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Photography Masters - David Bailey
Sunday Magazine

Photography Masters - David Bailey

Siddharth S. Kumar

Siddharth S. Kumar

David Bailey was born in London in 1938, and developed an interest in photography while serving in the Royal Air Force, after seeing the photographs of Henri-Cartier Bresson. Starting as a fashion photographer, he became famous between the 1960s & 70s due to his affairs and marriages with Jean Shrimpton, Catherine Deneuve, and Marie Helvin, among others.

His first photography book, Box of Pin-Ups, and his later book, Goodbye Baby & Amen carry portraits of every major cultural figure of the Swinging Sixties, including the Beatles, the Stones, Terence Stamp, Twiggy, Peter Blake, Andy Warhol, Michael Caine, Mia Farrow, Mick Jagger…

It is said that Bailey, undoubtedly, is the greatest British portrait photographer of the past 50 years. Though he was also the best-known, he once lamented everybody knew who he was, but nobody could name a single picture he had taken. Bailey was bestowed with the title of Commander of the Order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth II, and International Center of Photography’s Lifetime Achievement award.

Photography Masters - David Bailey
Lennon & McCartney. Bailey images are mostly high key with the subject’s clothes and other elements creating a strong contrast thereby keeping the subject as the one and only point of interest in the photograph.

At 22, he began to photograph for British Vogue where he worked as staff and later as a freelancer for about 15 years. Bailey's career graph at Vogue was meteoric-- he was shooting covers soon after joining, and at his peak, shot 800 pages of Vogue editorial in one year. American Vogue's creative director, also a model, once said, "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".

Photography Masters - David Bailey
Jean Shrimpton. This is a classic beauty shot that accentuates the model’s features. Her blurry hair gives a sense of motion since its flying. The presence of a subtle side/rim light on the right side further emphasizes her jawline.

Of Jean Shrimpton, whom Bailey made her into an overnight fashion icon, he said: ‘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’.

Noted for its stark backgrounds and dramatic lighting effects, Bailey’s stunning work, reimagined British fashion and celebrity photography from chic, but reserved stylization, to something more youthful and direct.

Photography Masters - David Bailey
Michael Cain. A Rembrandt style lighting creating strong shadows from the side adds drama to the photo. The angle from which the photo was taken (slightly from above) creates a unique perspective.

While he continued to photograph celebrities, in later years Bailey also directed television commercials and produced a number of books and documentary films.

At 81 now, David Bailey remains a long-time vegetarian and refrains from drinking alcohol. In the past 65-odd years of work, he has captured everyone from the Rolling Stones to Nelson Mandela and Kate Moss. He could even force a laugh out of the Queen of England, and make the Kray brothers, the gangster duo, look cool.

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Siddharth Kumar, is the Co-Founder & Lead Photographer SIDART Photography, a professional photography venture focusing on weddings, portraiture and commercial photography. After an 8-year stint in an MNC, he decided to pursue his passion for photography and music. In 2019, he was awarded Certificate of Honorable Mention by International Photography Awards (IPA), Los Angeles. In 2014, he won the First Prize at the International Photography Competition organized by Mindshare Worldwide. He holds a Grade 8 Certificate in Piano Performance from Trinity College London.