I remain curious about where my inspiration comes from. As I've been around the block a bit, I've been exposed to years of culture during my life and recently started dipping into art history to look for more connections. One of my stopping-off points was to revisit the storied British photographer David Bailey to consider his motivations and inspirations. Did he (Bailey) pull from his present, or did he explore the past to inform his aesthetic?
The 1960s saw significant shifts in youth culture. More work, more money and more options to spend that money. Years of post-WWII rationing and austerity were being shed. Music and fashion were transforming, and it was a time of cultural awakening. Following National Service, Bailey was stepping into a world full of potential, and he seized the opportunity.
The early 1960s saw the emergence of the Pop Art movement, which celebrated popular culture and challenged traditional artistic conventions. Bailey's photography was heavily influenced by Pop Art, using bright colours, bold shapes, and playful imagery in his compositions. His portraits of celebrities such as Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol, and Twiggy often incorporated elements of Pop Art such as collage and graphic design.
As with Pop Art, fashions aimed at younger people were also striking in their use of colour and shape. The strong contrasts made for memorable black-and-white images, particularly when combined with Bailey's brightly lit sets or street environments. I also like to think that Bailey's work helped to break down traditional gender roles in fashion, with his photographs of men often incorporating elements of femininity and vice versa.
TV and films/movies
With creative renewal breaking out across many realms, who wouldn't take on board influences from other media? For me, Bailey was heavily influenced by these new forms of media, with his photographs often resembling movie stills or television advertisements. His use of dramatic lighting, strong composition, and cinematic poses helped to create a sense of drama and intrigue in his photographs. They stood out from other fashion and portrait photography of the era.
With their bold and irreverent style, his photographs were inspired by and captured the era's spirit. He helped define a new standard of beauty and coolness that continues to shine today. Knowingly or otherwise, Bailey's heady mix of music, fashion and urban environments has informed my own aesthetic. My sense is that will be the case for other photographers too.