And where was poor old Catherine Deneuve at this point?

BAILEY: Oh, she'd got fed up with me. I don't know... she was in Paris making more movies and more movies... she never stopped making movies. We didn't see each other very much because she was always making movies. I remember once we were in New York at the same time, and she was at the Plaza and I was at the St. Regis and we never got to see each other.

Didn't you see Blow-Up together?

BAILEY: Yes, at one of those cinemas opposite Bloomingdales.

When Michelangelo Antonioni made Blow-Up, did you know that it was a film based on you?

© David Bailey
Federico Fellini
Vogue, December 1965 (variant published)
© David Bailey

(13 of 20)
BAILEY: The original idea to make a film about a London fashion photographer was Carlo Ponti's. These two Italian producers came up to see me at the Vogue studios and said, "Would you like to make a film?" I think I'd just started making commercials and I thought they wanted me to direct the film. So I said, "Sure." You know, I was arrogant: If they'd asked me to remake Citizen Kane, I'd have said, "Why not?" Anyway, during the conversation—with their bad English and my no Italian—they started talking about the way I dress. I thought, "Just a minute, what's the way I dress got to do with making a movie?" But they were asking me if I'd be in the movie. Of course I said, "No." And then a year later, Antonioni came on to direct the film. I never talked to Antonioni. He didn't like me because he thought I was after his girlfriend.

Were you?

BAILEY: No, I wasn't after her at all.

But Blow-Up must have been a huge moment for you?

BAILEY: No, Blow-Up wasn't a good moment for me. It lost me work because people thought, "We don't want to work with somebody who's arrogant like the person in Blow-Up."

Did David Hemmings make sense to play you?

BAILEY: I think Terence Stamp would have made more sense because we have the same background. But I think Antonioni fired Stamp about two weeks before they were to start filming.

Did you know they were making it?

BAILEY: Vaguely. I didn't take much notice. I wasn't that interested.

Were you at that point the most famous photographer in London?

BAILEY: I guess... me, Cecil Beaton, and Norman Parkinson. Really, me and Cecil Beaton. Parkinson was famous because he was tall, so he stood out in a crowd.

Did that make you feel triumphant over your past? Were you generous? Selfish? Narcissistic?

BAILEY: All of those things. No, no. I mean, no, I wasn't narciss... whatever the word was. I wasn't like one of those daffodils. And I definitely wasn't self-satisfied. I never really thought about it that much. I just was having a good time. If you don't know anything different you think that kind of success is normal. It seemed normal. It seemed like getting up every day and having another normal day, which, looking back, was not really normal. But my life at this moment is completely abnormal. I'm not sure where I'm going to be tomorrow. So it's always been like that. I think you just seize the moment. I remember when I was a small kid, there was an American singer called Frankie Lane, and he sang a song called "I'm Gonna Live 'til I Die," and I thought, "My God, that's a good idea."

Why didn't the '60s polish you off? It polished many people off, and you lived a relatively fast life.

BAILEY: The '60s did finish off a lot of people; there were a lot of victims from the '60s. But there are a lot of victims from every decade. But I think I'm quite tough. And it's great being a photographer because you can go photograph cannibals in New Guinea—like I did for five weeks—but that doesn't mean you're going to eat meat. Or you can go photograph hippies, and that doesn't mean you're going to take drugs. Or you can photograph mercenaries in Africa, and that doesn't mean you're going to shoot people. Photography's great because the camera kind of protects you in a way. It takes away your reality, because you see everything through the camera.

How did you come up with your particular photographic perspective? If what had preceded you was Avedon, Penn, Horst... you certainly represented something radically different. How did that something come to you?

© David Bailey
London, East End, April 1962
© David Bailey

(14 of 20)
BAILEY: I think my influence comes from cinema. I was very influenced by Hollywood and then by the French New Wave. Godard's Breathless was an enormous influence on the way I took pictures at the time, because I loved the kind of instant moment. I wasn't so influenced by Penn or Avedon—more by William Klein. I liked what he was doing on the streets. But then I moved into the studio—tried to simplify everything. I do prefer a white background and just the person, because it's the hardest picture to take. Cartier-Bresson is a great photographer, but if you have enough people sitting around it's kind of easier than just someone alone against a white background. But the people you tend to work for are all literal, they're all basically writers, and they understand a Cartier-Bresson image more than they understand someone standing against a white background. And if you're not careful it can look like a passport picture. Still, I try to simplify things by just having a white background and no distractions. 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, even if I have to force it out of them by being rude. I actually hit someone once—a famous Indian film director. He had a face like a chisel, and he wouldn't do anything. So I hit him.

Who were your heroes?

BAILEY: In those days my heroes were Penn, Avedon, Picasso, Huston, Fellini. Godard... quite a mixture.

Looking back can you characterize the decades?

BAILEY: Well, the '50s were kind of gray, and the '60s became black-and-white. That's how I look at it. And then the '70s became a dreadful color, and the '80s just became greed. And the '90s became I'm looking forward to the zeroes. I think up until the '50s, everyone of my generation was totally influenced by American culture via Hollywood. Then in the '60s, something happened in England... in London, really. It was like a few thousand people in London suddenly found their own identity.

Tell me about the spirit of London. Carnaby Street? Mary Quant? Biba? Were you part of that?

BAILEY: I never liked what happened to clothes in the '60s. I liked what Yves Saint Laurent was doing in Paris. I definitely did not like Carnaby Street. I thought it was all a bit silly. Remember, the '60s really ended in '65. When you had Sammy Davis come to London, you knew the '60s was over. It became a theme-park. It wasn't real. It was all about money and manufacturing, and selling the American flag and the Union Jack as pop art symbols. There was no substance, really.