The Semple team recently took to the streets of East London’s Shoreditch, in search of the much hyped about Duffy exhibition. The almost secreted but superb Idea Generation Gallery, typical of exhibition spaces in Shoreditch, played a fantastic host. Despite its understated exterior, the gallery provides the perfect home for the Duffy retrospective. The stark white walls and the natural lighting ensure the space emphasises the contrasts in Duffy’s prints to dramatic effect.
The Idea Generation Gallery is the first to present the entire collection of Duffy’s work, an event that has been eagerly anticipated for many years. Despite being at the height of his success and one of the biggest names on the London photographic scene, in 1979 Duffy set fire to his negatives in a ceremonial finale of his career as a photographer. It was Duffy’s son Chris that restored the Duffy archive which now forms the exhibition.
Duffy is said to have been the man that changed the face of British fashion photography. Working in post-war London alongside peers such as David Bailey and Terence Donovan, ‘The Terrible Trio’ were celebrated as the innovators of documentary fashion photography, an aesthetic that revolutionised fashion imagery and by extension the fashion industry at large. The significance of Duffy’s work is celebrated in the exhibition as work from each of the photographic genres he mastered including portraiture, reportage and advertising are all included.
The main focus of the exhibition are Duffy’s portraits. Most recognisable are those of 1960s and 1970s cultural icons including Michael Caine, Brigitte Bardot and Sidney Poitier. Rock stars John Lennon and David Bowie feature alongside Sixties beauties Jean Shrimpton and Joana Lumley. The exhibition includes a particularly striking image of Reggie Kray with his grandfather taken by Duffy in 1964. Duffy commented that it was when such notorious London mobsters began requesting his talent that he knew his reputation had reached certain grandeur. Other portraits that caught the attention of the Semple team were those of Grace Coddington (1962) and Nina Simone (1964).
Duffy’s editorial portfolio is also impressive. In addition to a selection of London newspapers, he contributed to a fine selection of publications including French Elle (where he believed he created his best work), British Vogue, Town Magazine, Queen Magazine, Glamour, and Esquire. His avant-garde style innovatively and energetically captured post-war swinging London, all before the advent of digital trickery.In a period where women were frequently objectified, Duffy cleverly managed to empower his female subjects, raising their profile to that of his male counterparts.
The Duffy exhibition is truly unique and allows the viewer an insight into the mind of a legendary icon that played a key part in the revolutionising of Britain. This is definitely one not to be missed.
Images top to bottom: David Bowie, Aladdin Sane, 1973 © Duffy Archive, Michael Caine, 1964 © Duffy Archive
Duffy runs until 28th August 2011 at Idea Generation Gallery, www.ideageneration.co.uk. The first ever book devoted to the work of Brian Duffy will be published by ACC Editions in July. Duffy: 9781851496570, £45. To order a copy call 01394 389977 or go online at www.accpublishinggroup.com.