londoner | creative genius | anarchic | dynamic - brian duffy

He was the son of a man who's involvement with the IRA landed him in prison for murder. Running wild in the streets of 40's bomb riddled London, this young thug was rescued by a then experimental school that turned delinquents around through cultural experiences & art.

As a young fashion designer in the 50's, he made the leap to photography because, "it was a darn sight easier than drawing", states the guardian.co.uk. He said: "I wanted to make women look good. That really intrigued me. To make a model look as though she owned the clothes." It was a ­philosophy that took him to British Vogue and then French Elle.

Born 1933 in north London, Brian Duffy (nobody called him Brian) was one of three working-class young men who grabbed the snooty, elitist world of photography by the balls and turned it into one big private party. Duffy (Brian), Bailey (David) and Donovan (Terence) were a new breed. "The typical 1950s photographer was tall, thin and camp. We're short, fat and heterosexual", Duffy said.

Cecil Beaton, one of the last of the old school, called them the Terrible Three. "Their photography was brash, sexual, in-your-face. It made no apologies and took no prisoners".

Terence Donovan - photographer

"Those three were the holy trinity," said the photographer Terry O'Neill. "They changed the face of fashion. They brought the macho into photography and turned it on its ear."

photographer David Bailey

photographer Brian Duffy

The three photographed models, musicians, politicians and luminaries for ads and stories and covers. Duffy later photographed icons like David Bowie — creating the Aladdin Sane album cover, for example, well before the punk era of colored hair.

The "Black Trinity" photographers became bigger than their subjects in many cases; they were practically celebrities themselves.

But, as swiftly as Duffy entered and revolutionized the scene, he left it.

In 1979 Brian Duffy walked into his studio and found there to be no toilet paper. His response was only somewhat extreme: he promptly set fire to his entire collection of negatives and slides, renounced the vocation for good and then slipped into obscurity. "I just lost interest. I didn't like the people and I didn't like me because of them". He puts this decision down to ''the dickheads I had to hang out with. Twats'.

Duffy went almost 30 years without taking another photograph. That is, until his son Chris decided to resurrect his photographic legacy, organizing Duffy's first exhibition in 2009. Chris not only unearthed what remained of his father's archives, but also organized new photoshoots with his former models.

Son Chris' homage to his father was put into place just in time. Brian Duffy passed at the age of 76 on May 31 from degenerative lung disease. He died just a few months of the exhibitions closing.

Duffy married his wife June at the age of 21. He recently commented about his deep love for her & that love created four children & nine grandchildren. That was a blessed life and a life that he lived as he saw fit. When his work was not what he had envisioned, he stepped away with little or no fanfare. He moved on to create the next phase of his life.

Would it not be grand to re-create ones-self when life goes on a course that we had not charted? To live life on our own terms?

Duffy's work was recently celebrated in a BBC Four documentary, 'The Man Who Shot the Sixties, in which contributors to the program remembered him as "a bit of a b******" during the height of his career.

Looking back at his photographic career, he once said: 'I just think of it as passing through. A phase.' He never regrets packing it all in? 'Do I look like a man with regrets?' No, he doesn't.

So it rang true when he proclaimed: 'The best days of my life are now.'

1933 - 2010

Another great read - BBC News', 'Photography's Impact on the 60's'.

Peace in heaven Duffy
Your mastery will always be with us.

{go forth & live responsibly}
history and artistry
learn & relish

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content & photo credits; guardian.co.uk; npr.org; timesonline.co.uk; vogue.co.uk; bbcimage.co.uk; tumblr.com; guim.co.uk; clmus.com; telegraph.co.uk; wikipedia.org; royalacademy.org.uk; hautefashion.com


James said...

Wow, this post blew me away. The talent of this man was unbelievable. He seems to bring the personality of his subjects so well, like the John Lennon shot. When you look at the shirtless young lady the first thing you see is the eyes and her expression, true art. Thank you for sharing.

Christy said...

Wow Deb I've never heard of him before - and I wish I could see that BBC documentary, but we don't get BBC America! Drat! What an interesting, thoughtful post - I just loved it. Thank you for the introduction. Hope you're having a lovely weekend with your family!!!

Toad said...


Jane said...

What a great story. A life properly lived indeed. It is the hardest thing of all to walk away, a bit like leaving the party before it starts becoming drunken and boring. He realised that there was no rule which said he had to do the same thing all his life... xoxo

Francine Gardner said...

Fantastic post! I did not know anything about his career and now am intrigued! So nice to hear from you. i was just in France and to cheer up mom, took her on daily trips in our own "backyard...sort of..) We spent one blissful afternoon in these gardens 2 weeks ago. Hope all is well with you. XoXo Francine

Acanthus and Acorn said...

Oh thanks so much for this...learned a good bit and definately loved seeing all the truly brilliant work!!!

Renée Finberg said...

fascinating read.

and oh yes....
the 'shrimp' jean shrimpton was such a beauty.


Karena said...

Deb, thank you so much for the background. So thrilled to see the images and an artistic genius honored.

Art by Karena

Jacqueline @ HOME said...

Hi Deb,
Brilliant post, taking me back to my days when I worked in the 'posh' part of London. These images were ones that I looked at on a daily basis when travelling on the tube.
I saw the BBC documentary when it was broadcast. A wonderful insight into their lives and, they were such ordinary 'blokes'. .... all of them. Their art catapulted them into that crazy world of 'celebrity' and, I guess Duffy just had enough. Good for him, I say. He probably lived a longer life by making that decision. XXXX

North of 25A said...

What an interesting and amazingly talented man!

DolceDreams said...

Amazing photos...and an amazing life! One would think that he went off into obscurity due to drugs, but it seems he went off into a life of family...interesting! I love the photo in Florence by the Duomo. Will have to look for that BBC special if it is still around!
Hope you are well,

Cashon&Co said...

wow. this was so interesting! you know it makes you appreciate a persons talents more when you know the background of that person. thank you for the kind comment you left for me the other day. it really meant alot to me! :)

Averill said...

Fantastic post, Deb! I was familiar with Duffy's work, but not the man himself...what a wonderful tribute!

And I need to see if I can track down the BBC special.....

Hope your week is getting off on the right foot!

French Basketeer.com said...

Fascinating post, and I am so glad to have found your blog! 13 years in NYC and still missing Bonwit and forever looking for their pieces at the NY Flea....I'm going to have a stroll around some of your older posts now. all best...

Privet and Holly said...

Really really enjoyed this bit of photographic history. Recognized many of the images, but not the story behind them. Not many people would dare to have the kind of convictions that Duffy did, and just chuck it all aside! Cool post!
xx Suzanne

Splenderosa said...

Incredible photographs you've given us today, Deb. And love the new look of your page. Hope you join the party on Wednesday darling...we will just be sick if we don't see you. xx's

24 Corners said...

What an interesting man...and what an adventurous life, one I didn't know about... great post! xo Jessica

pve design said...

One of my favorites - for his work and his integrity to walk away, and live with no regrets, to have love for his work and his wife and family says it all.

Theresa Cheek said...

This is what blogging is all about! You took us into the life of Brian Duffy through his incredible work. These photos are amazing. I did not know the extent of impact he had on the 60's....great post..!!

La Petite Gallery said...

This was a wonderful post. Sooo interesting.
Fasinating guy, I remember his work.


Barbara said...

Fabulous post, Deb. I would love to see the BBC documentary. I'll watch for it. I probably wasn't paying as much attention as I should have been in the 60's as I was raising a family and mired in mundane housewifey things.

So this was especially interesting to me as I recognized the photos and was fascinated to read he just dumped everything and never took another photo. Wasn't he fortunate he could do that? So many would like to, but can't afford to. (The 60's were fascinating anyway.)

A Perfect Gray said...

wonderful piece....

Renae Moore said...

Oh I love learning new things...thanks! Outstanding post.

*Chic Provence* said...

HI Deb, this is a fabulous post about a photographer I was aware of only through his famous images. What a courageous (or crazy!) thing to walk in and say..enough!..fascinating capture of his life and images, thanks so much. He definitely in my opinion was successful in photographing models to look like they "owned the clothes"..pure genius.

So how are you?

lots of love


Mise said...

That's ever so interesting, and I'll be looking for the rerun of that programme. The aspiration to make the clothes look as though they were the models' own is such a good one, and the images are wonderful.

AJ at OFLBlog said...

An icon, truly, and you have presented him so well, My Dear! Life is an evolutionary process, I have always believed that. Change, progress, retracing of steps is sometimes difficult but it's part of "the process" - some, in fact, embrace it and I think that it's a healthier, more natural turn of events than fighting the natural evolutionary process. Duffy stopped liking himself as a photographer, he said so, so he changed, abandoned what no longer worked for him and he had courage to do that - good on him! When we do one thing for too long, we become totally identified with that one "thing" - someone as famous as Duffy was in danger of becoming his photography (which he did, in many ways) - he just wanted to be Brian.....his statement "the best days of my life are now" has now entered into my pantheon of beliefs to live by...ox

Beadboard UpCountry said...

Wow!!! I remember when I posed for that first photograph....NOT!! He was an extroidanary force in the genre of his time.... And he was Irish....Thanks for the education about someone of my own"Nationality". And thanks for surprising us the other day....It made our day.. Maryanne Kathryn Flaherty and Peter Michael McDowell...

High-Heeled Foot in the door said...

Great post. His work is new to me. So happy to have read all about him.

BonBon Rose Girls Kristin said...

What a beautiful tribute. Your gorgeous words make me want to learn more about him. He sounds like an extraordinary talent!

La Petite Gallery said...

Yes I know Houston. When I was five we lived on Buffalo Bayou, the back yard was sloping down to the river. Later we had a brick house in the Heights. I had an apartment that was almost in river Oaks when I was 20. Loved the area. Went to Houston in the 80's and
I was lost it's changed so. Yvonne

debra@dustjacket said...

What an amazing talent...all three of them. Though when you said Duffy burnt his neg's I did a sharp intake of breath. I'm pleased his son salvaged some and put the show on, what a lovely gesture for his dear dad.

Hope all is going well honey, I caught up on your last post too.

hugs DJ

Mimi said...

Great Post...Gorgeous photos! Really enjoyed reading all about Brian Duffy...his work and life are both fantastic.
Thanks for sharing!

Laura said...

Such a fabulous post, I love those images, particularly the one of Mr. Schwarzenegger. A sad loss indeed, but wonderful that the exhibitions took place.

Kelly Frances Dunn said...

How cool was this?! I can tell you are one saaavy, stylish, amazing lady!! Beautiful blog and gorgeous family. Congrats on the milestones, those seem so far away for me...but I know around the corner :) The cotton candy tree is a-m-a-z-i-n-g. I {heart} it all!

LTG said...

Amazing post, amazing man, and a great blog! Just found you for the 1st time, and I'm def becoming a regular!

SpryOnTheWall said...

I've heard of him, but am so glad you told me more. So interesting. BTW one of my favorite models ever was the super beautiful Jean Shrimpton (doesn't she own some sort of B&B or something in England or Wales now? Seems like that rings a bell). That whole era fascinates me to no end. As always, a super fab post from a super fab lady!! xo Jenny

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