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The Old Bailey

There are photographic legends, and then there’s David Bailey, whose immortality was nigh upon guaranteed back when director Michelangelo Antonioni used him as the inspiration for David Hemmings’ anti-hero in his 1966 counter-culture classic, Blow-Up. You know that well worn, oft-parodied cliché of the seductive snapper, in his studio, enticing a willing subject to give it their all? It comes from Bailey. Back in the day, this East End boy forged his own legend as the definitive chronicler of Swinging London, photographing everybody (and we mean everybody), from his muse Jean Shrimpton to The Kray Twins, the first rock star with a camera – and a killer eye. Unlike any number of contemporaries, he never really fell from grace or favour, a solid working class work ethic – coupled with a style that remains defined by a no-nonsense simplicity – adeptly seeing him through five decades of fortune and glory, not to mention four beautiful wives, among them Catherine Deneuve. Given his ubiquity and commercial success, the critical fraternity has always displayed a vaguely sniffy attitude to Bailey’s work, particularly in recent decades, which makes a forthcoming retrospective at London’s National Portrait Gallery all the more welcome. Bailey’s Stardust features a whopping 250 of Bailey’s favourite subjects, gathered thematically from across his career, from early works and the greatest hits (like that definitive 1965 portrait of Michael Caine) to this recent snap of Kate Moss, above, which vividly illustrates that the sly old dog certainly hasn’t lost his touch when it comes to shooting an icon. Make the trip.

Bailey’s Stardust opens February 6 and runs until June 1 2014 at the National Portrait Gallery, London, and is accompanied by a commemorative book designed by Bailey himself, npg.org.uk.

Derek O’Connor

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