Brian Duffy (born 15 June 1933) is a celebrated British photographer and film producer, best remembered for his fashion photography of the 1960s and 1970s and his creation of the iconic "Aladdin Sane" image for David Bowie.
Duffy was born to Irish parents in London in 1933. During World War II he was evacuated with his two brothers and sister to Kings Langley where he was taken in by the actors Roger Livesey and Ursula Jeans. After only three weeks his mother, unhappy about her four children being split up from the family insisted they all return to London. They were evacuated once more to Wales but returned to London having experienced living on a primitive farm after a month.
Once back in London Duffy, "had the most wonderful war", breaking into abandoned houses and terrorizing the city streets. Only when it was over did he start school, attending a social engineering institution in South Kensington that was run by the LCC. After getting into a series of bouts of trouble he was moved to another school in Kentish Town where emphasis was placed on treating troubled youths through cultural inclusion which involved trips to the Opera, ballets and galleries. It was here that Duffy unveiled his own creative tendencies and upon finishing school he applied to St. Martins School of Art. In 1950 he began art school at first wishing to be a painter but soon changed to dress design. He finished in 1953 and immediately began working as an assistant designer at Susan Small Dresses after which he worked for Victor Steibel, preferred designer to Princess Margaret. Following this, on a visit to Paris, he was offered a job at Balenciaga but was unable to take it up.
In 1955 he began freelancing as a fashion artist for Harper's Bazaar. It was here that he first came into contact with photography. Inspired by the photographic contact sheets he saw passing through the art director's desk he decided to find a job as a photographers assistant. Unsuccessfully, he applied for a job with John French, after which he managed to get a job at Carlton studios and then at Cosmopolitan Artists. He left there to take a job as assistant the photographer Adrian Flowers. Whilst working for Flowers he received his first photographic commission from Ernestine Carter, the then fashion editor of The Sunday Times.
In 1957 he was hired by British Vogue where he remained working until 1963. During this period he worked closely with top models of the period, including Joy Weston, Jennifer Hocking, Pauline Stone and Jean Shrimpton.
Along with fellow photographers David Bailey and Terence Donovan, he captured, and in many ways helped to create, the "Swinging London" of the 1960s: a culture of high fashion and celebrity chic. Together the "Terrible Three", as they came to be known by the British press, redefined not only the aesthetic of fashion photography but also the place of the photographer within the industry. Socialising with actors, musicians and royalty, together they represented a new breed of photographer and found themselves elevated to celebrity status. Brian Duffy commented on the culture shock the three were to the industry:
|“||Before 1960, a fashion photographer was tall, thin and camp. But we three are different: short, fat and heterosexual!.||”|
Apart from Vogue, Duffy also worked for publications including Glamour, Esquire, Town Magazine, Queen Magazine as well as The Observer, The Times and The Daily Telegraph, to name but a few. He also worked on contract for French Elle for two periods the first between 1963 and 1968, and the second between 1971 and 1979.
In 1965 Duffy was asked to create a Pirelli calendar which he shot on location in Monaco. He was commissioned to shoot a second calendar in 1973 which he created in collaboration with British pop artist Allen Jones and air brushing specialist Phillip Castle.
In 1967 he set up a film production company with Len Deighton called Deighton Duffy and went on to produce the film adaptations of Deighton's book Only When I Larf (1968), and of the musical Oh! What a Lovely War, which was released in 1969.
In 1979 Duffy decided to call it a day and gave up photography, burning many of his negatives,though some were saved from the fire when the council objected to the smoke. Although a large amount of his images have been lost, the ones that remain stand collectively as a comprehensive visual history of twenty-five years of British culture and fashion.