Fashion: Through a lens backwards: Blow-Up, Antonioni's 1966 film about a fashion photographer, is back. Marion Hume and Tamsin Blanchard talk to the inspired and the inspirers
Thursday 29 April 1993
David Hemmings, the actor who played Thomas, now directing 'Ned's Blessings' for American television.
'Everyone assumes I based the character on David Bailey, but I was pretty Baileyesque myself. People still come up to me and say, 'I'm a photographer and it's because I saw you in Blow-Up'. But it would have been the same if a flamboyant, romantic movie had been made about another profession. Maybe if a film had been made with Errol Flynn playing a young picture restorer there would have been more picture restorers.'
David Bailey was repeatedly unavailable to comment to the Independent this week. But the man whom Malcolm Muggeridge once called 'The evil eye of the 20th century' - who came up with lines such as: 'Hello, little model. You've grown into a delicious piece of crumpet. I wouldn't mind a slice of you' - did discuss the movie with Sue Lawley on Desert Island Discs. She asked if the scene when the model Veruschka writhed with the photographer was how it was. He said, 'When I was lucky, it was.'
Jane Birkin, the actress who appeared nude in 'Blow-Up', but for considerably less time than many young men who saw the film at the time remembered.
'I haven't a clue who it was based on. I knew David Bailey and he was a sweetie and never jumped on me, although he did say things like 'stick your tits out', which one wasn't very used to people saying to one. I was a very traditional, married 19-year-old when my husband, John Barry, dared me that I couldn't take my clothes off with the light on. So I did.
'Then when it came out, there was such a fuss. My husband called me from New York and said there were queues round the block for a film that kept getting shorter as projectionists kept nicking from the negative. I was then fat and pregnant so I made my mother go and see it and she told me we were as innocent as children in a swimming pool. But other people didn't think so. I was known as Blow- Up Birkin right until I became Jane Je T'aime Birkin.'
Bert Stern, fashion photographer.
'The opening sequence was a take- off of a picture I had taken before of Bailey and Veruschka (see photograph top left on this page). I had also photographed Antonioni, so I suppose I felt a connection to the movie. Was it true to what was going on? I think so.'
Barry Lategan, photographer, aged 25 in 1966.
'I did see Blow-Up at the time. I had just started working for English Vogue. It was not a life that I came upon in reality. It was a good film, but I dissociated myself from that kind of lifestyle. I didn't relate to it, and I didn't have a leather jacket. Norman Parkinson once advised me, 'You don't excrete on your own doorstep' and that's my philosophy.'
Marie Helvin, former model, fashion designer and once the third Mrs David Bailey.
'I had to sneak in to see it because I was under-age. I was at that age when you want to be older. I just remember thinking, 'Oh, how boring, another arty movie', and I didn't get it at all. Years later, when I was married to Bailey, we saw it together. He told me he didn't get it either.'
Kieran Fogarty, extra in party scene, now a freelance publisher.
'It's a bit hazy because of the amount of dope we smoked. The party scene took five days, I earned 30 quid when the national weekly wage was 12 and I appeared on screen in close-up with a huge toke. But because I was on the bed next to the phone, I became Veruschka's spokesperson. She was seeing Antonioni I think, but she'd ring in and say, 'I'm in Paris, but I'm not' because she was with someone else down the road.'
William Klein, photographer and film maker. A book on his fashion work, 'In & Out of Fashion', is published in October.
'Blow-Up? I did a fashion film before that, Qui Etes-Vous, Polly Magoo? Do you know it? Sorry, I'm in the middle of editing a film . . . sorry . . . goodbye.'
Antony Price, fashion designer.
'It was boring. All the fashion scenes were so dated by the time it came out. We'd moved on into hippiedom. It was basically about a cockney boy getting laid and smoking dope at rich people's houses. But you had to see it.'
Albert Watson, fashion photographer of 268 'Vogue' covers. Also works for 'Rolling Stone', 'Details', 'Life'. A 24-year-old student when the movie came out.
'I was supposed to be in the party scene but I got food poisoning and couldn't go. The film captured the high energy, pushy success of a young guy who did have artistic integrity, but could make money when he wanted to. I was already set on being a photographer, but it glamorised it. The differences? I treat models in a non-aggressive way. Also, the scene it painted was very insular, very London. Today, photographers are international businessmen.'
Caroline Baker, leading fashion stylist since the Sixties.
'I thought it was wonderful. The photographer and the model getting together? It did go on. On location, you always got off with someone. The model had first pick and usually chose the photographer; the stylist had second pick, the hairdresser flirted with the female client but really fancied the photographer and the fashion assistant got the van driver. It really was the sexual revolution. And Bailey was so hot, sort of how the chef Marco Pierre White is now. If they redid it, they should set it in Harvey's'
Tony McGee, fashion photographer.
'I was in school and I envied that lifestyle. Good photography is what made me want to become a photographer, but I was impressed with the presence the character had and the car. Was it a Bentley? I had one of those in the early Eighties, but it wouldn't be considerate to have one now. I did try hard never to treat my subjects the way he did on film.'
Miles Aldridge, young photographer who is just starting out.
'David Bailey photographed my Dad (Alan) for Goodbye Baby & Amen. The most recent time I saw Blow-Up, I then went to a party and there were David Sims and Mario Sorrenti, today's versions of the star photographer in a way, and the two things together really made me want to take pictures.'
Irving Penn, photography great. 'I'm afraid I have no comment.'
Lord Lichfield, photographer since the early Sixties.
'Hetero guys were suddenly taking pictures of girls the way they liked them to look and the film cashed in on it. I was two years behind and very in awe of the cockney trio (Bailey, Terence Donovan and Duffy). Before them, photographers stood behind tripods with black cloths over their heads, then there was Bailey jumping up on the table, wielding his 35mm.
'I remember at the time we thought Jane Birkin and Sarah Miles very explicit, but we didn't think the scene with the tennis ball was particularly odd. People then were in a state when they could easily play tennis without a ball]'
Janet Street-Porter, TV producer.
'I was in it, with Manolo Blahnik and Piers Gough. I sprayed my hair silver and designed myself a silver trenchcoat made of PVC and didn't wear my glasses. Antonioni picked me out to dance with a black guy and I got paid extra for the dancing.'
Patrick Demarchelier, photographer; 23 when he saw the film in Paris.
'I loved the character. Do photographers behave like that to models? Not me, I'm married. Did I start in photography for the girls? No, you don't do photography just for that, but sure, I met a hell of a lot of pretty girls, like Mia Skoog who is now
my wife. Sure it still happens, like Kate Moss and her boyfriend, the photographer.'
Herbie Knott, the 'Independent' catwalk photographer. Saw the film in November 1966, aged 17.
'It had a huge impact. Bailey was doing these great pics of the Rolling Stones and I was at an impressionable age. His work, and then the movie, opened horizons for me away from those of a conventional middle-class upbringing. The film suggested very strongly that something as mundane as earning a living could be enjoyable, a concept that had not otherwise entered my head. Without Blow-Up, I'd have been a lawyer.'
John Swanell, photographer who assisted Bailey and started his own studio in 1973.
'Looking at it today, it's embarrassing, but at the time it was inspirational. Before, fashion photography was posh, it was Beaton doing the royal stuff and fashion plates. It was silent. Then Bailey brought it down to basics and everyone was turning the music up. Photographers did want to lay girls and drive flash cars. Now a Rolls is vulgar. I drive a Mercedes because I have lots of kids.
'I later became Bailey's assistant. He would never admit Thomas was him. I don't want to say he was pretty close because he'll kill me. Bailey was more sophisticated, he had more wit.'
Mario Testino, fashion photographer who recently did a shoot called Blow-Up for the French magazine 'Glamour'.
'I saw it when I was 18 and probably it influenced me to move to London. I loved the flamboyant behaviour of the photographer and something of that wildness seems to be coming round again, with photographers becoming personalities. We shot the Glamour sequence because it seemed relevant to the fashion of the moment.'
Colin McDowell, art historian and novelist.
'It put sex into fashion and made the business of taking a photo orgasmic and orgiastic. I don't think Bailey saw his camera as an extension of his penis at the time; he'd done well because he was cockney and cheeky and those grand ladies at Vogue adored him. But after Blow-Up photography itself became a sexual act.'
'I think she is in Munich. She is in Munich.'
Man answering the phone at the residence of Veruschka, aka Vera Lehndorff.
'Yes she is here, but she is rushing to Munich. She needs to think about it. But Blow-Up was a great movie, no?'
Veruschka, who played herself, the ultimate ubermodel, previously told the Independent:
'I was never so interested in fashion. I was never interested to wear designer clothes. It was a big stage and you were used as accessories. I was the object of desire, like in Blow-Up.'
Hans Feurer, 'Vogue' fashion
'When I saw the film, I was not yet a photographer. I became one at the end of '67. Without realising at the time, I suppose Blow-Up did influence me. When I saw it, I thought it was a piece of fiction, but I later thought it was quite real. My memories of photographing in swinging London were similar to the film. I built a studio in '68 in Kensington Park Road. Step by step, it started looking like the studio in the film. The street numbers were big and in silver. It all happened unconsciously - I only realised how much it had influenced me when I saw it later.
'I did have experiences like in the film. It projected all the facets of a fashion photographer's life: the relationships with models in studio sessions, the hectic life. It also showed the idea of the photographer as a mercenary: making images to order while, trying to make pictures to reflect reality. Yes, there were big parties with Hell's Angels and drugs, of course - the whole lot.'
Mary Quant, fashion designer.
'I was quite disappointed with Blow-Up. I talked to Antonioni about it at the time - he spoke to everyone, including Bailey. It had less style and chic than I had hoped for.'
Don McCullin, reportage photographer whose stills were used in the film.
'The London portrayed in the film was not my scene. I spent a lot of time in the East End, photographing the have-nots. I liked real people. Blow- Up was a nice bit of fantasy. I was doing what the Hemmings character was supposed to be doing. All the blow-ups in the film were mine. One day, two limousines had pulled up outside my house and all these Italians trooped out with their camel coats over their arms. I was paid pounds 500, a lot of money to me at the time.
'Antonioni was very bad-tempered when the sun came out - the Italian crew would play football, because they knew he would stop shooting. That made him even more bad-tempered. They would also go back to Rome at weekends to get their hair cut.'
'Blow-Up', directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, is presented in a new 35mm print at the Barbican Centre (071-638 4141), London EC2, in a limited run from Friday 30 April.
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