Dubbed 'The Black Trinity' by Norman Parkinson and the 'Terrible Three' by Cecil Beaton, Terence Donovan, David Bailey and Brian Duffy redefined British photography in the 1960's, with their iconic portraits and revolutionary approach to fashion photography. Wildly successful and hugely glamorous, they also became a by-word for cool, swinging, sexually-liberated London - Bailey was even said to have inspired the character of Thomas in Antonioni's cult classic, Blow Up.
But it was Duffy who remained the most intriguing of the three, 'the mystery' as Terry O'Neill put it or, in the words of John Swannell, 'Donovan was the wit, Bailey was the creative one, Duffy was the intellect'. Yet after more than fifteen years at the cutting edge of the new British photography, he vanished out of sight, giving up stills photography completely to devote himself to big-budget, high-drama commercials. A rumour began to spread that he had burned his negatives.
The rumour was true: in 1979, Duffy decided to set fire to the photographs that had made his reputation. Fortunately, as he says, "The thing with negatives is they don't burn as fast as you think they will. I'd thrown them into this fire bin and I just had to stoke them and I was pouring white spirit in to try and keep it going. It was, to be honest, making pretty stinking black smoke." The smoke prompted a neighbour to complain to Hackney Council, who forced him to put out the fire, and the surviving negatives languished unharmed and uncatalogued in shoeboxes.
Nearly thirty years later, and after almost two years of painstakingly archiving the surviving images, Duffy will display his photographs for the first time at the Chris Beetles Gallery in London. The exhibition will contain sixty virtually unseen portraits, including this of the incandescently beautiful Grace Coddington, now Creative Director of US Vogue and co-star of the documentary film The September Issue,
and fashion photographs from agenda-setting magazines, like this of Verushka - the extraordinary model and star of Blow-up - for Queen
Emblematic sixties fashion figures - Jean Shrimpton, as seen at the top of this page, for example - and personal portraits of the famous and infamous are all Duffy classics from the 1960's, yet it was in the seventies, a few years before he quit stills photography altogether that he created one of his most celebrated works - the cover shot for David Bowie's 1973 album Aladdin Sane.
With such an pivotal part to play in documenting British culture, it seems fitting that, at 76, Duffy is not only the subject of a new BBC film and involved in a major new show, Beatles to Bowie: The Sixties Exposed, at The National Portrait Gallery, but has his own exhibition at the Chris Beetles Gallery where his works will be available to buy for the very first time. As Duffy himself says, "What's happened over the last twenty years is that photography, which was a trade, has now become art."
The show is on at Chris Beetles from 14th October until Saturday 7th November: The images are for sale in limited edition runs of fifty, signed by Duffy.
Chris Beetles Gallery
8&10 Ryder Street
London SW1Y 6QB
020 7839 7551
Images courtesy of Chris Beetles Gallery. Not to be reproduced without permission.