Wednesday, 2 May 2012


Although he did have a first name ('Brian'), the iconic photographer of the Swinging Sixties was known universally by his surname, Duffy.

Born to Irish immigrant parents in a firmly working class environment, his background could not have been more dissimilar from that of Beaton or Parkinson. Where they recalled days of silk gowns and parasols, his memories were of running wild and creating havoc across the bomb sites of a mightily blitzed London.

His antics would eventually land him in trouble and relegation to a special school in Kentish Town where the local hard-cases tended to end up. However, this wasn't any boot camp affair. On the contrary, attendees were exposed to the creative arts and taken on trips to galleries and the opera.

This alternative thereapy certainly worked for Duffy and in due course he secured a place for himself at .St.Martin's College of Art studying first painting and then fashion design.

It was while he was working as a fashion assistant at Harper's Bazar that he happened to notice a contact sheet on the desk of the fashion editor.

‘Why are all those pictures the same?’, he asked. There not, he was told, and invited to take a closer look’.

So was born his interest in photography and after variuous assistant photographer positions he was finally taken on by Vogue and would work there for the next six years.

Duffy - Defining the Decade:

Along with his contemporaries, David Bailey and Terence Donovan, these brand new talents rose swiftly and became known as the 'Terrible Three', or as Norman Parkinson dubbed them, 'the Black Trinity'.

They were also credited with creating a documentary style of photography that was urban and gritty. The city docks and wastelands became the backdrop for much of their work where the refused to be hindered by the formal conventions of fashion photography.

Duffy's style in this new setting was sparse and economical, very pared down, but undeniably skilled and artistic. It was an era of fast cars and racy women that Duffy was well placed to capture, his sense of composition and the abstract matching the modernity of the times.

Duffy - Capturing Women:

Another characteristic of the era was the changing presentation of women. Fast disappearing was the format of female models as genteel clothes horses and Duffy's women are rarely preen or simpering. They barely fawn for the camera and appear variously as open, sultry, attainable or remote with Duffy as an observer capturing them in the moment, rather than some leering voyeur.

Duffy - Ad-Land Supremo:

Duffy would become one of the leading commercial photographers of his generation and come the 1970s his studio was providing some of the best advertising photography of the time.

His campaigns for B&H and Smirnoff amongst others setting a bench mark for the industry.

He'd also help conceive one of the most iconic album covers of all time. That for David Bowies Aladdin Zane.

As a personality, Duffy was perhaps overly meticulous and contrary. Even his best friend, Daviid Bailey, described him as 'difficult'.

That contrariness most succinctly manifested itself when, in a fit of piqué, he made a huge bonfire out of all his archive contact sheets and negatives and destroyed a large portion of his archive. Only the intervention of Council Officers and the local fire brigade responding to angry complaints stopped him in his crazed tracks.

Virtually on the spot he packed in photography and turned his back on the industry, preferring to spend the remainder of his days restoring antique furniture.

Recent retrospectives of his work assembled from a variety of sources reveal a photographer with a unique eye, an economical style and a genuine sense of verve. What we might these days terms term as 'edge'. Certainly, he's up there with Parkinson and Beaton as creating works which have a timelessness about them. Of a period but universal in their appeal.

In Conclusion - some closing remarks:

For all the modernity that the likes of Duffy & David Bailey seemed to bring with them in with them they first arrived on the scene in the Sixities, they were quick to acknowledge the debt of inspiration that they owed to the work of their predecessors with Duffy calling Norman Parkinson ‘the Guv’nor’ and Bailey becoming a firm champion of Cecil Beaton’s work.

All artistic movements will have their new chapters, but invariably the past will continue to inform artists of the present and the future, and this is how Parkinson and Beaton continue to have an influence long beyond their time.

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