By Bill Dobbins
The 1960s were exciting years, a watershed period in western culture. They were also a lot of fun. If you ware too young to have experienced them, you certainly missed something.
This was the period of the counter-culture when many of the restrictions of the more restrictive 1950s were thrown off. A period when music changed and gave us The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and the Woodstock Music Festival. We also saw dramatic changes happen in personal fashion. The “long hair” of John, Paul, George, and Ringo gave way to really long hair, harkening back to male grooming of a style of centuries earlier. “Flower Children” flourished from Haight Ashbury in San Francisco to Carnaby Street in “swinging” London. “Something is happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear,” wrote Stephen Stills in “For What It’s Worth” in 1967.
The ’60s was a time in which popular music became the jungle telegraph communicating what was going on in the culture to a greater degree than any time since the depression years of the 1930s. (Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?)
One of the important cultural figures that emerged during this period was English photographer David Bailey. Bailey was a young, hip, “cute” photographer who looked like a Beatle, shot images of high-profile models and celebrities, and engaged in sexual relationships with glamorous models and actresses. In fact, one of his wives was Catherine Deneuve, a French actress of such repute that she became practically a national institution in France.
Why the connection to so many legendary women? “I was always attracted by glamorous women,” Bailey has said. “I lived in the world of beautiful women and you end up with who you work with. I learned more from women than men.”
Even today, being a successful photographer depends to a great deal on your access to the subjects you want to shoot – models, celebrities, actors, politicians. David Bailey had what was, in effect, an all-access pass when it comes to the people he wanted to photograph.
Bailey became such a prominent figure at the time that he became the inspiration for the young, hip photographer in the movie Blow-Up by director Michelangelo Antonioni in 1966. The photographer in the film was played by David Hemmings, who did indeed look a lot like Bailey, and his exploits were portrayed in the film as so sexy and exciting that a whole new generation of young men was inspired to become photographers. This movie had the same effect on photography that Top Gun had a few years later on navy pilot recruitment.
One of the most memorable scenes in the movie involves the photographer conducting a photo shoot with 6′ model Veruschka choreographed like a seduction. No wonder so many young men decided after watching this film that they wanted to become photographers!
But as amazing as the exploits of this fictional movie photographer might have been, the real life of David Bailey was even more so. He was one of the most successful and famous photographers in the world, at a time when there were far fewer photographers than there were just a couple of decades later. To say nothing about modern times when, due to technology, everybody seems to have become a photographer. Think of his fame in the ’60s as equivalent to superstar photographer Annie Leibovitz multiplied X 10.
David Bailey went on to have a long, successful career, even after his heyday in the 1960s. And that he’s 81, his work is the subject of a new book from Taschen Books – The David Bailey SUMO. Taschen has created a series of very large books under the title of Sumo editions. These books are so large (and expensive) that they come with their own table to support them as you leaf through the pages.
The first SUMO was written by German-Australian photographer Helmut Newton. The book is a monograph that showcases his work in fashion and celebrity photography. Featured portraits include Catherine Deneuve, Nicolas Cage, and Mickey Rourke. The book is credited with changing the fortunes of Taschen.
It was initially released as a limited edition of 10,000 copies in 1999, selling for $1,500. The first run was numbered and signed by Newton. In keeping with its title, the book weighed over 30 kilograms (66 lb) and measured 50 by 70 centimeters (20 in × 28 in). Owing to the size and weight of the book, a bespoke stand was designed by Phillipe Starck to support it. The first copy of the book was signed by 80 of the celebrities featured in it. This was subsequently sold at auction in Berlin on 6 August 2000 for $430,000, becoming the biggest and most expensive book produced in the 20th century. – Wikipedia
Now fans of David Bailey have a Sumo edition of his work, available (with table) for $3000. Even in his 80s, Bailey continues to create new work – both as a photographer and a commercial director. But no book of his photos published in the future will ever match the size and proportions of The David Bailey SUMO.
And it is unlikely that any photographer will equal the glamor, celebrity and iconic reputation that Bailey enjoyed back in the dear-departed “Swinging Sixties.” Nowadays, there are just too many photographers and too many media sources competing for the attention of an increasingly fragmented audience.
(FULL DISCLOSURE: I am also a Taschen author. Some years ago the company published a fine art book of my aesthetic female muscle photos called MODERN AMAZONS. For anyone interested, contact me to inquire about brand new and signed copies of this book.)
Bill Dobbins is a professional photographer, videographer and writer based in Los Angeles. His work has been exhibited as fine art in two museums, a number of galleries, and he has published eight books, including two fine art photo books:
The Women: Photographs of The Top Female Bodybuilders (Artisan)
Modern Amazons (Taschen)
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