Brian Duffy was “the man who shot the sixties” and changed the landscape of fashion photography forever.
One of the true innovators of the 1960s pop-culture aesthetic, Brian Duffy art was innovative, dynamic and inventive, revolutionising the stiff photography of the ‘50s. Few celebrities of the 1960s and 1970s escaped his lens, and subjects included the likes of David Bowie, Jane Birkin, John Lennon, Blondie, Sir Michael Caine and Sidney Poitier.
Having retired his camera in 1979, the artist enjoyed a revival shortly before his death. Today, many individuals look to invest in Brian Duffy art as a snapshot of this past era.
The early life of Brian Duffy
At the age of twelve, Duffy was enrolled at a progressive school in South Kensington, run by the London County Council to introduce “problem children” to the arts. Duffy was taken to art galleries, the opera, the ballet and museums, and began to paint.
In 1950, he applied to Saint Martin’s School of Art to become a painter, but quickly switched to dress design. Upon completing his studies, he entered the fashion business, working for Princess Margaret’s designer Victor Steibel and producing fashion drawings for Harper’s Bazaar, learning all about the fashion industry and meeting the right people.
He took this experience into his work as a fashion photographer, taking shots that showed how garments “worked” and allowed models to appear as though they owned them.
In 1957, Duffy was hired by British Vogue, making his name in fashion and celebrity photography. By the ‘70s he was a regular contributor to The Sunday Times Magazine, The Telegraph Magazine, The Observer, Harpers & Queen and French Elle. He also went on to become one of only a few photographers to have shot two Pirelli calendars, and produced award-winning commercials for brands such as Smirnoff and Benson & Hedges.
Duffy’s arguably most famous work took place in 1973 when he shot the cover for David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane, and he later shot Bowie’s album cover for Scary Monsters in 1980.
How Brian Duffy art changed fashion forever
Brian Duffy was a rival and contemporary of David Bailey and Terence Donovan. The famed photographer Norman Parkinson named them “the Black Trinity,” and they became as well known as many of the actors, models, musicians and members of royalty they worked with.
Duffy, Donovan and Bailey re-defined the role of the photographer, creating a revolutionary style of documentary fashion photography. Alongside other like-minded thinkers including Vidal Sassoon, Peter O’Toole and Michael Caine, the trinity were part of a sea change in the attitude of people in the UK after World War II. Moving away from posed photography, they created a more fluid style that better resonated with their modern audience, developing the 1960s fashion aesthetic and sexualising the human body.
A legacy upheld
Duffy allowed his son to apprentice when the boy was young, and Chris eventually became his father’s first assistant, traveling the world with him.
In the late seventies, Duffy stopped taking stills and moved onto commercials, and in the following years became reclusive and refused to talk about the time he spent as a fashion photographer. He was thought to have burned all his negatives in the backyard of his studio, but some were instead left in boxes where they languished until 2007.
During the 90’s, Chris became frustrated that the name Brian Duffy was slowly slipping into obscurity. Only in 2006 when Duffy was diagnosed with the degenerative lung disease Pulmonary Fibrosis did he finally give Chris the green light to put the archive together.
In 2009, Chris persuaded Duffy to pick up his camera again, and the story of his early career and comeback was documented in a 2010 BBC documentary “The Man Who Shot the 60s.”
Brian Duffy died on 31st May 2010, but his work has since been exhibited in museums and galleries around the world. In 2013, the Victoria and Albert Museum requested use of his Aladdin Sane image as the lead image for the ‘David Bowie is’ exhibition, which became the fastest selling exhibition reaching record audiences and touring worldwide. Duffy’s name has now become recognised by a worldwide audience and his name is back on the map.
In 2014, Duffy’s second book was released. ‘Five Sessions’ covers his work with David Bowie, and explores the creation of five iconic sets of images accompanied by interviews. The process of exhibiting Duffy’s work continues and the future holds several more book projects illuminating Duffy’s eclectic and influential work.
“One of the top three photographers on the scene in 60s and 70s London, Duffy’s work is essential in the development and understanding of the dynamic visual language that took hold at the time when London was the epicentre of cool. Known for his avant-garde eye, Duffy’s work transcends the time in which it was taken and continues to influence the visual styles of today.” – Chris Duffy