David Bailey: Tears of a Clown

“Fuck, he’s going to take up my time telling me about how he’s been a photographer since the 60’s while I answer phone calls from Munich asking if I’ve contacted the people about the vinyl window lettering for the next show, which I have not done because I can’t bear the world without a spliff this early”

Another spectator with a camera tethered to his neck. I watch him shuffling around the gallery thinking “Fuck, he’s going to take up my time telling me about how he’s been a photographer since the 60’s while I answer phone calls from Munich asking if I’ve contacted the people about the vinyl window lettering for the next show, which I have not done because I can’t bear the world without a spliff this early”. The man does the gallery walk and I open emails. No questions are asked. I am alone in the gallery semi-hidden from the door and the man behind a desk that feels like it could double as an air-raid shelter. Its smooth white surface flush to the edges of each piece that makes its whole. It’s more like a Flak bunker, actually.

The man begins the slow walk towards the door and stops to sit down, somewhat disheveled, in the chair in front of the desk from which I cannot see him and he cannot see me. With caffeinated effort I rise from my uncomfortable seat and look at him. He is grey and all stubble. Noting that the camera around his neck is actually nice, I give him the nod and ask if he has any questions about “Ruckblick”. It is a show of very nice nineteenth century photographs in the gallery that will not sell to anybody under the age of fifty. So, I chance it. Appearances are not everything. A slow hiss of words leaves his maw and they are not sour. He is actually becoming quite funny speaking about his own work (impossible not to) and the experiences he has had at galleries previously. He is very English, but not the type that will ever say “Ta” as a thank you.

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@ David Bailey

” The older of the two women, the statue as it were, has a pink bag from the lingerie/dildo shop two doors down with her. I whimsically try and suppress a mirthful smile by pursing my lips closed. Not a terrible morning thus far. The woman and younger girl walk to where the man sits. She calls him Bailey”.

He continues to talk about the photography on the walls. He is aware of what he is looking at and thankfully has not asked me whether or not we have the god damn negatives to continually produce the un-reproducible. He knows the value of what he sees. I can’t figure him out. He seems fatigued, but there is more than a flicker of life in his eyes, which protrudes to his body when animated. In American terms, we “shoot the shit” for about forty minutes. I have no idea who he is and we do not introduce ourselves to one another. We both seem fine with the situation as is. I cannot help but feel that I actually like the old curmudgeon somehow.

At the end of this conversation, a statuesque woman walks in the door. She is gorgeous, maybe in her 40’s or 50’s. I notice him notice her and I notice him notice me notice her. She is with a girl in her twenties. The older of the two women, the statue as it were, has a pink bag from the lingerie/dildo shop two doors down with her. I whimsically try and suppress a mirthful smile by pursing my lips closed. Not a terrible morning thus far. The woman and younger girl walk to where the man sits. She calls him Bailey. I think at first this is his first name, then the penny drops in the most proverbial manner and I take note that the shit shootin’ morning with this pair is acknowledged in my pea brain as being the Mr. MR. David Bailey and his wife Catherine. I presume the younger girl is the daughter and I try to close the generation gap between where this man sits crumpled, but full of piss and vinegar to the statue on moveable legs to the progeny in tow.

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I begin to take much more of an interest recounting the Krays, the 60’s, and the only book I have of his devoted to his wife Catherine entitled “The Lady is a Tramp”, which is still somehow an unnerving title for a book of portraits of the author’s wife. Connections are made. The couple will be invited to a dinner at Shoreditch house for the opening of our next show. I remember Bailey constantly shouting over the table at “the Ginger” who happens to be the highest placed young museum official at the table. I am nestled between him and Taryn Simon and thankfully, I think the remark passes over her American head, but I can see the Museum Steward getting more than a little tired of being called “Ginger” repeatedly. It’s a masquerade of photographic lunacy from which I cannot help but be fond of.

037_Tears_CD (Custom)

@ David Bailey

“You will remember Blow-up won’t you? You will remember the correlation of photographic murder being interrogated through grain expansion. You will remember that we want that murder and we will do whatever it takes to fashion our eyes into seeing it”.

David Bailey’s “Tears and Tears” for Steidl is the second book of Bailey that I now possess and I have to admit, it’s my favorite of the two, Catherine’s otherworldly countenance aside. She is in the book, so it’s a fockin double win for me, innit. The book largely features fragments and remnants excavated from Bailey’s studio. Allegedly squirreled away in some room where test strips go to die (I can smell the fixer from the book alone) the images within are actually pieces of images. They are like John Deakin’s images from Soho or Irving Penn’s Platinum print test strips. They have shifted from the fragmentary to the monumental and they look, I daresay, experimental…to a small degree. There is the chemical drip that runs across the print surface like pus, blood, piss. This is skin. Silver stretched granules of bleached pores envelope the sitter within like a membrane chastising its contents. It all looks organic. It all reminds me of Greece and hammer smashed ruins of iconoclastic adventures of the past. Yet, the iconography within is not so indebted to destruction as it is Bailey’s own mythical past. You will remember Blow-Up won’t you? You will remember the correlation of photographic murder being interrogated through grain expansion. You will remember that we want that murder and we will do whatever it takes to fashion our eyes into seeing it. We have the separation of fact, fiction and screen here in one static image. But Blow-Up, that’s only a film, isn’t it?

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These crumbling remains of legend are expandeded under the hubris of decay within this body of work. We work so hard in photographic terms to strive for perfection, so much so that what we really need are the imperfections, scratches and the trace elements of an essence to tell us what it is really like to see.

I applaud this body of work. It shifts Bailey’ “stardust” moment into a more trusted terrain where the merits of imagination are not encumbered by the limits of perfection. Daniel Blau has written his essay like a true dyslexic lysdexic explorer bent on salvaging the remains of some forgotten culture that is still very much remembered. There is a subtle perfection in these ruins. It is the seed of decay that in which the life of the mind may spring forward challenged to accept the caress of the inevitable slough of chairs in the halls with white walls the world over. I highly recommend this book even if you don’t give two shits about Bailey, the 60’s, fashion photography or my grievous pandering to the edge of ruination. It is a soft whisper towards culture and your own oncoming futility. Breathe it in wide.

 

David Bailey

Tears and Tears

Steidl

(All rights reserved. Text @ Brad Feuerhelm. Images @ David Bailey.)

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