Brian Duffy was an English photographer and film producer, best remembered for his fashion and portrait photography of the 1960s and 1970s. One of the ‘Cockney Three’ along with Bailey and Terry Donovan. Duffy gave up photography to restore furniture but his legacy is powerful. He was born to Irish parents in London in 1933. During World War II he was evacuated with his two brothers and sister to Kings Langley where he was taken in by the actors Roger Livesey and Ursula Jeans. After only three weeks his mother, unhappy about her four children being split up from the family insisted they all return to London. They were evacuated once more to Wales but returned to London having experienced living on a primitive farm after a month.
Once back in London Duffy, "had the most wonderful war", breaking into abandoned houses and terrorising the city streets. Only when it was over did he start school, attending a social engineering institution in South Kensington that was run by the London County Council. After getting into a series of bouts of trouble he was moved to another school in Kentish Town where emphasis was placed on treating troubled youths through cultural inclusion which involved trips to the Opera, ballets and galleries. It was here that Duffy unveiled his own creative tendencies and upon finishing school he applied to Saint Martin's School of Art. In 1950 he began art school at first wishing to be a painter but soon changed to dress design. He finished in 1953 and immediately began working as an assistant designer at Susan Small Dresses after which he worked for Victor Steibel, preferred designer to Princess Margaret. Following this, on a visit to Paris, he was offered a job at Balenciaga but was unable to take it up.
In 1955 began freelancing as a fashion artist for Harper's Bazaar. It was here that he first came into contact with photography. Inspired by the photographic contact sheets he saw passing through the art director's desk he decided to find a job as a photographers assistant. Unsuccessfully, he applied for a job with John French, after which he managed to get a job at Carlton studios and then at Cosmopolitan Artists. He left there to take a job as assistant to the photographer Adrian Flowers. While working for Flowers he received his first photographic commission from Ernestine Carter, the then fashion editor of The Sunday Times.
In 1957 he was hired by British Vogue where he remained working until 1963. During this period he worked closely with top models of the period, including Joy Weston, Jennifer Hocking, Paulene Stone and Jean Shrimpton.
Along with fellow photographers David Bailey and Terence Donovan, he captured, and in many ways helped to create, the "Swinging London" of the 1960s: a culture of high fashion and celebrity chic. Together the "Terrible Three", as they came to be known by the British press, redefined not only the aesthetic of fashion photography but also the place of the photographer within the industry. Socialising with actors, musicians and royalty, together they represented a new breed of photographer and found themselves elevated to celebrity status. Brian Duffy commented on the culture shock the three were to the industry:
Before 1960, a fashion photographer was tall, thin and camp. But we three are different: short, fat and heterosexual!
Apart from Vogue, Duffy also worked for publications including Glamour, Esquire, Town Magazine, Queen Magazine as well as The Observer, The Sunday Times' and The Daily Telegraph. He also worked for Swiss Art Director Peter Knapp and later Foulia Elia for French Elle for two periods the first between 1963 and 1968, and the second between 1971 and 1979. Duffy was also a highly successful commercial advertising photographer shooting award winning campaigns for both Benson & Hedges and Smirnoff in the 1970s.
In 1965 Duffy was asked to create a Pirelli calendar which he shot on location in Monaco. He was commissioned to shoot a second calendar in 1973 which he created in collaboration with British pop artist Allen Jones and air brush specialist Phillip Castle. In 1967 he set up a film production company with Len Deighton called Deighton Duffy and went on to produce the film adaptations of Deighton's book Only When I Larf (1968), and of the musical Oh! What a Lovely War, which was released in 1969.
Duffy had a ten year working relationship with artist David Bowie and shot five key sessions over this period and was the creative force behind record album sleeve art for three album covers, including the 1973 Aladdin Sane, 1979 Lodger and 1980 Scary Monsters & Super Creeps on which Duffy shot the photographs and then employed the services of artist Edward Bell to paint a picture of the photograph. Duffy's input had a significant influence on Bowie's public image creation. In 1979 Duffy decided to give up photography, burning many of his negatives, though some were saved from the fire when the council objected to the smoke. Although a large number of his images have been lost, the ones that remain stand collectively as a comprehensive visual history of twenty-five years of British culture and fashion.
Duffy exited the world of still photography and entered the world of the TV Commercials and in 1981 joined film production company Lewin Matthews. 1983 Duffy directed the music video for Spandau Ballet's "Gold" and shot two pop promos for The Human League. In 1986 Duffy set up his own film production company 3DZ with his two sons Chris and Carey and pioneered the Super16 film format shooting many TV commercials and pop promos. By 1990 Duffy retired from all image making and followed a lifelong passion for furniture and became an accredited BAFRA (British Antique Furniture Restoration Association) restorer.
The story of his life and work is documented in a BBC documentary shown in January 2010 titled The Man Who Shot the 60s. Duffy died on 31 May 2010, after suffering from the degenerative lung disease pulmonary fibrosis. In 2009 Duffy's son Chris started The Duffy Archive and in October 2009 Duffy's work was exhibited at his first ever show at Chris Beetles Gallery in London. Interest has grown year on year in Duffy's work and in 2012 Duffy had twelve international exhibitions including three solo museum shows including the Alanari Photo Museum in Florence, Monash Art Gallery in Sydney Australia and the Centro De Historias Museum in Zaragoza Spain. Duffy has also contributed work to the National Portrait Gallery (Beetles to Bowie exhibit), The Tate Liverpool (Glam exhibit) and the V&A (British Design 1947-2013).
In June 2011 Duffy's son Chris, authored a monograph of Duffy's images which was published by ACC Editions titled "Duffy - Photographer" and featured over 160 iconic images from the 1950s, 60s and 70s. In 2011 the Victoria and Albert Museum London requested Duffy prints for their permanent display. Duffy's Aladdin Sane's previously unpublished "Eyes Open" image was the key promotional image in the Victoria & Albert's 2013 David Bowie "is" exhibit. Duffy was included in the 2013 Professional Photographer list of the 100 most influential photographers of all time.