David Bailey, born in 1938 in London's East End, says that as a youth he had very limited choices in the job market. "You could become a boxer, a car thief or maybe a musician." Photographer wasn't on the list and seemed an even dimmer possibility after Bailey's failed early efforts to take snapshots with the family's Brownie camera. Instead, he pretty much did anything and everything else to make money: carpet salesman, tallyman, shoe salesman, window-dresser... It was only after being posted to Singapore while in the British Air Force in 1956 that BAiler started getting more immersed in the field of photography. He discovered the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, which greatly inspired him, and started voraciously poring through copies of LIFE and various American photo journals. In 1957 he bought his first camera. "I was smitten and gradually the prospect of becoming a photographer became less remote, perhaps even attainable."
After finishing his national service in 1958, Bailey secured a job with David Olin, who was then the main supplier of photos to Queen Magazine. In 1959 he became an assistant to fashion photographer John French in London. In 1960, at 22, he was already working as a freelancer for British Vogue, and soon became almost as famous as the people he was photographing: fashion designer Mary Quant, and everyone who was involved in Bazaar, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, The Who, singers Marianne Faithful and Sandie Shaw, actresses Mia Farrow, Catherine Deneuve and Geraldine Chaplin, actors Peter Sellers and Michael Caine, and models Jean Shrimpton, Twiggy and Penelope Tree. Bailey also photographed the period's current fashions on the streets of London and New York for magazines like American Vogue and Glamour. "I wanted to be like Fred Astaire, but I couldn't, so instead I went for the next best thing, which was to be a fashion photographer."
Bailey's career and personal life seemed to thrive during the Heyday of the "Swinging Sixties," and while at times the public seemed more interested in his colourful exploits than in his photography, it is his work which really speaks for itself and withstands the test of time. In the past, he's cited Picasso as being his greatest inspiration. "The first half of the century belongs to Picasso and the second half to photography..." And in the past 40 years Bailey has held steadfast to the way in which he takes pictures: Black and white, minimalist, very graphic with high contrasts between lighter values and darker tones, and shot on a variety of formats. "I take the same approach today as I did when I started. I've always hated silly pictures and gimmicks, which is all I see these days or, to put it another way, the Avant Garde has gone to Kmart."
All told, Bailey has written and produced countless books, directed films, arranged photographic shows and made commercial. His book Goodbye Baby and Amen is the complete record of his work and captures the decade he first flourished in, with portraits of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, as well as actresses, politicians, artists and writers of the day. His first book of portraits, David Bailey's box of pin-ups, was published in 1965. David Bailey's Rock and Roll Heroes, 1997, showcases more than 80 of his most vivid images of the pop scene from the 1960s onwards.
David Bailey, Archive One 1957 - 1969, published in 1999 includes the bulk of his early fashion and portraiture work, but also unearths some photojournalistic gems taken in the early Sixties, mostly of London's East End. Today, Bailey's still going strong and shows no signs of slowing down. His most recent work includes portraits and celebrity shoots for Harper's Bazaar, Italian Vogue, The London Times and Talk Magazine, among other publications.