‘I don’t give a f**k what anybody thinks about me…. I never wanted to be famous. Why? For what? So the doorman at Harrods can recognise me? What I care about is what my kids think about me, and what my grandchildren think of me – the fact that they think I’m a genius is delicious.’ — Brian Duffy.
Known to friends and colleagues by his surname only, Duffy was both rival and contemporary of David Bailey and Terence Donovan. This “terrible trio” as the British press had dubbed them, were the innovators of “documentary” fashion photography, a style which revolutionised fashion imagery and furthermore the fashion industry.
The ‘Trio’ became far more famous than many of the models, with whom they worked, and were, for a while, even bigger than the glossy magazines that published their pictures.
Reeiving added notoriety when famed photographer Normal Parkinson named them the “Black Trinity”. There was some merit in this label, as the cravat-wearing old guard felt threatened by these freewheeling young men in leather jackets, who took their models on to the streets and snapped them with new-fangled , small 35mm cameras.
Beginning his career at Vogue Magazine, Duffy made his name in fashion and celebrity photography and went on to become one of only a few photographers to have shot two Pirelli calendars.
Few celebrities of the 1960s and 1970s escaped Duffy’s lens, which created memorable and sometimes iconic images of sitters including, probably most famously David Bowie, Jane Birkin, John Lennon, Blondie, Sir Michael Caine, Jean Shrimpton (The Shrimp), William Burroughs, Sidney Poitier, Terence Stamp and a naked Christine Keeler, whose scandalous affairs, famously almost brought down the British Government.
His work was dynamic and inventive, as can be seen in the memorable 1973 album cover he shot for David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane, but in 1979, disillusioned with the business, he took his transparencies and negatives into his studio garden and set them alight in a ceremonial finale to his career as a photographer, having felt that he had said all he could say in the medium. Thankfully, not all the negatives were destroyed and a selection of what was literally salvaged from the bonfire can be seen at here for the first time outside of London at Gallery Vassie.
Although Duffy wasn’t concerned with his own fame, the legacy he leaves us is unquestionable and he will no doubt continue to inspire for generations to come.
In 2009, his son Chris persuaded him to pick up his camera again and the story of Duffy’s early career and comeback is documented in a BBC documentary shown in January 2010 titled ‘The Man Who Shot the 60s. Commenting on the significance of his father’s work, Chris Duffy said: “One of the top tree photographers on the scene in the 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”.
This exhibition and new book re-ignite the work of this creative visionary and although Duffy wasn’t concerned with his own fame, the legacy he leaves us is unquestionable and he will no doubt continue to inspire for generations to come. Duffy died on 31st May 2010.