Header Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive, Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive & The David Bowie Archive ™
How does one assign a value to a photograph, whether monetary or cultural? Does its worth increase depending on the iconic or mortality status of the subject or the photographer? Are these more important than the technical or artistic merits of the image? These are questions to be pondered at Bowie by Duffy, the latest exhibition at Proud Gallery in Chelsea.
There is no doubt that the most iconic shot of David Bowie is the lightning bolt photo on the cover of Aladdin Sane. Following his death last year, a painted mural representation of that image in Brixton became London’s default memorial shrine. The original photo by Brian Duffy is very much the centrepiece of the exhibition at Proud. There are two versions; one with eyes open, and one with them closed. There is also an enlarged print of the contact sheet from the shoot, which is a great way to get an insight into the creative choices that led to the final selection.
Duffy was also responsible for the photography for the covers of Scary Monsters and Lodger. Again there are contact sheet prints as well as finished images. You have to bear in mind that these photos were shot in the days before Photoshop and digital cameras, so the contact sheet images show exactly what was shot on the day. The images are produced “in camera” on a medium-format camera that shot square photos, ready to be used on an album sleeve. The skills and artistry of both the subject and the photographer are clearly on display. There was never the need to shoot hundreds of photos in a session, as they both knew what they were looking for, and without having the advantage of instant review. And it is because of the format on which they were shot that we are able to see these huge pristine gallery prints now.
The exhibition is relatively small, as is the gallery, but should you venture down the Kings Road to see it, also take the time to look at the gallery’s permanent collection, which features other musical icons of the 60s and 70s, such as The Beatles, the Stones and Led Zeppelin, many of which time has added to their monetary and cultural value, as with the punk exhibition at their sister gallery in Camden. There is a lesson there for budding music photographers: instead of trying to photograph the arena gigs of today’s heroes of corporate rock, go out and find the next big thing before they break, and then in 20 or 40 years time your work could be hanging on a gallery wall with a £6000 price tag. Although you may want to consider shooting on film if you are going to play that long game.
Bowie by Duffy, Photographs by Brian Duffy
6 January – 5 February 2017
Proud Chelsea, 161 King’s Road London SW3 5XP
Review by Chris Patmore
All images: Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive, Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive & The David Bowie Archive ™