take Manhattan, with Aneurin Barnard playing the part of Bailey.
Box of Pin-Ups, 1964
Goodbye Baby & Amen, 1969
Beady Minces, 1974
Papua New Guinea, 1975
Mixed Moments, 1976
Trouble and Strife, 1980
Bailey NW1, 1982
Black & White Memories, 1983
Nudes 1981–1984, 1984
If We Shadows, 2001
The Lady is a Tramp, 1995
Rock & Roll Heroes, 1997
Archive One, 1999 (also titled The Birth of the Cool for USA)
Chasing Rainbows, 2001
Art of Violence, Kate Kray & David Bailey, 2003 (also titled Diamond Geezers)
Bailey/Rankin Down Under, 2003
Archive Two: Locations, 2003
Bailey’s Democracy, 2005
NY JS DB 62, 2007
Pictures That Mark Can Do, 2007
Is That So Kid, 2008
David Bailey: 8 Minutes: Hirst & Bailey, 2009 With Damien Hirst
Flowers, Skulls, Contacts, 2010
British Heroes in Afghanistan, 2010
National Portrait Gallery 1971
One Man Retrospective Victoria & Albert Museum 1983
International Center of Photography (ICP) NY 1984
Curator “Shots of Style” Victoria & Albert Museum 1985
Pictures of Sudan for Band Aid at The Institute for Contemporary Arts (ICA) *1985
Auction at Sotheby’s for Live Aid Concert for Band Aid 1985
Bailey Now! Royal Photographic Society in Bath 1989
Numerous Exhibitions at Hamiltons Gallery, London. 1989 to now
Fahey Klein Gallery, Los Angeles 1990
Camerawork Photogallerie, Berlin. 1997
Carla Sozanni. Milan. 1997
A Gallery for Fine Photography, New Orleans. 1998
Touring exhibition “Birth of the Cool” 1957–1969 & contemporary work
Barbican Art Gallery, London – 1999
National Museum of Film, Photography & Television, Bradford. 1999–2000
Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden. 2000
City Art Museum, Helsinki, Finland 2000
Modern Art Museum, The Dean Gallery, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh 2001
Proud Gallery London Bailey /Rankin Down Under
Gagosian Gallery. Joint with Damien Hirst “14 Stations of the Cross” 2004
Gagosian Gallery. Artists by David Bailey. 2004
Democracy. Faggionato Fine Arts 2005
Havana. Faggionato Fine Arts 2006
Pop Art Gagosian London 2007
Galeria Hilario Galguera Mexico 2007
National Portrait Gallery – Beatles to Bowie 2009
Bonhams, London. Pure Sixties Pure Bailey 2010
Pangolin London. Sculpture + 2010
The Stockdale Effect, Paul Stolper Gallery, London 2010
David Bailey’s East End. Compressor House, London, 2012.
David Bailey’s East End Faces London February/May 2013
Bailey’s Stardust, National Portrait Gallery, London 2014