In memory, honour and celebration of his first and last book, the monumental life and workings of Brian Duffy were brought together in a museum of his life, showcasing his work throughout the years and his triumphant milestones. After his infamous quitting, his son presented over 160 rediscovered works after years of searching through worldwide archives, reforming his body of work and solidifying his place in the history of British photographers and reaffirming his contributions to the 'Black Trinity', for his artistic and emotive visual language and representation of London in the 60's. Idea Generation presented a visual record of the photographic genius from the 8th of July to the 28th of August, soon after launching the book in June 2011.
Ironically, Duffy was introduced originally to fashion, primarily doing brief workings in design and illustration until the late 1950's when he turned his head towards photography. The rest is history.
"The thing about photography is there's no smell or sound, and in a sense, it tells the truth, and yet its a lie." - Duffy
Duffy was born in Dublin but raised in wartime London where he lived a self-described as an "enchanting childhood, running wild and exploring bomb sites". It was in his teen years after being shipped off to a school for troubled boys where he unlocked his artistic nature with his new exposure and trips to ballets, operas, art galleries and cultural institutions. From there he went on to study painting at Saint Martin's School of Art, before quickly shifting to a dress design course. Straight out of school, he began working with many designers, such as Susan Small, and Victor Stiebel (the preferred designer of Princess Margaret), freelancing at Harpers Bazaar and then visiting Paris where he was offered a job at Balenciaga that he decline to be able to take care of his pregnant wife.
With offers from numerous companies and designers still flying around, in 1955, amidst a freelance position at Harper's Bazaar, he had first come into contact with commercial photography and been utterly inspired by the contact sheets he saw passing through the art director's desk so from there he sought after being a photographers assistant. At first, he was unsuccessful in applying for John French's assistant role, but this didn't stop him from trying because soon later he kept applying and landed on his ladder of jobs. From Carlton studios, to then Cosmopolitan Artists, to being Adrien Flower's assistant where he also received his first photographic commission from Ernestine Carter who was at the time the fashion editor of the Sunday Times. Rather rapidly, in 1957 Duffy was recruited to Vogue under the art director John Parsons, where he remained until October 1962. During this time he worked closely with top models who introduced him to another photographer who ended up being another member of the 'Black Trinity'.
Alongside David Bailey and Terence Donovan, Duffy was an essential part of the 'Swinging Sixties', the era of high fashion and celebrity chic that shook the world of fashion and art as we knew it, shooting the stunning work in his spare time before promptly being thrust into another string of high-end work and experiences, starting with him being hired by US Art Director Miki Denhof in 1961 to shoot in New York for Glamour Magazine, shortly followed by him being commissioned to shoot fashion in Paris for Elle Magazine in 1962, where he stayed on and off with for the proceeding 15+ years. Throughout this time, he constantly challenged himself and reached new career highs and milestones through his consistent weaving through commissions and shoots, bringing him to his studio with the printer from Vogue to print and distribute his work individually before landing himself a regular contributor to Elle, The Sunday Times and other high profile newspapers/magazines. Across the ages, generations were touched and influenced by his work in admiration and his influence, one of which being his work with David Bowie. Duffy had an eight-year working relationship with the artist David Bowie and shot five key sessions over this period providing the creative concept as well as the photographic image for three album covers: Aladdin Sane (1973), when Duffy interpreted Bowie's original title of 'A Lad Insane' as 'Aladdin Sane', Lodger (1979) and Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) (1980). Duffy also photographed Bowie as his character Ziggy Stardust in July 1972 and on the set of Nicolas Roeg's cult film The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) on location for The Sunday Times. Duffy's input had a significant influence on the creation of Bowie's chameleon-like public image and in 2014 Chris Duffy and Kevin Cann co-authored a book chronicling these shoots titled Duffy Bowie: Five Sessions.
In 1979, Duffy decided he wanted to give up photography and made about burning his negative collection in his back garden so they could never be used again and if the council hadn't stepped in for the fire regulations, a lot more content would have been lost, with a fraction of the negatives saved and preserved. To this day they are still included and the primary spectacle in the Duffy Archive for people to appreciate and look at. Humorously, it wasn't the last of Duffy's work, as only a year later Bowie convinced him to do one final shoot for him, but it certainly was an end of an era. His interests shifted again and shone onto television commercials and more video-based documenting, and that's where he stayed predominantly. He produced and directed music videos and adverts for about 10 years before entirely retiring from all image-making and settling into furniture restoring.
Duffy, undeniably, lived a bright, long and inspiring life taking everything within his stride and proving nothing is impossible if you want something badly.
'It's been a lot of trial and error. Every morning I come in with my fingers crossed.'
The idea behind the exhibition was bought along by Chris Duffy, Brian's son. He noticed and despised that his father's name and work were going unrecognised after his infamous retirement so he started, in 2006, gathering photos from archives everywhere to bring them back together once and for all for the Duffy Archive, which later became The Duffy Archive Limited. The work bought back is only a percentage of the original workings but it still holds all of the power and significance to modern fashion and its roots. The exhibition focuses on a timeline and evolution of Duffy's career and his artistic vision in a collective space to absorb and admire his contribution and influence in the world of fashion, design and art. The exhibit is powerful to its audience because its history, its the predecessor of all we know now shown by someone who understood and highlighted the importance and significance of the work he was shooting. With a lot of his fans ranging from different generations and ages, the collaborative nature brings those who have him as their common denominator together to appreciate the artistry, passion and scale of his impact and life.
Blog By Tiger-Lily.