"I've interviewed Bailey before, he's un-interviewable and uncontrollable" quipped the evening's compere; Andrew Graham-Dixon as he settled into a seat opposite his subject. David Bailey, looking up, threw the audience a side-long glance, a quick smile and over the course of the next hour promptly indulged his reputation.
Conventional it seems, is not David Bailey's style, his approach to being interviewed being wilfully contrary at mildest. Striking up an immediate and entertaining rapport with his interviewer, the two proceeded to bounce stories and jokes of each other, raising laughter at every turn. Through-out Graham Dixon coaxed Bailey to reveal details of his up-bringing in 1950's East London, revealing a story of local boy made-good against a gritty post-war backdrop. It was a story directly at odds with that of a conventional creative education. Let alone having ever been to 'or even having heard of art school' we heard of east-end odd jobs, and life in RAF national service.
"Did you ever visit galleries growing up" asked Graham-Dixon
"Galleries...?" growled Bailey
"You were lucky to get a cheese bun in the East End"
In amongst the rags to riches rhetoric, Bailey's back story was illuminating, if only in showing how these experiences had defined his character, and allowed his creative instincts to flourish.
Curiously for a photographer, he seemed unwilling to show and discuss any of his actual photography, deferring instead to talk about his perhaps lesser know parallel career as a director of TV ads. Several were screened to the audience, notably Greenpeace and Volkswagen adverts from the 80's. Sharp editing and close framed shots evoked the spirit of his photography, a technique which he jokingly referred to as 'if in doubt get in close'. He largely seemed coy about speaking at length upon his work, instead stating how he preferred to look forward instead of back. Perhaps this was a symptom of the ubiquitous nature of his shots, in a way they require no elaboration.
At times however, he divulged fascinating titbits on the people he had worked with, sometimes in a startlingly candid way. It became clear that the core of what everything Bailey did was about people, with his creative output being formed from his relationship with a subject. He stated that before he ever photographs or films anyone, he sits down and gets to know them. "How could I photograph them without knowing what they're about".
On reflection this attitude of immersive involvement with one's subject struck direct parallels with the D&AD talk that Bob Gill gave a month previously. Perhaps it was this direct and uncompromising attitude that drove such creatives of the 1960's to define their field so stridently.
It strikes me that this advice has never been more relevant than today. With technology, and process providing distraction at every turn, maybe a re-connection with the root of our subject matter is just what we need.