Brian Duffy. Copyright © Graeme Robertson/The Guardian
Brian Duffy 15 June 1933 - 31 May 2010
Three years ago today Brian Duffy passed away. There is still a hole in my photographic life.
Back in the 60’s, when I was doing serious photography and in the Royal Navy, my personal camera was a heavy, indestructible Nikon F. It cost me a small fortune when I bought it in Singapore in 1968 and that was with haggling included!
Along with the F I got a 50/2 lens and a motordrive that shot at 4 frames per second! I had wanted a Leica M2 but that really was out of my price range. I was 17 and weighed less than a feather yet I loved carrying that big, heavy Nikon with me everywhere.
In the 60’s three upstart photographers called Brian Duffy, Terence Donovan and David Bailey were pushing fashion photography in a new direction. Duffy used a mix of street, reportage and theatre along with tight cropping and exaggerated angles.
They were upsetting the old guard but inspiring young photographers like myself.
Duffy had an exhibition at the Chris Beetles Gallery (London) in October 2009 and Giles Huxley-Parlour produced the catalogue and biography for Duffy. He wrote:
Duffy, Donovan and Bailey were thought of as a unit of three renegade, working class photographers tearing up an effete industry with little regard for the pretensions of the old guard. Norman Parkinson referred to them as ‘The Black Trinity’, while Cecil Beaton, in his 1973 book ‘The Magic Image’, remembered them as ‘the terrible three’.
Duffy himself said at the time, ‘Before 1960 a fashion photographer was tall, thin and camp. But we three are different: short, fat and heterosexual!’
I was serving on HMS Albion, known as the Old Grey Ghost, a Royal Marine Commando carrier. She had a crew of around 1,300 including the helicopter squadrons and around 500 Royal Marines. Plenty of photo opportunities there, even at sea!
My problem was that when at sea I could not get my fix of the magazines to which Duffy contributed to: Elle, Vogue and Glamour. Plus, I always got Life magazine, mainly for the Vietnam war coverage but it was the best photo journal available at the time.
Wherever we hit port, no matter which country, my first task was to find the local international airport or main railway station and get my stash of the magazines. This was a constant source of fun to the lads I shared a mess with but for a period, more senior NCO’s were concerned I was gay because I always had a collection of fashion magazines instead of the standard fare of Playboy etc!
In the late 70’s Duffy faded from view after burning some of his negs following a “‘bad day at the office!” Life magazine had also disappeared, so two of my photographic inspirations had gone out of my life.
Fast forward to September 2010 when my friend Christine Isteed, the Director at the Artist Partners agency in London, mentioned Duffy was back and was going to have an exhibition at the Chris Beetles gallery in town and would I like to go to the private showing prior to the exhibition opening. WOULD I!
It was a wonderful evening, Duffy’s images printed large and hanging together, I felt like a kid in toy shop. Some of the great and the good from the swinging sixties were there. Some sporting more wrinkles and grey hairs. Other with fresh cosmetic surgery and dyed hair. But all still recognisable - just.
I chatted with Bailey’s stylist from the 60’s and his stories are endless. If he ever publishes his memoirs I will be first in line for a copy. I took my favourite rig of Leica MP and Nokton 40 and Bailey arrived sporting the same rig!
Duffy himself was not up to staying long but it didn’t matter - he was back and so was his photography.
Photographically, for me, the late 60’s and the early 70’s are summed up in Duffy and the Vietnam war - strange bedfellows I know but that is my main memory.
He came back for a short while but his images are back forever.
Thank you Duffy.
More Duffy stuff tomorrow.