1963 by David Bailey
Bailey’s Stardust, National Portrait Gallery
Bailey’s Stardust was all we expected it to be: a glittering array of recognisable faces in their prime, captured through the magical lens of David Bailey. It’s no secret that Bailey has a knack for making people feel at ease – he has successfully photographed the trickiest of sitters – but his photos reveal more than this. Bailey turns his sitters into creations of their own personality, drawing on their humour, talent or physical beauty to create compositions that embody them. The classic black and white portraits are perhaps the most iconic examples of this, where each protagonist is left quite alone in their own monotone square. Drawn out by Bailey’s exquisite tone – the crisp edge of detail and the softly seductive creeping of contrast – each figure is cast in the role of flaunting themselves, not overtly but subtly; as if you briefly caught their eye. Jean Shrimpton – an infamous favourite of Bailey’s – shows us this. She is lit from the side, throwing light on the face that made her famous, illuminating her beauty as she draws us in with her eyes. The soft and milky greys of her skin are luxurious against the black out of her dress that sweeps – organically, abstractedly, sexually – across the lower half of the photo, ending out of sight. She appears to lean against the frame in which Bailey has captured her, the lines of his entrapment reinforced with a black outline. Compositionally, the shape Bailey creates with her body should be awkward, cocked to one side, but it’s far from it; the lines he creates are harmonious, a perfect balance. The exhibition wass filled with such evocative portraits, the most intimate depicting Catherine Bailey – a whole room celebrated her as Bailey’s muse. The star-struck atmosphere is interrupted by the intermittent inclusion of Bailey’s documentary photographs, including those from Papua New Guinea and the Live Aid photos. The effect of these hung opposite and next to his glamourous icons is a little jarring, though this could have been the idea.