The magazine of the photo-essay
Jan 2020 back issue
Terry O’Neill1938 - 2019In 2012, Terry O’Neill talked to Life Force magazineabout his illustrious career
“A free, really high quality photo-essay magazine. Fabulous!” Stephen Fry. British actor, writer and film maker
Back in 1960, it never occurred to me that I could have a career as a photographer. I wanted to be a musician. When I started working for British Airways as a technical photographer, it was with the intention of becoming an air steward so I could fly to New York and be a jazz drummer. The job was interesting though, and it entailed going to art school once a week. We were given a homework assignment to take pictures of emotion. I went across to Heathrow airport with my Agfa Silette to capture people saying goodbye and crying. I shot a picture of the then Home Secretary, Rab Butler, asleep among a crowd of African chieftans. The editor at the [now defunct] Dispatch saw the shot and hired me to work at the airport every Saturday. In the old days, there was only one terminal and it was packed with people, including all the celebrities. I started working with the guy on the Daily Sketch who was hanging out with all the stars like Sophia Loren. I covered the airport for him so he could go off to the film sets. After a couple of months he died in a plane crash. I was offered his job and that was the start of my career.I did early shots of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones working for the Daily Sketch, and picked up photography along the way. I asked questions about lenses and effects and I just did it. Sixties London was so exciting. Every day I was doing something new - Mary Quant one day, Jean Shrimpton the next. And for once, we had the say. It was the poor people from the East End taking over from the toffs in the West End. People took us seriously. In a way, photographers like myself, David Bailey, Terence Donovan and Brian Duffy, created the Sixties. It wasn't just who we were shooting, but the way we shot them. I was using 35mm, which was a whole new approach. Before that, portraits were done in studios using special lighting and hoods, which took a long time to set up. 35mm film brought a whole new candid look to photography because you could carry your camera around, and you had 36 shots on a roll. I didn't realise the impact of my work at the time. None of the Sixties stars took themselves seriously either. I used to hang out with all the rock 'n' rollers and the models at the Ad Lib Club. Mick Jagger joked about still singing at 40 - I mean he's 67 now! We honestly thought we'd have to get proper jobs. I was going to work in a bank, and Ringo Starr was going to do the same. ©Terry O'Neill All rights reserved
As one of my first assignments I photographed a new, upcoming band…The Beatles at Abbey Road recording studios! This shot was the first time a pop group appeared on the front page of a British national newspaper. And the newspaper sold out.
Jean Shrimpton and Terence Stamp, London, 1963. This image established actor Stamp and Shrimpton, the first supermodel, as the icons of the Swinging 60s. They were new, young and fresh – that was what the Sixties was all about.
Frank Sinatra on the boardwalk, Miami, 1968. This picture was taken on the first day of filming, as Frank walked from his hotel The Fontainebleu, to the set of The Lady in Cement. This was the first time I ever saw Frank and I was astonished how the power of his presence mesmerized onlookers as he walked casually by.
Brigitte Bardot, Spain, 1971. During rehearsals for The Legend of Frenchie King, I noticed that when the wind gusted there was the potential for a great picture. When the time came, I only had one frame left – one shot at it. Suddenly the wind swept her hair across her face, and it was a knock-out.
Audrey Hepburn with dove, St Tropez, 1967. I was taking some portraits of Audrey on the set of Two for the Road when out of nowhere this dove landed on her shoulder. I was lucky to capture a couple of frames before it flew off.
Kate Moss, London, 1993. Another girl, like Naomi Campbell, who couldn't look bad on camera if she went six weeks without sleep and got dragged through a hedge backwards every day. Certain models like Kate just seem to hypnotise the lens. She can turn on every emotion for the camera from joy to rage and nail the shot. She's that rare type of woman, like Raquel Welch, who just knows what the camera wants.
The Rolling Stones Tin Pan Alley, London, 1963. After his success with The Beatles, emerging 60s pop groups clamoured to be photographed by O'Neill. One was called The Rolling Stones. But newspapers regarded the Stones as too ugly for publication. One however famously used Terry’s photograph alongside another of The Dave Clark Five and headlined it ‘Beauty and the Beast’.
Faye Dunaway, Los Angeles, 1977. No image better captures both the allure and the loneliness of celebrity than this, of Faye Dunaway [Terry’s future wife] the morning after the night she won her Oscar for Network. I wanted to capture a look of dazed confusion, the state of utter shock that Oscar winners enter when it dawns on them that their lives and bankability have changed forever.
David Bowie, Diamond Dogs, London, 1974. Taken as a publicity shoot for Diamond Dogs. I started to shoot with the dog sitting quietly beside Bowie. But suddenly the Great Dane got over excited and reared six feet into the air barking madly. This terrified the life out of everyone in the studio, except Bowie who didn’t even flinch.
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