BWW Previews: David Bailey's STARDUST at the National Portrait Gallery

BWW Previews: David Bailey's STARDUST at the National Portrait Gallery

A landmark exhibition of the work of David Bailey opens at London's National Portrait Gallery in February next year. Over 250 photographs have been personally selected by Bailey, one of the world's most distinguished photographers, for what will be the largest exhibition of his portraits. Subjects include artists, fashion icons, photographers, musicians and people encountered on his travels.

Bailey spoke at the NPG about the forthcoming show. When asked if the gallery was the place for an exhibition arguably as at home in the world of fashion as in the art world (something highlighted by prominent Hugo Boss sponsorship) Bailey defended himself with characteristic directness: 'Up your bum, I'm an artist'.

A glance through the Bailey portfolio and there's no doubt about it. These portraits, fetched from a career spanning half a century, are arranged thematically and include selections from his most acclaimed bodies of work, including Bailey's Democracy, in which people visiting his studio were asked if they would agree to be photographed naked, and the Box of Pin-Ups, which helped define the 60s, through arresting studies of key figures which remain some of his most famous images.

Bailey claims that the National Portrait Gallery took some persuading over the title of the show - a title which reflects the notion that we are all made from, and return to, stardust. Of course, it's the impressive constellation of twentieth century stars which will be attracting many visitors to the exhibition, though the iconic portraits of Elvis, Jagger and Moss will sit alongside documentary photographs and rooms devoted to Bailey's travels in Australia, Delhi and Naga Hills, and to the people of London's East End.

When asked how he puts his subjects at ease when photographing them, Bailey says: 'I fall in love with them while they are with me. They are the centre of your universe for those three hours.'

It's true that whatever his subject, Bailey's images are engrossing and highly characterful. He himself comments on the difference between 'taking' and 'making' a picture. Though what that difference is, he says, is 'a secret'. Maybe it's stardust.


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Becky Brewis Becky Brewis is a writer and regular contributor of theatre features to IdeasTap and A Younger Theatre.