Why didn't you fall out of fashion in the way that, say, Ossie Clark fell out of fashion?

BAILEY: This sounds conceited, but I think one of the reasons I didn't go out of fashion is because I was never fashionable. I never really had a "style." My pictures are not about a technique. I take the same picture now that I did in '60. I have stuck to my guns... I have always tried to make women look beautiful. I hated all that silly druggy look they went for a few years ago. Fashion, beauty is aspirational. And you can't be aspirational down-market.

Describe a Bailey picture.

© David Bailey
The Rolling Stones
September 1964
(variant of color photograph
taken for the cover of the LP
Out of Their Heads)
© David Bailey

(15 of 20)
BAILEY: The pictures I take are simple and direct and about the person I'm photographing and not about me. I spend more time talking to the person than I do taking pictures. The pictures are over in minutes. I've had models cry because they think they're no good, because I've only done one roll. They'll say, "What's wrong?" and I say, "Nothing's wrong. We got it." Even with personalities, I don't take that long. Because I watch them, and I've already decided the way the picture's going to be.

So how can I recognize a Bailey picture?

BAILEY: It usually says, "Photo by Bailey."

Are you "difficult?"

BAILEY: I've always been considered difficult, which I never understood. I think people think I'm difficult because I know what I want, and I figure if they've asked me to do something then they should let me do what I do, and not say, "We want a silver background." Because I don't really do silver backgrounds. I just had a call from a magazine asking if I would do a Christmas cover—"all glittery." I don't think so. But people do try, and it always amazes me. When I used to do lots of advertising, they used to come with a Helmut Newton picture and say, "Can you do this?" And I'd say, "Yes, but why do you want me to? Go get Helmut Newton." I never understood the way that mind works, the kind of editorial magazine mind. Advertising's a bit different, because they really use photographers who can be manipulated. It's a bit like making commercials, you know, they like to use directors they can manipulate.

How many commercials have you made?

BAILEY: Between 450 and 500.

Why didn't that destroy your credibility as a fashion photographer?

BAILEY: I never considered myself a fashion photographer. I've never really been interested in fashion. The reason I did fashion was that I liked what was in the frocks. It was just a nice way to work with beautiful women. I do think you have to have to have a kind of gay side to be a fashion photographer, and I suppose I've got a gay side because I'm totally comfortable with gay men... and I have a "gay" understanding of women. I love the way my mother looks.

There's a well-known Terry O'Neill photograph of you showing a model how to pose that served as the model for the Blow-Up poster. What was that about?

Video ClipBAILEY: I suppose I was acting a bit for the camera. But, you know, Picasso used to act a bit for the camera, too. He'd put on a silly hat, and I suppose I was putting on a silly hat.

What happened in the '70s?

© David Bailey
Bailey photographing
Moyra Swan, London
Vogue Studio 3, 1965
© Terry O'Neill

(16 of 20)
BAILEY: I didn't like the '70s that much, although I took great pictures in the '70s because I worked for Italian Vogue and they gave me total freedom. They used to let you do exactly what you want.

What was American Vogue like?

BAILEY: American Vogue was difficult because if it didn't look vaguely like a Penn it wasn't going to be published. I loved Vreeland, but we didn't see eye-to-eye on photography. She'd always say, "Bailey, if you work for me I wanna see the frocks." And she really did want to see the frocks. She appreciated photography but she didn't want it in her magazine. She wanted to see the dresses and sell the frocks, which is right if you've got a fashion magazine. But Italian Vogue didn't care if you saw the dress or not. Which is great for a photographer, though it kind of defeats the purpose of taking a fashion picture.

What's the best thing Vreeland ever said to you?

BAILEY: Once I showed her these pictures I'd done of Penelope and she said, "Bailey, darling, these pictures are the most wonderful... the greatest pictures I've ever seen of Penelope. Just magic." Then she said, "But of course, Bailey darling, you understand I can't use them." I said, "What do you mean you can't use them? You just said they're wonderful." And she said, "Bailey, look at the lips. There's no languor in the lips." I called her a blind old bat, and she said, "Oh, Bailey, don't be cruel."

Was there a time when you felt like your career was either plateauing or going down?

BAILEY: Oh, my career's been going down since the '50s. I started at the top and I'm working my way to the bottom. I've been in and out of fashion as many times as Frank Sinatra.

What does it mean to be in and out of fashion?

BAILEY: It's a load of rubbish. It's only in the fashion business, it's not in photography. It's some fashion editor... you know, Chinese whispers. They say, "Oh, he's great." They don't know. And suddenly that person's great for six months. But the really "great" ones are still here. When I first went to New York 40 years ago the two great photographers were Penn and Avedon. They're still the two great ones. Then, 20 years ago, there was Bruce Weber. And he's still great. And Meisel's a great fashion photographer... now he's a real fashion photographer.

They say he's paid six million dollars a year?

BAILEY: If he gets six million dollars a year he's worth it. Otherwise, they wouldn't pay him. It's sort of supply and demand, isn't it? I wish someone would pay me six million dollars a year to photograph frocks. No, I don't. I couldn't photograph frocks every day of my life. Once a month is enough.

Continue