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Q & A: David Bailey interview (part 2)

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TS: What is it about a photographer that makes you notice them?

DB: I like photographers that have a personal view -- when you look you're seeing their view. Lots of the art photography now (which is a silly name anyway) is becoming like fashion photography almost -- one does a girl on a beach with a fill-in flash and within a year there's another dozen doing exactly the same thing. It's overkill, there's too much of everything really, but the good stuff rises to the top.

TS: Some of the shots you did in the early days became really iconic. Is there anyone around today who's an icon?

DB: Kate Moss. Kate Moss is the best thing since Jean Shrimpton, really.

TS: What made her so great?

DB: The same thing that makes Kate Moss great -- you can't define it. It's people's imagination; it's a democratic look which everybody likes. She's not too scary, she's almost in reach but she's not in reach. She's the kind of girl you wish lived next door, but she's never going to. [laughs] Jean was on the cover of Newsweek, Time, Look and seven Vogues all in the same month.

TS: How do you go about photographing your subjects?

DB: When I photograph somebody I fall in love with them for that hour or so, because you have to give everything to them. It's just about them and your small relationship with them. You see if you can find something in them that's peculiar to them because everybody's got something about them. There's nobody that's not interesting.

TS: What interests you about photography?

DB: I'm not interested in photography. I know technically all of it because I've been mucking about with it since I was about 12 and seriously since I was 18, but it's just a tool, it's like a paintbrush. I'm not interested in long lenses or shots of trees or waves breaking on rocks, because for me it's about the emotion I can get out of people. It's not about photography. People go on about composition and that's not really interesting, it's the moment that's interesting.

TS: You've worked in commercials, too -- what's that like?

Kubrick thought a 30 second commercial was one of the hardest pieces of filmmaking to do -- I mean, to do it well. Anyone can make a piece of shit. They used to say, For fuck's sake, let Bailey get on with it, which was kind of rare in that corporate world. Now it's too corporate. You've got 24 university-educated fools round the table. Everywhere. They follow you around. In that great scene when Fellini walks into the sea, all those corporate people would walk in with him.

I won't do advertising if they bring a layout and say, this is what we want to do, because anybody can do that it's not interesting. They've got digital and the computer, it's not taking pictures, it's not magic, it's a picture done by committee.

TS: Do you think Rembrandt would be a photographer if he were born now?

DB: I think lots of those guys would have. Botticelli would have made a very good fashion photographer. He did eight heads instead of seven heads in a body, which is fashion illustration. The first half of the 20th century belongs to Picasso and the second half is about photography. They said digital would kill photography because everyone can do it but they said that about the box brownie in 1885 when it came out. It makes photography interesting because everyone thinks they can take a picture. Everyone's a filmmaker too. It's mostly porn, but everybody's making films.

TS: Your work is extremely broad in terms of what you've done over the years. Has that ever been a conscious decision?

DB: No. The book on Havana just came. It's a snapshot of Havana, it's not a deep insightful thing -- a superficial last moment of Havana before Miami moves back as soon as Castro goes. I've always been fascinated with Cuba because of the Walker Evans photo of a black guy up against a newsstand. Cuba's one of those places that had a mystery for me. I suppose places like Mali still do.

TS: Can you see yourself doing another book like that?

DB: If it happens. I find that area of North West Africa really interesting. Every time I see anything interesting it tends to be from Mali or Timbuktu -- when I was a kid it was the furthest place in the world, nobody had ever been to Timbuktu so that area's kind of interesting for me.

Read more: David Bailey on why London would make a great mistress >>

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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