The Source talks to photographer Terry O’Neill about how he met the star, and how his shots are now being used by Iconic Images.
Iconic Images is, as you might expect, a fairly busy brand in the licensing business, holding, as it does, over one million negatives capturing more than five decades of rock ‘n’ roll, film, fashion, fame and celebrity.
But one photographer/subject combination on its books that has attracted more interest than most recently, after the unexpected death of one of rock’s greatest names, has been that of Terry O’Neill and David Bowie in the early 70s.
Terry O’Neill took the portraits and tour photos in 1974 and 1975 that are familiar to millions of people. But Terry had already worked with David by then. He first met him in 1973 when, as he says, “I got rung up by the manager who said there’s someone I might be interested in. I went down to this club in Soho and they were filming a song with David dressed up with all this gear on and Marianne Faithful was dressed as a nun! And I thought ‘well this is going to be the start of an interesting relationship’.”
Which it certainly was. A year later, “I did all that stuff with the dog and I worked with him on tour in LA.”
“That stuff with the dog” — photos for the cover of the Diamond Dogs album — and shots of an extremely elegant and very thin Bowie in a mustard yellow suit with his hair dyed red were, Terry insists, “all him. I just pointed the camera. I always photographed him as he showed up because he always looked smart or interesting. He always had a good visual sense of himself.”
But Terry’s photographer’s eye was alert to the strength of David’s personality — his ability to transcend his various reinventions. “No matter what outfit he had on — or disguise if you like — he always shone through it all. He had a dual look — a combination of a woman’s face and a man’s face — and it always shone through. People found him fascinating.”
Which may explain why even people who aren’t fans are beguiled by his look. Terry, for one, wasn’t surprised at the immense show of feeling at David’s death, “because when they put that show on [of Bowie’s outfits] at the V and A [in 2013], it sold out! It was then that I realised how powerful he was.”
That sort of visual power is a licensing agency’s dream. Bulldog Licensing manages the European licensing for Iconic Images whose Diamond Dogs-era Terry O’Neill photography has received massive exposure in recent weeks.
“The combination of Terry’s unique ability to capture a moment in history, together with one of the greatest icons of the modern era, is a hugely compelling offering for licensees everywhere,” says Rob Corney, group md of Bulldog.
Prior to the sad news of David Bowie’s death, Bulldog had already developed a strong offering for the Iconic Images portfolio of artists. In particular, the licensor had worked with David’s management company and apparel licensee NJ to develop a strong apparel offering for the UK market.
And Bulldog is also in advanced discussions to extend the Iconic Images opportunity — not only David Bowie but other major stars and memorable images from film, TV and music — internationally and across other product areas.
“Spring Fair this year is all about the wide range of global icons in the Iconic Images portfolio. We are meeting with a number of licensees in categories ranging from stationery to ceramics, gift and accessories, all keen to work with us on this compelling collection,” continues Rob.
It’s easy to see why, given the versatility of a collection of imagery which captures the essence of one of the most important eras in the growth of the phenomenon of celebrity. The Iconic Images licensing programme creates an opportunity for fans everywhere to celebrate the lives and work of some of the world’s greatest entertainers.
Including of course, David Bowie. He is a major focus for fans and the media right now but, says Rob: “The enormous interest in Bowie will not fade as his death becomes less newsworthy. The word iconic was made for David Bowie.”
Terry O’Neill sums it up quite neatly. He’s not one to blow his own trumpet, but he does agree that the result of those David Bowie photoshoots 40 years ago were quite gratifying. “They’re all timeless, aren’t they?” he says. “Everything he did is timeless. In 40 years he won’t ever look old fashioned.”