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Q & A: David Bailey interview

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The Scene catches up with superstar photographer David Bailey to talk photography, Kate Moss and why London would make a great mistress ...

TS: Tell us about your background in London.

DB: I was born in London in the East End, which the media always portrays as filled with gangsters, car thieves or boxers. Cuba sort of reminded me of the East End in a way, because the only way out was if you were a musician or a boxer. It sort of has a magic, the East End. When I was growing up, my friends were mostly Jews or Irish; the West Indians came in the 1950's. It's mostly Muslim now. It's always changing.

TS: Was photography your way out, then?

DB: No, it's because I'm totally dyslexic so all I can really do is paint or take pictures. I had no education in the East End. I don't think I started school 'til I was about 8 because the war was on and then I left on my fifteenth birthday. Fortunately I didn't get educated because if I'd got educated I'd be an educated fool now.

TS: How would you describe your relationship with London?

DB: If it was a woman, it'd be a great mistress because it's full of mystery. You never come to the end of London -- I still go down streets and roads and avenues that I've never been down before, which is fantastic. I've probably been down every street in New York but in London you're always finding things. If you're curious, London's an amazing place.

TS: Where would you live if you didn't live in London?

DB: Probably New York because it's the second best place if you do what I do, but London's not so desperate. In New York, everyone's desperate for success, desperate for money and desperate to be accepted, but in London they're more laid back about things like that.

TS: Do you use London as a location?

DB: If I do pictures of London it's about London. I don't really do that kind of photography. I wouldn't do a fashion shoot of a girl leaning against Big Ben. [laughs] I did a book called NW1, set round Primrose Hill, where I lived for about 30 years and I just wanted to recall that part of London which I could see was disappearing fast. I would think at least 65% of buildings I did have gone now.

TS: Could there be another book like NW1?

DB: Well, there might be a book on the East End, where I come from. I've got lots of pictures of people that I did in the 60's; then I did the buildings, 'cause they were all coming down in the 80's; when I have a moment I'm going to go back and do some more. It's quite difficult down in the East End at the moment because they think you're from the CIA or something. They're not photographic friendly down there but I'll find a way round.

TS: Didn't I read that someone walked into a library and they nicked all your books apart from that one?

DB: It's caviar for the pigs -- the stealing pigs. It's one of the most collectable ones for people who collect books, but it's not a book that the average person would understand; just pictures of buildings. I reckon at least half the buildings are gone. The last picture was taken in 1980ish.

TS: How has London changed?

DB: London changes because of money. It's real estate. If they can build some offices or expensive apartments they will, it's money that changes everything in a city. You can't carry on being the same, anyway. It's good to have change all the time. It makes it more exciting.

But the mystery of London has never changed. You go down Hoxton Square or down the East End, it's managed to keep that mystery. I don't really know anything across the river; the only thing across the river is the Tate, really, which is kind of sad. There's nothing in the East End but there will be now because they're building the Olympic stadiums there, so that's all going to change, but it's great, continuous change. London's great because it's so green. It's the greenest big city in the world, it's 30% green, and there's so many parks. You fly over London, it's amazing the amount of green spots there are.

Read more: David Bailey on Kate Moss, Botticelli and what makes him notice photographers >>



David Bailey in his studio with his dog, Pig

Bailey's 1960s black and white photographs became icons of Swinging London

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