David Bailey, photography legend. Perhaps one of the most legendary in the history of ever. Not a particularly eloquent way of putting it I admit but true nonetheless. Over a career spanning five decades and counting, Bailey has redefined ideas about beauty, celebrity and the very concept of fashion and portrait photography. His subjects have included everyone from Kate Moss to the Rolling Stones and continues to influence, inspire and enrapture. This was a point truly drummed home for me by Bailey’s Stardust sponsored by HUGO BOSS, an incredible exhibition of 250 plus of his finest works which opened last week at the National Portrait Gallery.
I don’t claim to be a serious culture vulture. The only two films I’ve seen at the cinema over the past 12 months were Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa and Anchorman two, both works of cinematic brilliance (or at least mega lols) but unlikely to earn their directors a Palme D’Or. I do however really love a good exhibition. Wandering around the hallowed halls of an artistic haven, gazing open mouthed at things you cannot comprehend a human being could create. The only thing that can improve the experience is a plentiful supply of champagne and blissful lack of camera toting tourists (iPhone toting fashion folk also obstruct the view but at least they do so wearing really nice shoes) and these qualities are what make private views always worth attending.
Wearing HUGO BOSS
After an achingly long day of uni followed by a high speed outfit change/dinner/hysterics-and-hugging session at Soho House, my BFF Char and I pitched up at the National Portrait Gallery to be greeted by about a zillion flashing cameras. Whether or not they actually meant to flash in my direction I have no idea but they did capture a few unbelievably unflattering images of me pulling strange faces while struggling out of my many layers which are no doubt lurking on the internet somewhere. Given the vast coterie of A lister, supermodels and rockstars that have posed as Bailey’s subjects, it’s no wonder the the paps were out in force that night. And they certainly wouldn’t be leaving with empty hands, or rather empty memory cards, as Jerry Hall, Zandra Rhodes, Grayson Perry, Jasmine Guinness, Caroline Issa, Graham Norton and Mossy herself were just a few of the famous faces who showed up looking hot to pay homage to Mr Bailey.
David Bailey & Kate Moss
Jerry Hall & David Bailey
As for the photos themselves, well, where to even begin. After navigating the paparazzi fray – throwing my assorted cold weather accoutrements at a mildly bemused Char as I went in an attempt to look vaguely elegant – we entered the gallery to be confronted by a vast shot of Michael Caine mischievously lifting his glasses. This image just about sums up what is so utterly awesome about David Bailey. He doesn’t just create beautiful photographs, although he certainly does that too, Bailey captures his subjects’ personality. Walking through the thematically arranged exhibition, this was the what struck me most about the works on display. Whether it’s Bailey’s shots of Rudolf Nureyev, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and the Kray twine from his 1960s Black and White Icons series, or a topless, space headgear clad Abby Lee Kershaw from an i-D Magazine spread just a couple of years ago, every image appears to leap from the frame while epitomising the zeitgeist of the period during which it was conceived.
Having had a look at other reviews of Bailey’s Stardust I was rather dismayed to see it slated by some critics. Admittedly, I’m no professional in the field, but the exhibition promised a riveting, enjoyable overview of Bailey’s incredible career and from where I stood it seemed to deliver. One publication,
somewhat pointedly disparaged the entertainment value of Bailey’s work and the retrospective. Indeed, both are entertaining, but as fas as I’m concerned that doesn’t detract from the beauty of and talent behind some of the most iconic, recognisable and character packed images taken in the fifty years. The entertainment V art dichotomy opens up a debate I’m not even going to go into right now for fear of boring you all senseless. But rest assured, it’s coming soon, perhaps when you least expect it…
Bailey’s Stardust will be on at the National Portrait Gallery until June 1st 2014. I highly recommend seeing it! A huge thank you to hosts with the mosts HUGO BOSS for a wonderful evening and for dressing me so beautifully.
Love Ella. X