David Bailey – Stardust exhibition – National Portrait Gallery – London.

 

Where do I start?  What a wonderful collection of work.  It’s so wonderful to see prints displayed in the way they should be.
The first portrait to be seen is quite literally the size of a house in the foyer of the exhibition.  Michael Cane takes an overwhelming ‘God Father’ presence glaring down on the vista below him. It was like looking up at an adult when a baby but all that much more too.  The iconic image of Kate Moss was the next image within the exhibition before coming to the first room where other iconic ‘stars’ were situated.  What struck me was the simplicity of this collection and how simple posing on a simple white backdrop can be so very effective.  I couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought that a sign of a true professional is when they can make ‘it all’ look ‘so easy’.
There is nothing I can really add to the critique of his work that thousands of people haven’t already offered over the years so I will just add the impact that the collections had on me.
The iconic portraiture sets the standard for lighting genius. It’s what I will aspire to when I can bring myself to working within a studio setting. I beamed from ear to ear when I saw  portrait of Bob Dylan. One of my heroes having taken a portrait of my other hero!  Does life get any better then that?
Every portrait captured something unique and not always something I could put my finger on either until later on. I did wonder if it was a rapport between photographer and client.  They trusted him and that factor shone through.  There was a definite intimacy within iconic and Western portraiture.  The most intimate of work was that of his wife and the images were numerous and actually so many that I can’t actually remember one in particular. Many were displayed in small 4×4 formats and invited the viewer to step closer so as to feel slightly voyeristic. In my mind David Bailey’s best work is when he is most as ease with his model.  This feeling was reinforced when I viewed his more exoctic journalistic travel photography where I felt no connection to his work. Perhaps he was anxious around the tribal studies or they of him but either way the images were little more to me then snaps. The slight exception to that rule were the compelling images taken of starving children in Ethiopia during the 1980’s. These images I remember having quite an impact on me in the 1980’s but I hadn’t realised that David Bailey was the photographer. I think here the difference was the very desperate situation and Bailey’s compassion shone through in these journalistic images even though there was little connection as the subjects were incapable of connecting.
The nude images were interesting enough studies but left me cold. It seemed to be nude for nudes sake.  The still life images of a skull and roses left me equally as cold.
So what is his secret to his strongest work. It’s a mixture of three factors. Lighting skill, simplicity and connection with the model. If one of these three factors is missing then the images don’t work for me. However, in the next breath, I’d be thrilled to bits to have produced any of the images that didn’t work for me!

 

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