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“I make photos. You take photos.” A very awkward encounter with photographer David Bailey

PUBLISHED: 13:58 03 October 2014 | UPDATED: 14:07 03 October 2014

David Bailey. Photo Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

David Bailey. Photo Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

PA Archive/Press Association Images

“It’s not a stroll down memory lane,” Bailey – as he likes to be known – told me.

Oh the irony, considering we were discussing the internationally renowned photographer’s latest three books of photos documenting the East End, which date as far back as the 1960s.

“I’m not some f****** TV announcer who does Come Dancing,” he said.

“I’m not sentimental. Nostalgia is for not very intelligent people, I think.

“Why try and live in the past when you should try and live in the present?”

I was trying to fathom why David Bailey had been inclined to put together his three-volume collection of images from the 60s to the present day, which is published next week.

“It’s what I do. I’ve done 40 books like this. What makes people write books?,” he said, turning the tables on me.

“I don’t know, why do they?,” I mused back.

“I don’t know, you’re the f****** writer, you tell me,” he said.

David Bailey and I did not hit it off, I have to admit.

He insisted it did not bring back any memories when he personally plucked out the photos for inclusion.

Neither did he have any favourite images from the book, he said.

“I don’t do favourites. No,” he said. “Favourites are for children, like ‘what’s your favourite colour?’”.

I felt dreadfully childish for having asked, as he proceeded to pin me down with his stare yet again, as we sat next to each other in an uncomfortable silence on the couches in his Holborn studio.

He went on to volunteer that he had not been motivated to produce the £75 trilogy for money either.

“Of course I don’t, look at the production, that paper costs more than most books cost, just the paper,” he said,

At £75 a time though, I imagined he could rake in a fair bit if he managed to flog enough.

“If people want to see it they can see it, if they don’t want to see it, they don’t have to see it,” he said.

“I’m not forcing anybody, I’m not a big ego.”

Words used to describe cleaning products come to mind when summing up David Bailey’s character – caustic, abrasive, corrosive.

Still, I’m sure the Queen didn’t receive the kind of welcome I did, judging from her beaming grin – as big as a Cheshire cat’s – when he took her 88th birthday anniversary photos earlier this year.

Or should I say “made”.

“I make photos. You take photos,” he told me.

Attempts to discuss the Kray brothers – who apparently knifed his Hackney-born father – were met with the same brick wall.

He told me he didn’t like the “dumb” questions I was asking him, before announcing it was time for me to leave.

Looking at the books later I realised I didn’t have any favourites either.


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