I’ve spent a large part of the morning looking at the works of the English fashion photographer, David Bailey. Bailey, thrust himself into British Vogue and upended what until then had been the preserve of the foppish, upper- crust photographer. With his crusty cockiness and tell-it-to-them-like-it-is personality, Bailey became the chronicler of the Swinging Sixties, and in many ways with his own segueing from one relationship to the next, quite the poster boy himself.
_Jean Shrimpton shot by David Bailey. Image borrowed from the Phaidon website- http://www.phaidon.com/resource/baileylook-p017.jpg_
The photo itself is deceptively simple, with the model \(Jean Shrimpton\) in front of what seems to be a mottled canvas backdrop. The lighting looks like one large light source \(softbox or window light?\) from camera left and high. Some might find fault with Bailey for not lighting the model’s dress enough, but I’m sure to that Bailey would have replied as he did once- “I never cared for fashion much, amusing little seams and witty little pleats: it was the girls I liked.”
The composition is stunningly simple with the black and white photo showing off the contrast beautifully. The pose adds to the symmetry offered by composition and lighting. There’s both stillness and dynamism, a quietness infused with radiance. No props, no artifice, no blurry out-of-focus background, no “captivating” locations, and I’m guessing, possibly no retinue of assistants and art directors peering over the shoulder!
I’ve also gone through a book of Bailey’s portraits, and I love Bailey’s style. There’s a directness in his approach that is probably a reflection of the man himself. His stand-out work, particularly portraiture, pulls the viewer to the eyes, with an almost scary directness. I think it speaks volumes of the photographer’s ability to inspire trust among his “sitters”, to place themselves at the complete mercy of the photographer’s direction and command.
The world of fashion photography is replete with iconic and unforgettable images. Avedon’s photo of Dovima with the elephants, Irving Penn’s striking “corner” portraits, Guy Bourdin’s provocative photos for Charles Jourdan, Tim Walker’s storytelling compositions…All stunning in concept, composition, tone, clothing and model. Yet, this photo by Bailey draws me back again and again to the beauty of a simple, well-executed concept. If, as they say, photos could speak then this one would speak a thousand lines of elegiac poetry.