David Bailey was born in Leytonstone East London, to Herbert Bailey, a tailor's cutter, and his wife, Sharon, a machinist. From the age of three he lived in East Ham.
Bailey developed a love of natural history, and this led him into photography. Suffering from undiagnosed dyslexia, he experienced problems at school. He attended a private school, Clark's College in Ilford, where he says they taught him less than the more basic council school. As well as dyslexia he also has the motor skill disorder dyspraxia (developmental coordination disorder).
In one school year, he claims he only attended 33 times. He left school on his fifteenth birthday, to become a copy boy at the Fleet Street offices of the Yorkshire Post. He raced through a series of dead end jobs, before his call up for National Service in 1956, serving with the Royal Air Force in Singapore in 1957. The appropriation of his trumpet forced him to consider other creative outlets, and he bought a Rolleiflex camera.
He was demobbed in August 1958, and determined to pursue a career in photography, he bought a Canon rangefinder camera. Unable to obtain a place at the London College of Printing because of his school record, he became a second assistant to David Ollins, in Charlotte Mews. He earned £3 10s (£3.50) a week, and acted as studio dogsbody. He was delighted to be called to an interview with photographer John French.
In 1959, Bailey became a photographic assistant at the John French studio, and in May 1960, he was a photographer for John Cole's Studio Five, before being contracted as a fashion photographer for British Vogue magazine later that year. He also undertook a large amount of freelance work.
Along with Terence Donovan and Brian Duffy, Bailey captured and helped create the 'Swinging London' of the 1960s: a culture of fashion and celebrity chic. The three photographers socialised with actors, musicians and royalty, and found themselves elevated to celebrity status. Together, they were the first real celebrity photographers, named by Norman Parkinson "the Black Trinity".
The film Blowup (1966), directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, depicts the life of a London fashion photographer (played by David Hemmings) whose character was inspired by Bailey. The "Swinging London" scene was aptly reflected in his Box of Pin-Ups (1964): a box of poster-prints of 1960s celebrities including Terence Stamp, The Beatles, Mick Jagger, Jean Shrimpton, PJ Proby, Cecil Beaton, Rudolf Nureyev, Andy Warhol and notorious East End gangsters, the Kray twins. The Box was an unusual and unique commercial release. It reflected the changing status of the photographer that one could sell a collection of prints in this way. Strong objection to the presence of the Krays by fellow photographer, Lord Snowdon, was the major reason no American edition of the "Box" was released, and that a second British edition was not issued. The record sale for a copy of 'Box of Pin-Ups' is reported as "north of £20,000".
Bailey's ascent at Vogue was meteoric. Within months he was shooting covers and, at the height of his productivity, he shot 800 pages of Vogue editorial in one year. Penelope Tree, a former girlfriend, described him as "the king lion on the Savannah: incredibly attractive, with a dangerous vibe. He was the electricity, the brightest, most powerful, most talented, most energetic force at the magazine".
American Vogue's creative director Grace Coddington, then a model herself, said "It was the Sixties, it was a raving time, and Bailey was unbelievably good-looking. He was everything that you wanted him to be – like the Beatles but accessible – and when he went on the market everyone went in. We were all killing ourselves to be his model, although he hooked up with Jean Shrimpton pretty quickly".
Of model Jean Shrimpton, Bailey said:
She was magic and the camera loved her too. In a way she was the cheapest model in the world – you only needed to shoot half a roll of film and then you had it. She had the knack of having her hand in the right place, she knew where the light was, she was just a natural.
Since 1966, Bailey has also directed several television commercials and documentaries. From 1968 to 1971 he directed and produced TV documentaries titled Beaton, Warhol and Visconti. As well as fashion photography, Bailey photographed album sleeve art for musicians including The Rolling Stones and Marianne Faithfull. One of Bailey's most famous works depicts the Rolling Stones including Brian Jones, who drowned in 1969 while under the influence of drink and drugs. He is seen standing slightly apart from the rest of the group.
Bailey was hired in 1970 by Island Records' Chris Blackwell to shoot publicity photos of Cat Stevens for his upcoming album Tea for the Tillerman. Stevens (now known as Yusuf Islam) maintains that he disliked having his photo on the cover of his albums, as had previously been the case, although he allowed Bailey's photographs to be placed on the inner sleeve of the album.
In 1972, rock musician Alice Cooper was photographed by Bailey for Vogue magazine, almost naked apart from a snake. Cooper used Bailey the following year to shoot for the group's chart topping 'Billion Dollar Babies' album. The shoot included a baby wearing shocking eye makeup and, supposedly, one billion dollars in cash requiring the shoot to be under armed guard. In 1976, Bailey published Ritz Newspaper together with David Litchfield. In 1985, Bailey was photographing stars at the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium. As he recalled later: "The atmosphere on the day was great. At one point I got a tap on my shoulder and spun round. Suddenly there was a big tongue down my throat! It was Freddie Mercury."
In 1992, Bailey directed the BBC drama Who Dealt? starring Juliet Stevenson, story by Ring Lardner. In 1995 he directed and wrote the South Bank Film The Lady is a Tramp featuring his wife Catherine Bailey. In 1998 he directed a documentary with Ginger Television Production, Models Close Up, commissioned by Channel 4 Television.
In 2012, the BBC made a film of the story of his 1962 New York photoshoot with Jean Shrimpton, entitled We'll Take Manhattan.
In October 2013 Bailey took part in Art Wars at the Saatchi Gallery curated by Ben Moore. The artist was issued with a stormtrooper helmet, which he transformed into a work of art. Proceeds went to the Missing Tom Fund set up by Ben Moore to find his brother Tom who has been missing for over ten years. The work was also shown on the Regents Park platform as part of Art Below Regents Park.
Bailey began working with prestigious fashion brand Jaeger in the late 1950s when Jean Muir landed the role of designer. After working alongside other fashion photographers such as the late Norman Parkinson, Bailey was officially commissioned by Vogue in 1962.
His first shoot in New York City was of young model Jean Shrimpton, who wore a range of Jaeger and Susan Small clothing, including a camel suit with a green blouse and a suede coat worn with kitten heels. The shoot was titled 'Young Idea Goes West'.
After 53 years Bailey returned to Jaeger to shoot their AW15 campaign. The campaign kept in line with Jaeger's heritage, as menswear subject; James Penfold modelled tailored tweed blazers and a camel coat. Also on the shoot was model, philanthropist and film director Elisa Sednaoui.2001: Commander of the Order of the British Empire, as part of 2001 Queen's Birthday Honours.
2005: Centenary Medal and Honorary Fellowship (HonFRPS), Royal Photographic Society.
2016: Lifetime Achievement award, Infinity Awards, International Center of Photography, New York.
Bailey paints and sculpts. Some of his sculptures were shown in London in 2010, and paintings and mixed media works were shown in October 2011.
There are a number of references to Bailey, especially in questions on quiz shows, but also in the episode of The Professionals (TV series), entitled Involvement, one of the CI5 men is snapping away with a camera, causing his friend to enquire whether he thought he was David Bailey. Another mention is made in the AMC TV show Mad Men when Don Draper remarks to his secretary that Bailey wishes to photograph her in the Season 7 episode "Severance".
Bailey has been married four times: in 1960 to Rosemary Bramble; in 1965 to the actress Catherine Deneuve (divorced 1972); in 1975 to American fashion model and writer Marie Helvin; and in 1986 to the model Catherine Dyer (born 20 July 1961), to whom he remains married. He is a long-time vegetarian and refrains from drinking alcohol. An art-lover with a long-held passion for the works of Picasso, his company address is in London and he has a home on Dartmoor, near Plymouth. Bailey has two sons and a daughter. three children. His youngest son, Sascha Bailey, is an art curator.
Bailey was named one of GQ's 50 best dressed British men in 2015.
Although he voted "Yes" in the United Kingdom European Communities membership referendum, 1975, he backed a "Leave" vote in the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, 2016.National Portrait Gallery 1971
One Man Retrospective Victoria & Albert Museum 1983
International Center of Photography (ICP) NY 1984
Curator "Shots of Style" Victoria & Albert Museum 1985
Pictures of Sudan for Band Aid at The Institute for Contemporary Arts (ICA) *1985
Auction at Sotheby's for Live Aid Concert for Band Aid 1985
Bailey Now! Royal Photographic Society in Bath 1989
Numerous Exhibitions at Hamiltons Gallery, London. 1989 to now
Fahey Klein Gallery, Los Angeles 1990
Camerawork Photogallerie, Berlin. 1997
Carla Sozanni. Milan. 1997
A Gallery for Fine Photography, New Orleans. 1998
Touring exhibition "Birth of the Cool" 1957–1969 & contemporary work
Barbican Art Gallery, London – 1999
National Museum of Film, Photography & Television, Bradford. 1999–2000
Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden. 2000
City Art Museum, Helsinki, Finland 2000
Modern Art Museum, The Dean Gallery, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh 2001
Proud Gallery London Bailey /Rankin Down Under
Gagosian Gallery. Joint with Damien Hirst “14 Stations of the Cross” 2004
Gagosian Gallery. Artists by David Bailey. 2004
Democracy. Faggionato Fine Arts 2005
Havana. Faggionato Fine Arts 2006
Pop Art Gagosian London 2007
Galeria Hilario Galguera Mexico 2007
National Portrait Gallery – Beatles to Bowie 2009
Bonhams, London. Pure Sixties Pure Bailey 2010
Pangolin London. Sculpture + 2010
The Stockdale Effect, Paul Stolper Gallery, London 2010
David Bailey's East End. Compressor House, London, 2012.
David Bailey's East End Faces London February/May 2013
Bailey's Stardust, National Portrait Gallery, London 2014
Bailey's Stardust, National Gallery, Edinburgh 2015
David Bailey Stardust, PAC - Padiglione di Arte Contemporanea, Milano (Italy) 2015