David Bailey is best known for his work with Vogue magazine and for capturing the feel of the ‘swinging 6os’ with his photographs of celebrities from the Rolling Stones through to Andy Warhol. To recognise his contribution to the world of photography, the National Portrait Gallery has put on a huge exhibition featuring over 250 works.
The show is awash with celebrity photographs from models like Kate Moss, through to actors, artists and musicians. The art of portrait photography is capturing a side of someone that others haven’t seen before, yet these are all subjects who love the limelight and are clearly striking the exaggerated poses we’d expect from them.
Bailey does have documentary photographs of natives in Australia, India and Papua New Guinea but they aren’t a patch on the works of Sebastiao Salgado. The one exceptional series is of Sudan showing starving children but, just as these hard hitting photographs are sinking in, we come across another wall of celebrities.
Some of his fashion photographs do have an experimental feel to them, for example the seemingly disembodied head of Mia Farrow and a Man Ray-esque Vogue cover where only the clothes and not the woman beneath them is visible. But these are rarities among the many more obvious portraits on display.
There are many people who don’t think photography should be considered ‘fine art’ and exhibitions such as these do give them fodder. There’s no doubt that Bailey takes a great photograph and has produced many an iconic magazine cover. We’ll probably get criticised for saying so, but in the home of works by the likes of Van Dyck and Lucian Freud, Bailey’s works feel out of their depth.
Bailey’s Stardust is on at National Portrait Gallery until 1 June. Tickets are £14.50 for adults, concessions available.