Friday, October 23, 2009

Wanna French? (Vintage Photography, silly)

If you like vintage fashion photography then you're gonna love John French. Mr. French was an English chap who took flawlessly lit high fashion photos in the 50s and 60s. He worked with debutants and high fashion models (Jean Shrimpton, Twiggy, even Grace Coddington—which reminds me I STILL haven't seen that darn September Issue movie. waaah!). Interestingly enough, French was less concerned with the actual shots and more obsessed with getting his models in the perfect pose and having immaculate sets—his assistants were often the ones who actually literally took the photos. Then again, his assistants were Terence Donovan and David Bailey, both of whom grew into hotsy totsy photogs of their own, so I supposed he knew what he was doing! I have some amazing images he did with projections on his models, but lets start out with these beauties!

This is a great excerpt from David Bailey on his friend, John French:
"...French, then in his early fifties, was the epitome of the fashion photographer and portraitist of the era: exquisitely attired, fastidious, posh and gay (although, as it happened, married). "John French looked," Bailey remembered, "like Fred Astaire. 'David,' he said, 'do you know about incandescent light and strobe? Do you know how to load a ten-by-eight film pack?' I said yes to everything he asked and he gave me the job, but, at that time, I didn't even know what a strobe was. We became friends and after six o'clock Mr. French became John. One night I asked him why he gave me the job. 'Well, you know, David,' he said, 'I liked the way you dressed.' Six months later everyone thought we were having an affair, but in fact, although we were fond of each other, we never got it on."

In fact, French—"a screaming queen who fancied East End boys," according to documentarian Dick Fontaine—was the first person to really recognize something special in Bailey. Partly it was his bohemian style—Cuban-heeled boots, jeans, leather jacket and hair over the ears, all before the Beatles had been heard of; party in was his aptitude for the craft. French liked to compare his young protege to the unnamed hero of Colin MacInnes's cult novel about bohemian London, Absolute Beginners—a savvy insight—and he was perfectly willing, as he had with many previous disciples, to see Bailey get ahead in his own work.

"He was an incredibly decent type of man," Bailey would say of his mentor after French died in 1966. "Truthfully I don't think he was very good as a photographer, but he had a good attitude. His photography sort of slowed me down a bit, because I had to break away from his way of doing things, but I benefited from his attitude."

Stumble Upon Toolbar

1 comment:

  1. Those photos are fantastic! They make me want to wear a lot of swishy eyeliner and put my hair up in a beehive.