Self Portrait by David Bailey, 2009
"Dull is awful. If you call someone dull... I'd rather be called a cocksucking bastard than dull. There's nothing duller than dull." David Bailey.
Bailey, Donovan & Duffy by Arnold Newman
Along with Duffy and Donovan the three East End lads brought rock-star status to fashion photographers of the era. Sex, drugs, rock & roll were the staples of the 60’s and these three photographers were in the middle of it all, hanging out with the Stones, Bowie, Twiggy, The Beatles and the infamous Kray twins.
As with Duffy & Donovan, Bailey grew up in the bombed-out streets of East London. Born in North Leyton in January 1937 in a house which now boasts a blue plaque in his honour, Bailey’s family were forced to move to East Ham after bomb-damage to the house next door during the Blitz in 1945.
Suffering from undiagnosed dyslexia (plus dyspraxia and ADHD), school wasn’t a happy place for Bailey. He went to a private school in Ilford but claims he only attended 33 times in one school year, leaving at the age of 15 to become a copy boy at the Fleet Street offices of the Yorkshire Post.
After National Service and missing out on a place at the London School of Printing due to his school record, Bailey became 2nd Assistant to David Ollins before landing a job with the fashion photographer John French, a springboard to his career with Vogue.
Starting at Vogue in 1960, his rise was meteoric. Within months he was shooting covers and in his most productive year he shot 800 pages of Vogue editorial. He was dashingly handsome with all the attraction of a cockney ‘bad boy’ and all the models wanted to work with him.
Said Grace Coddlington, American Vogue’s creative director who was then a model herself, of Bailey, “"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".
But Bailey was besotted with Shrimpton: “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. She had the knack of having her hand in the right place, she knew where the light was, she was just a natural.”
The 60’s were his formative years; flat-sharing with Mick Jagger and hanging around with actor Terence Stamp, however don’t ever suggest that was his hey-day. “It wasn’t my heyday. Now is my heyday. Bloody cheek.” he said when interviewed by The Evening Standard in 2016.
For 30 years, Bailey lived in and around Hampstead & Primrose Hill in North London. 100 of his photos from those days are featured in a book & his ode to the postcode, NW1, showcasing what he calls a “beauty in destruction”.
Since the late 60’s, Bailey has directed several TV commercials and documentaries and shot portraits of music icons of the time, Rolling Stones, Marianne Faithful, Cat Stevens, and Alice Cooper. He paints, he sculpts and he’s no fan of Instagram, blaming the internet for “giving mediocrity a voice”.
As with Donovan, Bailey has never stopped shooting. Sticking to black & white, his love of monotone came from the cinema; they’d go sometimes five times a week because the ticket was cheaper than the shilling needed to feed the gas meter.
He was awarded Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2001, the Centenary Medal & Honorary Fellowship by the Royal Photographic Society in 2005 ad the Lifetime Achievement Award by the International Centre of Photography, New York in 2016 along with being named one of GQ's 50 best Dressed British Men in 2015.
As for the end of his life? David has only one wish – despite being happily married to former model Catherine Dyer for of 22 years, he knows exactly where he'd like to spend his last moments on earth - and who with."If I could go to bed with Michelle Pfeiffer and Julia Roberts at the same time... F***ing heaven! That's where I want to be when I die," he told the Sunday Times Magazine. "Any man who says he doesn't is a liar."
For more photos by David Bailey, visit our Black Trinity Pinterest Board.