I enjoyed Bailey’s Stardust show at the National Portrait Gallery more than I expected. And no, it’s not because I had a delightful lunch at Le Caprice with Mr BB, which included a 3-course menu and a specially-made cocktail for the exhibition (picture below). Lunch was a good introduction to the NPG show, as it is an exhibition in itself given that the walls are adorned with David Bailey photographs. The photos have been there since Le Caprice opened in 1981, and we heard the photographer has been a regular guest.
We continued our Bailey journey at the NPG after lunch. The photographs were personally selected by David Bailey himself and are thematically displayed, including the following themes: Artists (my favourite section), Andy and Dali, Black & white Icons, Catherine Bailey (his wife), Fashion icons and beauty, Aboriginals and Papua New Guinea, in no particular order.
Bailey’s style is instantly recognisable. Most of them share a white background and are in black & white, framed by a negative-like border. Most subjects have chosen to have or are represented in a “neutral” portrait, without their attributes. Two notable and likeable exceptions are Henri Cartier Bresson who is snapped with his camera and Tom Ford’s shot. The latter gives the impression that Bailey stopped Tom Ford a day in his life, even though the picture was likely prepared.
There is stark contrast between his fashion work and the rest of his oeuvre, in my view. A strong example is the divergence between the soft skin in a 2013 portrait of Kate Moss and the microscopic detail and exaggerated tonal contrasts in a portrait of Man Ray. I have never seen such fine details in a portrait before. I looked into Man Ray’s eyes and visualised his solarised photographs, his Violon d’Ingres and Noire et Blanche.
As you can imagine, the Artists room was my favourite room. Bailey rubbed shoulders with Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol. Like Man Ray in his time, Bailey’s Stardust is the who’s who of the world of actors, writers, musicians, filmmakers, designers, models, artists. Photographs from his travels in East Africa, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Delhi and the Naga Hills, and even his photos from his home neighbourhood of east London, feel like an appendix. Until June 1st.