Until 1 June 2014
Just by the entrance to the terrific and extensive exhibition, Bailey’s Stardust at the National Portrait Gallery a huge sign alerts everyone to the fact that the photographer himself has personally selected and arranged the works in this show. As anyone who has ever met Bailey will know – he probably wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s famously opinionated (a brilliant little book of his quotes Bailey Exposed in the shop here is well worth buying), and bullish as well as charismatic and terrifying in equal measure – so it goes to figure that he would want to have control over the largest show of his portraits to date.
Bailey has arranged a non-chronological show so there are plenty of surprises; a great set of images of Dali and Warhol (shot in Paris in 1972) sandwiched in between a recent project in the East End and shots of the tribes of Nagaland (in India) for example. Or a really intimate room of pictures of his wife Catherine – so intimate in fact that there are shots of her during labour and giving birth.
But it will always be his work from the 60s that resonates most – his infamous close up and personal portraits of the great and good from rock stars to gangsters, actors to icons that line the light, central hallways and spill into some other rooms which are mesmerising and brilliant and utterly glamorous. There are his photographic heroes here too – Lartigue, Brassai, Beaton, Cartier-Bresson and so forth. There’s a room of portraits of fashion designers and while Bailey claims not to be at all interested in fashion (only, he says, in the women actually wearing the clothes) he’s clearly interested in the people that make it. But then that perhaps is the whole point – Bailey is only ever interested in the person, nothing else. As he says in his book of quotes he’s really just taking a sophisticated passport photo – making it look this great though is surely pretty hard.