How did you know to write them?
BAILEY: The only reference to photography in those days was one
book by Ansel Adams and an American book called Photography Masters.
So really the only reference to photography was Vogue and Harper's
Bazaar because I wasn't interested in the kind of wildlife photography they
did in National Geographic. So I just saw their names and thought, "This
one's famous, that one seems good," and wrote them. Snowdon gave me tea from a
silver teapot and said, "Are you any good at building room sets, because I do
a lot of room sets?" And I thought, "I don't like the sound of this," so I said,
"No, I want to be a photographer, not a carpenter." Anyway, John French gave me
a job as a third assistant. I was only there 11 months, but I worked up to first
assistant. I left to freelance, and then British Vogue offered me a staff
job. I didn't think Vogue was much different from any other magazine,
and I turned them down. I think they were quite shocked. But what they offered
to pay me per week was what I got for one picture working for someone else. So
I said, "No, thank you." Three months later they phoned me up and said, "Would
you like a contract?" So I signed on with British Vogue, and I think
I had a contract there for about 15 years.
You once said you owe your career to two gay men.
© David Bailey
(3 of 20)
I do. Two gay men gave me my start. French, who loved encouraging people, and
John Parsons, the art director of British Vogue. In London at the time
you could go to prison for being gay, so they were outsiders, and being outsiders
I think they sensed that I was an outsider, too. I was an outsider by my social
class, but in a way it put me into their club. We were sort of outsiders together.
I think without those two guys, it would have taken me much longer.
Before Jean Shrimpton hit weren't fashion models pretty much untouchably aristocratic?
BAILEY: The whole thing of fashion was sort of upper middle class,
especially in Europe. Upper middle class gay men really ran the business. A bit
less so in New York. In a funny way it was a kind of gay Mafia. In fact, French
sort of fell in love with me. And, you know, I'm not against someone making a
passI was rather flatteredbut that was as far as it was gonna go.
How did you meet Shrimpton?
I met her up at British Vogue. I used to have my own studio there, and
there were two other studios there as well. One day I walked past one of the studios
and there was this vision, this girl with these blue eyes, being photographed
for a cereal ad. She took my breath away. I said, "Who's that?" And the photographer
who was shooting her said, "This girl called Jean." I said, "I think she's great."
He said, "She's too posh for you. You don't stand a chance."
What was it about her that took your breath away?
Shrimpton and Ossie Clark,
© David Bailey
(4 of 20)
BAILEY: It's difficult. You can't explain. It's magic. It's like
when you see a picture of Garbo or Dietrich. I just thought she was breathtaking.
Jean had an appeal that was kind of democraticeverybody liked her. Culturally,
she had no barriers. She wasn't the girl next door. She was the girl you wished
lived next door.
At that point was she successful?
Not at all. I had a big fight with a Vogue fashion editor about her.
They gave me my first big leadyou know, the first 20 or so pages of the
magazineand I said, "I want to use Jean." And I remember the editor saying,
"Just because you're bonking her doesn't mean we're going to use her in Vogue."
And I said, "No, she's great." So they said, "If the pictures are no good, we
won't let you re-shootyou'll lose the lead." I insisted. And then it just
took off from there because Jean was great.
If you're having a personal relationship"bonking"with someone
you're also photographing... how does that work?
BAILEY: It works very well when you've got a relationship with
someone who's beautiful and who you love. I think we literally shot together every
day for two-and-a-half years. I had seven Condé Nast covers in one month
with Jean. She was on the cover of Newsweek, Time and LIFE.
She really was the first supermodel.