A belated blog entry caused by probably the busiest summer I think I’ve ever had. I went to see Baileys Stardust exhibition at the National portrait Gallery at the end of May 2014, just prior to my trip to China, hence why the blog entry didn’t get done at the time.
David Bailey evokes varied responses from most people, non photographers have heard of him, most have seen his work in print at sometime, but photographers either appear to love him or hate him. (The Marmite response).
Bailey was one of the first photographers I studied for my photography A level and as such I grew to admire him for his fashion and portrait work. His later work which was more conceptual was not so good and highlighted an obvious lack of Art knowledge, although occasionally his keen instinct overcame this and he produced some very good pieces. His latest venture is in travel photography and unfortunately again the standard is not as high. Bailey to me has always been a people photographer and it puzzles me why he has moved away from this.
He is a man who’s reputation is secure despite the lack of public appeal of his current work, simply because of the genius of his earlier work which was so far ahead of its time and totally unique.
So the chance to see his early work on display in the National Portrait Gallery was an opportunity not to be missed.
There are several images synonymous with Bailey, the portraits of Michael Caine, Mick Jagger and The Kray Brothers and the fashion shots with Jean Shrimpton, Twiggy and later Marie Helvin.
His portraits use a basic set up, plain white backdrop, side lighting and a non smiling expression. In the taking (or printing) he slightly distorts the image by adding a very subtle fisheye effect, giving the impression the menacing figures are closer than you’d like. The effect works in that the subjects appear to invade your space.
I tried this studio set up and lighting on a friend and was pleased with the result which closely resembled a Bailey portrait. Adding the distortion effect digitally was simple and very effective.
The exhibition contained all of Baileys iconic images, an absolute joy to see up close, and lots more images I hadn’t seen for years. Each set was displayed in separate rooms which helped to identify the evolution of his work from the 1960’s to the modern day.
To me Bailey will always be one of my favourite photographers and is arguably one of the best black and white portrait photographers of all time. He is an iconic photographer now experimenting with a new direction which I’m sure will succeed in adding to his life’s work and cementing his reputation for all time.