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May 18, 2014
There are few names in either the art or fashion world more famed than that of David Bailey, who has made a career out of ignoring the rules and photographing what he damn well pleases. Maybe this is the source of the magic he seems to capture in each photo he takes, or maybe he’s just attuned to a slightly different set of aesthetic sensibilities than the rest of us. Either way, David Bailey has a knack for capturing that intangible twinkle of electricity in a moment and suspending it forever in a photograph. This does indeed seem to be the only consistent quality in his work, as despite their technical differences, as I walk around the exhibition currently occupying a large portion of the National Portrait Gallery, I can see in each image that unmistakable Bailey twinkle. I’d like to think that this is why the show was so aptly named ‘Bailey’s Stardust’, however the vast number of famous faces staring back at me are the more likely motive.
Bailey has used every photographic medium going, with black and white celebrity images taken on large format cameras adorning the walls in one room, while phone camera colour snaps from a night on the town jostle for the viewers’ attention in the next. But with digital being, refreshingly, the minority here, you may find yourself falling back in love with film. Hard edged, grainy black and whites of Kate Moss are equally as captivating as the infinitely detailed large format 11×14 neg images and both will have you drooling over the qualities of analogue film. This unexpected side-effect is no real shock, given the beauty of Bailey’s imagery and the large size of most of the photographs – digital grain is somewhat unsightly up close. However, in a digital age, it’s easy to forget that film still has a superior quality, a ‘soul’ almost, unparalleled by the eye of the digital camera and it’s pleasing to encounter a reminder of it here.
Aside from the joys of his film photography, it’s impossible to come to an exhibition entitled Bailey’s Stardust and not comment on the sea of stars’ portraits that Bailey has amassed over his long career; Sir Michael Caine, The Beatles, Johnny Depp, Jack Nicholson and Jean Shrimpton to name but a few. The fashion icons that grace the walls are vast with two rooms dedicated exclusively to these portraits, of which Alexander McQueen and Anna Piaggi are two to look out for. Possibly more striking though is the large collection of iconic artists Bailey not only rubbed shoulders with, but enjoyed real friendships with. A self-portrait reflecting the photographer in a mirrored wall with a quizzical Salvador Dali is one image amid a small series of informal shots of the artist dossing about with Bailey and fellow artist Andy Warhol at Hôtel Meurice, dated 1972. Bailey had put the two together, having previously interviewed Warhol (an interview conducted in a bed) for a documentary on the artist. A Rolling Stones room at the gallery also highlights his close friendship with Mick Jagger and the band that he went on tour with as well as took numerous Album cover shots for. Several other major artists’ portraits adorn the walls, such as Francis Bacon, Man Ray, Joseph Beuys and Damien Hurst, whom Bailey has also collaborated with artistically.
But the show also documents Bailey’s less glamorous and more intimate subjects. One room is dedicated to his wife Catherine and includes a few rare shots of his children, another room shows his Band Aid work of the ’85 famine in Africa. Bailey’s skull images, as well as his East End documentary shots and shots from his travels in Australia, Delhi and the Naga Hills are also included in the show.
This vast exhibition spans the whole of Bailey’s career and the 300 plus works on display have been personally selected by the man himself, giving the viewer a uniquely personal and immersive journey through the 5-decade-strong career of this remarkable and legendary photographer. With less than a month left to see Bailey’s Stardust, one of the largest exhibitions the National Portrait Gallery has ever held, it’s one to make sure you don’t miss.
Words by Maxine Kirsty Sapsford, Arts Editor
Bailey’s Stardust is on at the National Portrait Gallery, London until 1st June. For more information and tickets go to – http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/bailey/exhibition.php