‘In this piece I have re-imagined the most identifiable image of David Bowie using neon to represent the lightning flash. The "Aladdin Sane" image is one of the most famous images in pop culture history, taken by Brian Duffy in 1973. There were many different versions taken for the shoot and I have chosen one with his eyes open as the basis of the artwork.’ (Louis Sidoli)
Aladdin Sane Photos: Duffy © Duffy Archive & The David Bowie Archive ™
The inventive and innovative photographer Brian Duffy shot some of the best known pictures of the Swinging Sixties for magazines such as Vogue in Britain, and Elle in France, and became as infamous as his friends and contemporaries David Bailey and Terence Donovan. His dynamic style of fashion photography and his playful portraits of Michael Caine, John Lennon and Harold Wilson leapt off the pages and embodied the free spirit of the era. In the 1970s, this irreverent, occasionally cantankerous character, moved into advertising and devised intriguing, effective and memorable posters and full-page ads for Benson & Hedges cigarettes and Smirnoff vodka, as well as shooting two Pirelli Calendars. During this period he worked on 5 photo shoots for David Bowie including the striking cover for David Bowie's first chart-topping album, Aladdin Sane.
Yet, at the end of 1979, something seemed to snap in Duffy when he walked into his studio and was told by an assistant that they had run out of toilet paper. "I realised I was chairman, CEO and senior stockholder of my business and I was now responsible for toilet paper," he later reflected. "Ninety-nine per cent of my work was advertising and crap. The people who were hiring me I didn't like. Keeping a civil tongue up the rectum of a society that keeps you paid is an art which I was devoid of. I had nothing more to say in photographs. I'd taken all the snaps I needed to take. Maybe I didn't think I was good enough."
Whatever triggered this breakdown, it resulted in Duffy sending his staff home and attempting to burn boxes of his negatives in the garden. A neighbour objected to the acrid, black smoke and called the council who sent round an official to put a stop to this act of lunacy! This fortuitous intervention meant that some of his work survived including the Bowie shoots.
After Duffy stopped working as a photographer, he produced videos for some of the early 80's pop classics including "All of my heart" by ABC "Gold" by Spandau Ballet and "Mirror Man" by The Human League. He spent the last two decades of his life restoring furniture. Shortly before he died in 2010, his son Chris would eventually catalogue the remaining negatives and talk his father into exhibiting his work. Duffy was also the subject of a BBC documentary, The Man Who Shot The Sixties, which reunited him with the actress Joanna Lumley, a favourite model of his in his heyday.
All images © Louis Sidoli