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Interview: David Bailey

published on 12 February 2003

The first cultural figure to take to the chair in SHOWstudio's live interview series In Camera, the celebrated photographer David Bailey answered questions from members of the fashion industry, his circle of friends and of course the public, discussing his life and work in a revealing live broadcast.

This interview was showcased online with a series of live stills updated throughout the course of the interview, and a real-time transcript typed and edited live.

The first cultural figure to take to the chair in SHOWstudio's live interview series In Camera, the celebrated photographer David Bailey answered questions from members of the fashion industry, his circle of friends and of course the public, discussing his life and work in a revealing live broadcast.

57 Q&A Posts

  • Q. David Bailey, we've asked you to begin our series of live interviews because you are the photographer that really set the paradigm for all subsequent fashion-image makers and the formula that everyone else has emulated or reacted against. Name your best picture. Penny Martin, Editor in Chief, SHOWstudio, London
    Snaps of my kids, Fenton, Paloma and Sascha.
  • Q. Can you describe what motivated you to take a picture at the start of your career? What motivates you to take one now? Charlotte Cotton, Curator of Photographs, Victoria & Albert Museum, London
    What motivates me now is that I'm still trying to get it right.
  • Q. Did the Krays want a portrait like the one you took? Did you let them see the contact sheets? Nick Knight, Director, SHOWstudio, London
    No, I didn't ask them. I never show anyone contact sheets.
  • Q. How much do you feel the David Hemmings character in 'Blow-up' was based on you? Did you ever have any conversations with director Antonioni about it? Gregoire Alexandre, Paris / Jesse Peyronel, New York
    No, two Italian producers came to see me up at Vogue studios. They asked me if I'd like to make a film, because of my bad Italian and their bad English, I thought they wanted me to direct a film. Then they started to ask me about the way I dressed, which I thought was rather peculiar and then they wanted me to play the part because it was Carlo Ponti's idea to make the movie of a London photographer and a year later Antonioni got involved, who I only met last month for the first time. The way they knew so much about me was through a friend of mine, Francis Wyndham, who I was doing a book with at the time. He wrote a 200 word synopsis on London photographers. I always wondered how they knew that I'd paid £8 for a propeller, since I'd hardly told anyone. The mystery was solved 10 years later when Francis told me that he'd written it. I think he thought I'd be angry, but I couldn't care less. The original casting was Terry Stamp, which would have been better since he was a Cockney. I thought Hemmings was a bit upper-class for the part.
  • Q. Do you ever feel you have become a caricature? Sylvester Scott, Alex Webster, London
    I think everyone in history becomes a caricature and that if you can't laugh at yourself, there's something deeply wrong with you.
  • Q. On shoots you are reputed to talk rudely and aggressively to women, whilst people who know you say that you are sensitive. Why is this? Brian Noble, Dublin
    People think that people are difficult when they know what they want. I don't make a distinction between photographing men or women. I treat everyone the same.
  • Q. It is no secret that photographers are the biggest womanisers in the business. Could it be said that you are partly to blame for creating a blueprint for all egos with a lens? Emma Greenhalgh, Yohji Yamamoto, London
    I think doctors are probably the biggest users of drugs, so your profession dictates to you what's most available. Fortunately, I wasn't a vet.
  • Q. What does your dream woman look like? Alexandra Shulman, Editor in Chief, Vogue, London
    Catherine Bailey, Baroness Blixen, Ava Gardner, Garbo, Georgia O'Keefe, Angelica Huston, Marisa Berenson. To have a dream you have to have a mystery, so I prefer dark-haired women to blondes. My mother looked like a gypsy.
  • Q. At the beginning of the twentieth century, modelling was synonymous with prostitution. What's changed? Clark Bessemer, Adelaide
    So was acting.
  • Q. What is your definition of beauty now? Terry Jones, Creative Director, i-D, London
    It's not now, for always, the definition of beauty is mystery. It's chasing that rainbow that hopefully you'll never find. Like the Mona Lisa.
  • Q. How would you describe the relationship between fashion photography and sex? Efie Falida, Oliver Finn, Brussels / Stephen Li, Brighton
    I fall in love with everyone I photograph, whether they are men or women, when they're in front of the camera.
  • Q. I've heard you once did coke off Princess Margaret's tits. Is this true? Andrew, Derbyshire
    I didn't think she drank Coca Cola. She was always much more charming to me than her husband.
  • Q. What was it like, being married to Catherine Deneuve? Nyla, London
    Catherine Deneuve has a great sense of humour, which I always find attractive. It usually goes with intelligence. It was great.
  • Q. You captured the spirit of England in the 60s. Do you think you did this for any other decade? Efie Falida, Unknown
    Locations (Archive Two), my new book out in October or November, covers my work in the Seventies, so please buy it and you tell me.
  • Q. What is 'erotic' for you? Chapman, Brussels
    I find women more erotic than men and women live more in their minds than men.
  • Q. hi dad Fenton, Devon
    Hi Fenton, always remember: be true to yourself.
  • Q. What is your response to people who refer exclusively to your 60s work and dismiss your career after that? Penny Martin, Editor in Chief, SHOWstudio, London
    I think it's probably a lack of their knowledge of photography. We're still living in the residue of the 60s.
  • Q. What are the central components of the perfect David Bailey image? Oliver Prout, Ravensbourne College
    Emotion.
  • Q. Is it difficult photographing people you know? Krasi Genova, Bulgaria
    It's difficult photographing everyone.
  • Q. Is black and white better than colour? SHOWstudio, London
    There is only two types of images: good or bad. That applies to colour and black and white.
  • Q. What's your opinion of digital photography? Catalin Lazia, Unknown
    It's just another paintbrush.
  • Q. Do you charge art directors for them to see your book? Wong Kar Wai, Hong Kong
    Unfortunately, no. But I wish I was paid every time someone copied one of my pictures.
  • Q. Avedon called you 'Penn without the ink'. Why? What do you think of Avedon's career? SHOWstudio, London
    I think Avedon's great. It was one of the greatest compliments I've ever had. Up until then, I never knew he'd heard of me.
  • Q. What did you think of Punk? Are there any truly revolutionary ideas in photography today? Jeffrey Simmons, Pablo Serrano, New York, Los Angeles
    I thought Punk was great. It was a social statement, like the 60s. I think you have to take pictures in your own time and let the revolutionary bit happen if it does.
  • Q. Why did Bob Richardson kiss you? SHOWstudio, London
    Because I was devastatingly attractive and I took it as a compliment.
  • Q. Can you see a future for fashion photography? Mohson Iqbal, Pablo Serrano, Kent, Los Angeles
    Everything has become fashion.
  • Q. Are you still waiting for Penn to die? Robin Derrick, Creative Director, Vogue, London
    Mr Penn will never die.
  • Q. Which photographer of all time do you like the most. Why? Which photographer of the last 10 years do you like the most. Why? Which photographer of the last 1 year do you like the most, Why? Paul, London / Wong Kar Wai, Hong Kong / Melanie Ibadlit, Toronto / Pablo Gimenez Zapiola, Texas / Jack, London
    I like all photographers that are sincere about what they do.
  • Q. Why did you make Stephen Meisel look so foolish on your documentary 'Models Close Up'? Abbey Reynolds, Dagenham
    I didn't think I did. He didn't turn up for his interview because his dog was sick, but he is truly a great fashion photographer.
  • Q. What do you think of Nick Knight's work? Where do you see it leading? Wong Kar Wai, Hong Kong
    Is he paying me for today? If so, great. If not so, great as well.
  • Q. Can you be a fashion photographer without shooting any fashion campaigns? Stephanie Ratel, Toulouse
    Yes, if you just do editorial.
  • Q. What do you think of Rankin? Wong Kar Wai, Hong Kong
    I love Rankin. He's a man of enormous energy.
  • Q. Who has copied you best? Kate Moss, London / Paul, Italy
    Jack Nicholson.
  • Q. Have you ever considered taking photographs of another subject matter, other than people? Or do you find all other things boring in comparison? Chris, London
    For me, people are obviously more interesting, or the residue of their achievements. I never quite see the point of pictures of trees and rocks and landscapes.
  • Q. Who do you prefer: Penn or Picasso? Robin Derrick, Creative Director, Vogue, London
    One can't compare people this great. The both did/do what they did/do.
  • Q. Which fashion magazines do you read? Cristina, Zurich
    The ones that come through the letterbox.
  • Q. What would you change in Vogue today? Would you shoot for them again? Aurelie Simon, Auckland
    Vogue seems to be doing alright. About 80% of the editorial I do is for Conde Nast, anyway.
  • Q. Comparing the published text of the raw interviews for your Warhol TV documentary with the finished film, one gets the impression that the Factory were distinctly uncooperative to you, more interested in playing games than anything else. What was it like trying to make the film? Ian Potter, National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, Bradford
    Easy. Andy said he'd only do it if I went to bed with him, so we did the interviews in bed. And I love playing chess.
  • Q. Do you feel comfortable in front of a camera? Kris Genova, Bulgaria
    Only when the photographer's quick.
  • Q. How much would you charge for a portrait of me and my son? Sarah Dawson, London
    Too much.
  • Q. Has dyslexia shaped your photography? David Grant, Dyslexia Diagnosis, London
    I feel dyslexia gave me a privilege. It pushed me into being totally visual.
  • Q. When we spoke, you said 'it's only really talented people who have bad times'. What was your lowest point and how did you pull yourself through it? Nick Knight, Director, SHOWstudio, London
    I said that talented people make mistakes because they take more chances, people that are mediocre remain on the same level. I have had no lowest point. Everything that happens to you adds texture to your life.
  • Q. Is there a photograph of yours, that, given the chance, you would like to go back and re-shoot? Darren Flook, London
    All of them.
  • Q. You continuously say you aren't satisfied with your work. What is it you're trying to achieve that you feel you aren't? Landon, Vancouver
    If I knew that, I'd achieve it and give up.
  • Q. You began your career as an outsider in terms of social class. Do you still feel the kind of energy that comes from being an outsider? Edie Falida, Unknown
    Outsiders are not limited to the class system. Most artists are outsiders, they're like gangsters. Gangsters dress better.
  • Q. If you are once 'in fashion', consequently, you will in future be 'out of fashion'. How do you deal with this? Grant Cutler, Glasgow
    When you've been doing it as long as me you realise that fashion is like a yo-yo. I've been in and out of fashion numerous times, but like Frank Sinatra, you can always make a come-back.
  • Q. If you don't like frocks/fashion, why go on? SHOWstudio, London
    I don't dislike them, I'm just not that interested in frocks. I spent five weeks with the cannibals in New Guinea: I didn't particularly like them either. If you do a fashion picture, you have a responsibility to show the dress, otehrwise it becomes a pointless document.
  • Q. You did a brilliant anti-fur campaign; what would you do for an anti-war campaign? Terry Jones, Creative Director, i-D, London
    Ask the individual if he is willing to pull the trigger and live with that for the rest of his life.
  • Q. Will you be on the anti-war march on Saturday? What would you do about Iraq? Nick Knight, Director, SHOWstudio, London
    I might be there as a photographer. Iraq I'd move to Texas.
  • Q. Would you be happy for your children to be fashion photographers or models?/Hi Dad! I think you are the best dad and photographer. Why do you think this is? Nick Knight, London / Sascha, Devon
    I'd be happy for them to be anything that they want as long as they're happy and decent.
  • Q. Do you think models today are as professional in their approach to their work as the sixties girls? Gail Raymonde, London
    Some are and some aren't. Models are just people like everybody else.
  • Q. Do you think college can teach you to be a fashion photographer? Russell, Berkeley
    No-one can teach you, it has to come from you.
  • Q. Which is the one question you wish you weren't asked during interviews? Dagmara Grabowski, Unknown
    All the questions have been quite good.
  • Q. If you are a young photographer, where do you start? Dazed and Confused or Bailey's assistant? Ho Ka Kiu, Hong Kong
    Both.
  • Q. Do you think a photographer can be successful if he only possesses the technical skills and does not have 'the eye'? Michael Harvey, London
    No.
  • Q. Why haven't you ever done Pirelli? Peter Andrew, Winchester
    The mysterious 'they' said my pictures weren't sexy enough.
  • Q. What advice would you give to someone thinking about pursuing a career in fashion photography? Nick Watt, Toronto / Andy Lee, Belgium / Lisa, Mumbai / Vishesh Verma, India
    Comfortable shoes.
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