David Bailey’s Stardust

I’ve been debating with myself about using this picture of David Bailey, which I took as part of my job for the organisation I’m employed by. The picture was taken using their equipment and ethically belongs to them. If you bear with me I will explain why I decided to use it here.

The National Portrait Gallery this week opened an exhibition of Bailey’s work entitled Stardust. All the images on display have been personally chosen by Bailey and I have to confess that I have yet to see it. However, on the first day open to the public, I purchased the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition.

When I took the picture of Bailey back in November, I knew very little about him and his work. With all the publicity surrounding the opening, it has been easy to find out more about him.

In an interview in the Irish Independent, Bailey says that he doesn’t take pictures but makes pictures. He also comments in graphic terms about some of the photographers who have photographed him without a deeper understanding of the man in front of them.

Before I even pressed the shutter for my snapshot of Bailey, I knew that I had very little chance of creating the greatest image of my career. There was very little time to take the picture and I had no control over the surroundings.

Going back to Stardust there are less well-known images together with the iconic ones that have defined Bailey’s career so far. They are a brilliant record of the characters and places of the world that Bailey has occupied. Bailey has said that this isn’t a retrospective of his work and I do hope that whatever his next project is will be as spectacular as this one.

I have to admit there is a love-hate relationship with David Bailey. I love that he has inspired so many other photographers through his work and that his name is synonymous with the art of photography. I hate it when people refer to the job of photographer as being “David Bailey” in a light-hearted way. I guess there are worse things to be called and really it is an honour to the man himself.

So why have I decided to break the rules and post this picture here? It is a fine example of how not to take a portrait. This project is all about discovering the skill that is required to capture the unique essence of the sitter in front of the camera. When I asked Bailey if I could take his picture, his reply was, “a boy has to earn a living somehow”.

The exhibition runs until 1 June 2014.