David Hamilton is a British photographer and film director best known for his images of young women. Hamilton grew up in London. His schooling was interrupted by World War II. As an evacuee, he spent some time in the countryside of Dorset, which inspired some of his work. After the war, Hamilton returned to London and finished school before moving to France where he has lived ever since.
His artistic skills began to emerge during a job at an architect's office. At age 20, he went to Paris, where he worked as graphic designer for Peter Knapp of Elle magazine. After becoming known and successful, he was hired away from Elle by Queen magazine in London as art director. Hamilton soon realized his love for Paris, however, and after returning there became the art director of Printemps, the city's largest department store. Hamilton began photographing commercially while still employed, and the dreamy, grainy style of his images quickly brought him success.
His photographs were in demand by other magazines such as Réalités, Twen and Photo. By the end of the 1960s, Hamilton's work had a recognizable style. His further success included many dozens of photographic books with combined sales well into the millions, five feature films, countless magazine publishings and museum and gallery exhibitions. In December 1977, Images Gallery in New York City showed his photographs, at the same time that Bilitis was released. He also maintained an apartment in New York.
His soft focus style also came back into fashion at Vogue, Elle and other high-class fashion magazines from around 2003. Long ago, Hamilton was married to Mona Kristensen, who was a model in many of his early photobooks and made her screen debut in Bilitis. More recently, he was married to Gertrude Hamilton, who co-designed his book The Age of Innocence, but they have since divorced amicably and she lives in New York working as a painter.
Hamilton divides his time between St Tropez and Paris. Since 2005 he has been enjoying a revival in popularity. In 2006 two new books were released: David Hamilton, a collection of captioned photographs, and Erotic Tales, which contains Hamilton's fictional short stories.
As much of Hamilton's work depicts early-teen girls, often nude, he has been the subject of some controversy and even child pornography allegations, similar to that which the work of Sally Mann and Jock Sturges have attracted. Several of Hamilton's books were banned in South Africa for moral reasons. In the late 1990s, conservative Christian groups in America protested unsuccessfully against bookstores that stocked Hamilton's photography books.
As The Guardian wrote, Hamilton's photographs have long been at the forefront of the 'is it art or pornography?' debate. In 2005 a man was convicted for being in possession of 19,000 images of children, including photos by Hamilton. The images were found to be in the lowest indecency rating. In response, Glenn Holland, Hamilton's spokesman, stated: We are deeply saddened and disappointed by this, as David is one of the most successful art photographers the world has ever known. His books have sold millions. Following the conviction a member of the Surrey Police in Britain stated that possessing Hamilton books was now illegal in the UK. Surrey Police later made a formal apology for this statement and admitted that no legally binding decision had been made on the work of David Hamilton.
In 2010 a man was convicted of level 1 child pornography for owning four books, including Hamilton's The Age of Innocence as well as Still Time by Sally Mann, which he purchased from a bookstore in Walthamstow, London. His conviction was overturned on appeal in 2011, with the judge calling his conviction very unfair and criticising the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for prosecuting him. The judge concluded that If the [CPS] wishes to test whether the pictures in the books are indecent, the right way to deal with the matter is by way of prosecuting the publisher or retailer – not the individual purchaser.