David Royston Bailey was born in January 1938 in Leytonstone, London. He developed a love for natural history at an early age, which later led him into photography.
He attended Clark’s College in Ilford but on his fifteenth birthday, unhappy about his education there – saying that they “taught him less than the more basic council school”, he decided to leave and became a copy boy at the Fleet Street offices of the Yorkshire Post.
He was called up for National Service in 1956 where he served with the Royal Air Force in Singapore in 1957. Soon after, he bought his very first Rolleiflex.
In 1958 just after being demobbed, he bought a Canon Rangefinder with the aim of becoming a photographer. Later that year he tried to enter the London College of Printing but was unable to because of his school record. Instead, he became David Ollins’ second assistant, in Charlotte Mews.
In 1959 he 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 the British edition of Vogue magazine later that year.
He became part of the “Black Trinity” with Terence Donovan and Brian Duffy and helped capturing and in some way creating the 1960s’ “Swinging London”. During that period, he shot Terence Stamp, The Beatles, Mick Jagger, Jean Shrimpton, PJ Proby, Cecil Beaton, Rudolf Nureyev, Andy Warhol and notorious East End gangsters the Kray twins.
One of his former girlfriends, Penelope Tree, described him in these words:
“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”
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.
Many models tried to get his attention, but the only one who really succeeded was supermodel Jean Shrimpton that Bailey described as “a natural”.
From 1968 to 1971 he directed and produced several tv documentaries entitled “Beaton”, “Warhol” and “Visconti”.
As well as fashion photography, Bailey also worked on record album sleeve art for performers including The Rolling Stones and Marianne Faithfull.
“I’ve always tried to do pictures that don’t date. I always go for simplicity.”
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.
In 1976, Bailey published Ritz Newspaper together with David Litchfield.
In the 1990s he focused on directing films such as the BBC Drama “Who Dealt?” starring Juliet Stevenson, “The Lady is a Tramp” which he also wrote and featuring his wife Catherine Bailey. And finally the documentary “Models Close Up”.
In 2001 Bailey was awarded the CBE for his work.
In 2005, he was involved in a feature titled “British Rule” for GQ Magazine, charting the British influence on rock n’ roll, photographing several artists including Paul Weller, Jarvis Cocker, Razorlight, Brian Eno, M.I.A., Ian Brown, The Futureheads, Belle & Sebastian, Damon Albarn, Dizzee Rascal, Kaiser Chiefs, Robyn Hitchcock, Super Furry Animals, and Colin Blunstone.
He visited Afghanistan in 2010 to photograph the British troops raising moneys for the charity “Help For Heroes”.
Bailey married four times: in 1960 to Rosemary Bramble, in 1965 to the actress Catherine Deneuve which he then divorced in 1972, in 1975 to the model Marie Helvin; and finally in 1986 to the model Catherine Dyer to whom he remains married.
As well as working as a photographer, Bailey also is a painter. An exhibition of his paintings and mixed media works was held at London’s Scream, opening in October 2011 presenting portraits and paintings inspired by his childhood, influences, inspiration, fears and desires.
The main character in the 1966 film “Blowup” directed by Michelangelo Antonioni is largely based on Bailey, focusing on the work and sexual habits of a London fashion photographer.