Today I went to the press viewing of Bailey's Stardust, a retrospective of David Bailey's career at The National Portrait Gallery. The mahoosive collection of three hundred photos are not exhibited chronologically, but instead are divided into themes, demonstrating how imensely and excitingly varied Bailey's work is - fashion, celebrities, indigenous peoples in far away lands, a whole room dedicated to portraits of his wife and muse, Catherine, and a fascinating set of photos of post-war East London where old-looking young people grin at us through cigarette-smoke hazes in pubs.
God, I love having gallery space to myself, especially when you know that a popular exhibition is going to be utterly rammed. Just walking round having empty space and quiet reflection time was fabulous! Though, I really wish I had been at the celebrity opening event in this very room the night before. I could have drunk prosecco with Kate Moss, and met Bailey himself.
After a good 45 minutes of wandering round time, we were addressed by the director of the NPG, who told us that this retrospective had come about because of a conversation he'd had with David Bailey five years ago, where he suggested Bailey opened up his archives, as it were, and showed the public some things we hadn't seen before, hung up next to his greatest hits. They said the space is transformed in an innovative new way, though it doesn't look that much different to me. I'm not complaining though, good on you for making this amazing exhibition happen, Mr Gallery Man!
As a photographer David Bailey is without a doubt, a household name, and this collection of his work demonstrates his enormous commercial success, but also vast talent, and something special. His subjects, whether they be famous film stars, or tribespeople from Papua New Guinea, open up to him, he captures a twinkle in their eye.
This baby was by far the youngest member of the press in attendance. He seemed enthralled by the skulls section; Bailey has a wide-reaching appeal.
Looking at some of the photos is a bit like turning the pages of a fashion magazine, there's some styling going on (as with the Mick Jagger snap below right). Other photos of celebrities are like looking back over a family album and seeing many familiar faces. Others are more startlingly personal or unsettling, or both - like the one of Catherine below.
The director of the gallery (below) told us that the exhibition will spend the summer in France, and next summer will head to Edinburgh. Fear not, Scotland-based photography fans, it'll be worth the wait! The gift shop is packed with not just Bailey books and prints, but also some nice little photography-related items like these camera notebooks, and lots of skull items (one of Bailey's signature motifs), and star emblazoned items (stardust, innit?).
Bailey's Stardust opens 6th Feb and runs until June. I highly recommend this stunning exhibition, and a look at a truly remarkable British photography legend.