Bailey at Gagosian

Above: The David Bailey exhibition at Gagosian, London. Credit: Oscopic.


Rock stars are very often condemned to spend their performing careers playing the most popular tunes from their first one or two albums--songs often written when they were still young. In this regard Bailey has been condemned to the same fate as the rock stars and movie stars that he photographed for his 1965 publication Box of Pinups. The Box publication contains 36 printed images of chic 60s stars like Michael Caine, Jagger, and David Hockney. The photos in the box have haunted Bailey for 55 years now. Much as Caine's early roles are still his most popular. Or the Stones, whose albums from long ago are always their most popular. At the current Bailey Gagosian show, on display once again are the well-known Box of Pinups images--Jagger in the fur-trimmed parka ... Caine in his famous YSL chunky glasses ... etc. Looking at these huge new prints of the celebrated old negs the viewer is confronted with a set of photos that they know already so well--I have known these photos literally all my life. The images are presented glossier and slicker than ever before, but they also strike me as more vacuous and empty than ever before. These reprints are glassine, stagey, so perfected ... an emptied-out banality of iconicness. The photos have become the opposite of the brash, dynamic optimism that they once symbolized. Now they represent the epitome of nostalgia and the spirit of chasing yesterday.

(3 March 2019)