MY WAY

A MANIA has struck London With the 2012 Olympic Games well and truly upon us, a number of exhibitions celebrating the very best of London life, both past and present, have sprung up —and rightly so. After all, it s not every year that the worldgreatest sporting event comes to Bntain. One photographer who has more reason than most to hold an exhibition of his images in the Olympics homeland of East London is David Bailey, an East London boy who was born in Leytonstone in 1938. Among the images taken over the past 50 years are portraits of local people going about their everyday lives, photographed informally inside pubs, children playing in the streets, stark urban landscapes, slightly abstract and unusual still-life scenes, and even the occasional location fashion portrait. For Bailey, London s East End is in his DNA. Bailey needs little introduction. His iconic images for Vogue magazine, the publication for which he has photographed for 55 years, are well known. His formidable reputation as one of the pioneering enfant terrible photographers —who, along with Brian Duffy and Terence Donovan, reinvented fashion photography in the  60s —has also been well documented. His archive reads as a  whowho  of celebrity portraiture, with the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jean Shrimpton and Andy Warhol just a few of his subjects. He has more than 25 photo books to his name, not to mention the television commercials he has directed and documentaries he has made about Cecil Beaton and Andy Warhol. BAILEY IN PERSON With Bailey s reputation as a notoriously difficult interviewee in my mind as I approach his central London studio, it s impossible not to feel a little apprehensive. In person, though, he is charming and amiable, if a little brusque. Not the sort of character to suffer fools, he is quick to assert his authority and steer the conversation in the direction he wants. Answers are delivered sharply and resolutely, often with a twinkle in his eye. Frequent tangents abound and he has a knack for not answering a question. Fortunately, often the tangents prove interesting and insightful. His upfront honesty, informal manner and wry wit make him likeable and he is frequently very funny The conversation is peppered with references to Renaissance art, Cartier-Bresson (whose image  Srinagar, Kashmir  inspired him in his early days) and Picasso, whom he holds in great esteem and mentions several times. The breadth of his knowledge about art, photography and philosophy is quite disarming. Unafraid to speak his mind, Bailey has vehement views on art and photography  What is an artist, anyway?’he asks. It isna rhetorical question. I reply with something along the lines that an artist is someone who has a vision that he expresses through the medium he feels suits him best. That s not bad,  he says.  You re not as stupid as the interviewer yesterday! You canimagine some of the questions I m asked. I take the somewhat backhanded compliment and try to steer the conversation back on track.  I never thought of photography or painting as art,  he continues. It depends on whether the person doing the work is an artist or not. Everyone thinks that because someone paints they re an artist, but they re not. Some architects are artists I think the filmmaker David Lynch is an artist, but Spielberg —he s a very good ringmaster, but he s not an artist You can t put your finger on why one painter is better than another. If you could, youbottle it and sell it. It s clear that Bailey is more interested in sharing his thoughts on photography than discussing the exhibition.  Photography is not about ideas, it s about imagination,  he says.  Ideas are easy —I could have an idea to build a bridge to the moon, but it doesn t mean it s going to work. It s making ideas work that is hard In the main, I photograph things that relate to us or to the essence of us. At the moment, I doing some "bad" landscapes —Itrying to produce landscapes that are deliberately ugly.’ Amid the musings, Bailey gives an insight into what it was like photographing in London s East End. Stating that composition and light are less important to him than finding and capturing emotion, his intention, in terms of these images, was to search for chance subjects and moments, or  the accident’as he puts it. had a camera and I took pictures,  he says.  I don t do cliched anecdotes. If you know what you re going to do, there would be no point. I look for a situation or an attitude I haven t seen before. But photographing a place you know is better than photographing a place you donknow! I have a love-hate relationship with the East End. There are great things like the humour-cockneys have the best humour —but there is always a positive side and negative side. For a project like this, you have to explore both. He nods when I suggest that perhaps the more you look, the more things start to present themselves to you.  People have to make their own choices about what they see in something,  he says.  We look at everything, but you have to learn to see. Itno good just looking —everyone looks, but it takes a long time to see what you re looking at. A GOOD PHOTOGRAPHHIS OWN PHOTOGRAPHER As Patrick Kinmonth, the art editor at British Vogue, once said:  To be in Bailey s company is to see things his way.’Sitting face to face with the man himself as he deftly bats away questions that are of little interest to him, it s easy to see what Kinmonth meant Throughout his career, Bailey has been very much his own photographer. I tried to convince Vogue magazine to use 35mm cameras, they wouldn t,’he says. had to use a minimum of 5x4. They didn t know, but I used to put the 35mm negatives in a 10x8 enlarger and blow up the contact sheets so they thought I was using a bigger camera! When they found out what I d done months later, it was too late —the images had already been published.’Bailey, it seems, lets nothing prevent him from doing things his way listen to what everyone says, smile, say "Yes ’and then do it how you want,  he says mischievously. have to do it your way —you do it your way, anyway.’ Bailey admits that his strong personality has helped him along the way. course it has,’he says. my friends have big personalities, like Damien [Hirst], Julian Schnabel [the American artist and filmmaker] and Bruce Weber. Donbe fooled by people who are passionate and care about what they do,  he adds.  Sincerity doesnmake you good at art. I know lots of sincere people who are terrible at art What matters is being true to yourself and being as honest as you can be. But sometimes I pull back on cruelty if I think ittoo honest. You don t want to hurt peoplefeelings.’ For Bailey, life experience carries more weight than education in the traditional sense of the word.  Donconfuse education with intelligence,  he says.  Theydifferent things. As Einstein said, imagination is more important than knowledge. And donthink that because we ve invented digital technologies and rockets that wemore intelligent now than before because wenot,’he adds. the end, itphilosophy, art and poetry that make you intelligent. An ability to see the humorous side of things also seems to be important for Bailey. Even death to an extent comes under this banner.  If you can t laugh at death, it s going to be very hard to die!  he says, although he is quick to point out the seriousness of the images he took in Ethiopia and Sudan in 1985 for Band Aid, published under the title Imagine. nobody remembers that work,  he says with mild frustration. only want to know about what it was like photographing Jean Shrimpton and Mick Jagger. A GOOD PHOTOGRAPHA GOOD PHOTOGRAPH Bailey doesn t draw a difference between his fashion work and documentary photography. re both the same to me,  he says. see the world the way I see the world. Photographyalmost like Surrealism —you have to move the boundaries just a little so what youseeing [in the image] is not quite what youexpect.’In the introduction to one of his books, his wife Catherine defines a good photograph as that contains the whole moment which surrounds it . What, in Bailey s view, makes a good photograph? depends,  he says. have to take different attitudes to different [types of photographs]. Ansel Adams was a fantastic photographer, but what Adams did has been done now. I donwant to see another mountain or tree! Anyone can copy what hedone, but it belongs to him. When I ask whether he thinks having a particular style as a photographer is important, Bailey is quick to raise the limitations of such an approach.  I try to avoid "style" because style leads you to being trapped,  he says. you call using a white background "style”, then I have my own style. But if you go down one route, you end up copying yourself, which is a disaster. Far better to copy someone else! You woncreate anything new if you copy yourself, but if you copy someone else you might at least make something new. Surely this contradicts his comments about Ansel Adams images belonging only to Adams? Does he mean that it is possible to draw on elements of other photographers  work and make them your own? trouble with photography is you can copy something exactly and it will still be a copy,  he says. if you try to copy something artistically, it will never be a copy, it will be you. BEING IN THE MOMENT Bailey is not one to wallow in the past.  I never miss anything thatpast,  he says. You donexist yesterday and you donexist tomorrow. You only have whathappening now. One of the reasons I like photography is if you use it properly, it is one of the only arts that catches the moment. Movies don t because theymoving, but the still image records the only moment you have in your life. That said, if you look at it from another view, photography s sad because itabout death,’he adds pensively.  In the pictures you see that have been around for 150 years, the people are all dead. But you donlook at a painting and think, people are dead.”In the same way, really bad pornography is sexier than really great illustrations of pornography because you know it actually happened! With paintings, drawings or sketches it could be from the artist s imagination. So is it the truthfulness and reality of photography that appeal to him?  Oh, photography doesn t tell the truth,’he says bluntly, whisking the conversation off in yet another direction.  It tells someonepoint of view of the truth. Photography is lies, especially now with the media manipulating images in the way they do. But then therealways been retouching. Donthink that the great Renaissance paintings of the Medici family weren t retouched. Photographyjust a tool. When the hard paintbrush was invented, it changed the ways painters painted —the result was Impressionism. The paintbrush was a tool that helped to make a certain "look" happen. In the same way, the motorised Nikon camera changed photography because you could take more frames a second.’ A GOOD PHOTOGRAPHFILM AND DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY What, dare I ask, are Bailey s thoughts on digital photography? Does he prefer using film?  Film opens up possibilities, but shooting digitally you close down the possibilities,’he says. ‘[When shooting digitally,] you may have an image that you like so you stop photographing, but with film you don t know what yougetting so you push on and explore more. Itonly when you re looking through the contact sheets afterwards that you think, "Wow! I went further than I would have gone [had I been shooting digitally".] For my fashion work, I used to use a Polaroid camera after the shoot to make sure the camera Ibeen shooting with was working,  he adds. to use it before you take the pictures... well, the inspiration s gone then. We talk at length about the types of cameras Bailey has used over the decades, and again he isnshy in saying what he thinks.  I always take into consideration the attitude of the camera when I m shooting,  he says.  Cameras have attitudes. Digital cameras don t have attitudes because they re invented by computers, but a twin-lens Rolleiflex has a different attitude to a Leica partly because you look down into it. The camera you re using also affects how people respond to you, especially in portraiture. The cameras I used in the early ’s were " in the sense that the lenses were uncoated, but they produced a quality I liked. The Linhof cameras I used in the 1980s had a tilt function so there was no distortion in the buildings. The images are cold —it was the attitude of the camera. They re not bad, theyjust different. The ’s were more emotional. The ’s were awful —you should never let fashion get in the way of taste! Does he think that photographs are made or taken? arenjust "taken",  he says. s documentation. Therenothing wrong with documentation —I m just not that interested in it. "Making" an image applies to still life and fashion photography, I suppose, as they require more thought, but most fashion photography is really documentation. Occasionally, you get someone like Irving Penn who takes it to a different level and suddenly it becomes "art”. A lot of fashion photography these days is just window dressing. You build a fantastic set with a few upside-down zebras hanging from the ceiling, Jesus in flames in the corner and add a model. Not that thereanything wrong with window dressing. As our conversation draws to a close. I ask Bailey whether he has a preference for shooting in colour or black & white?  Oh, black & white,  he says without hesitation.  I always hope an image is going to be black & white. Black & white takes you straight to the message, whereas in colour, the message takes longer to put across. In a colour image you might see red or green, which distracts you for a second. Igot nothing against colour —I just think it slows the message down. Now aged 74, Bailey is a tireless worker and as busy as ever.  Itlike all those old cliches,  he says with a wry smile. EXHIBITION FEATURING images taken over 50 years from the 1960s to the present day, David Bailey s exhibition East End is divided into three main sections. Among the images from the 1960s are pictures of the Kray brothers taken for The Sunday Times magazine. Images of eccentric East End characters also feature, as well as traditional street pictures of children playing in bombed-out buildings. The photographs record daily life in streets that are unrecognisable today. Pictures from the 1980s include photographs of Silvertown Docks, which serve as a record of an area that has undergone huge changes and redevelopment. In some of the images, we see tumble-down buildings in a state of ill repair, photographed through barbed-wire fences with cranes towering overhead. Also on show are images of Bailey s wife Catherine taken for the Ritz Newspaper that Bailey set up in 1976. Here, fashion and documentary photography collide. More recently, Bailey returned to Stratford and photographed the area in the build-up to the Olympic Games. These images explore a culture and area in a constant state of flux. have to have continuous change,  he says.

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