I have just been to see Stardust, a retrospective of photographs by David Bailey at the National Portrait Gallery.
I have been a fan of Bailey all my life. I had his book when I was 15 years old, when I was still at school and had no idea I would go on to photograph some of the same iconic people he has.
Walking through the gallery didn’t really bring me anything new. As a fan I’ve seen these photographs hundreds of times over, but what I did find interesting, was people’s different views and observations of them. The 11x14 portraits were quite interesting. He only took two frames of each sitter due to the expense and it also looked like he hadn’t moved the cumbersome camera so framing was different. People wondered why Ringo Starr had “too much space above his head” but others were more conventionally framed.
It made me realise that some of these people making the comments, for better or worse, had no idea what is involved in using a 11x14 camera. They are more of the camera phone generation.
Imagine my surprise when I walked into one of the other rooms to see a whole collection of pictures taken on Baileys camera phone! So then I heard comments of “why” and “but it degrades photography and demeans his other work “
It doesn’t. The image is king. The tool it’s taken with is exactly that, a tool. Something that records an image. Bailey, one the worlds most iconic photographers has embraced it and so should we.
The other thing I noticed was how similar photographers archives can be. Bailey uses everything and it’s a great cross section.
I too have many pictures of my family, children being born, growing up etc but never considered them as part of my archive. In Stardust Bailey has a whole room of them. It made me think that our archive isn’t one specific thing it’s everything we take. It’s holiday snaps, it’s camera pictures, wives (ex and current), it’s professional sittings, magazine covers, billboards, it’s everything. Inevitably a lot of our pictures were very similar and clearly crossed over from certain points in our lives.
I suspect many other photographers like me came away with a little spring in their step feeling that maybe we’re not so far away or different from the great man after all .