“It takes a lot of imagination to be a good photographer. You need less imagination to be a painter because you can invent things. But in photography everything is so ordinary; it takes a lot of looking before you learn to see the extraordinary.” — David Bailey

David Bailey defined fashion photography in the Swinging Sixties London scene. He was the inspiration for the photographer played by David Hemmings in the cult 1966 film “Blow Up” directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. The movie follows a London fashion photographer who unknowingly photographs a murder.

Defining a generation

David Baily’s subjects are legendary. From a new generation of models — Jean Shrimpton, Penelope Tree, Twiggy and Kate Moss to The Rolling Stones, the East End gangsters the Kray Twins, the Beatles and artist Damien Hirst have all posed for him. His work easily set the stage for fashion photography as we know it today.

I never tried to revolutionize photography; I just do what I do and keep my fingers crossed that people will like it.

Starting out

After military service, Bailey became an assistant at the John French studio, then in May 1960 became a photographer at John Cole’s Studio Five. Later that year David Bailey became a contract photographer for British Vogue magazine. Along with photographers Brian Duffy and Terrance Donovan, David Baily helped create the London culture of celebrity and fashion chic.

We were so young. I don’t think Bailey or anyone had any idea how important the work we were doing was … we were just kids really, I was 18 when I first started working with Bailey. I met him on the roof of Vogue — Jean Shrimpton, model


David Bailey, 1981 photographed by John Swannell
David Bailey, 1981 photographed by John Swannell

Bailey considered himself an outsider in the worlds of fashion and celebrity. He became a muse of sorts by becoming one of the first British photographers whose fame and reputation rivaled that of the icons he photographed — models and rock stars.

I never cared for fashion much, amusing little seams and witty little pleats: it was the girls I liked.

Ritz Newspaper

Along with David Litchfield, his former colleague at The Image, Bailey launched Ritz Newspaper. The paper was an in-between version of Warhol’s Interview and Wenner’s Rolling Stone. Bailey was involved with the publication for eight of its 15-year run.

David Bailey, CBE

In 2001 David Bailey was named Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). Other awards include the Centenary Medal and Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society in 2005 and a Lifetime Achievement Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography in 2016.

During his long career, David Bailey has directed dramas for the BBC, written and directed “The Lady is a Tramp,” starring his wife Catherine Bailey and directed “Models Close Up” for Channel Four in Britain.

Read other vignettes of influential photographers in On Photography.