Duffy + Bowie
Occasionally 2 artists, workings in different mediums, come together synergistically in a creative way. Such was the case between the great British photographer, Brian Duffy, and the groundbreaking musician, David Bowie. David Bowie would work with Brian Duffy over an 8-year period from 1972 – 1980, working over 5 sessions and producing three album covers. The most famous of David Bowie’s album covers was “Aladdin Sane” from 1973. Duffy also shot the cover of Lodger in 1979 and Scary Monsters in 1980.
Duffy was born in 1933 and began to freelance in the art department for Harper’s Bazaar in 1955 – where he became interested in photography. He moved to British Vogue in 1957 and along with David Bailey and Terrance Donovan were the three key creative forces in photography that defined the “Swinging Sixties” with its emphasis on youth, spontaneous energy, and liberating ideas. Duffy was versatile and expanded conventional photography – shooting two Pirelli Calendars creating fashion and celebrity images that were bold, unpredictable, and dynamic. His photographic career only lasted until 1980 – when he suddenly ended his production and burned a large amount of his negatives. He became a craftsman by 1990 – becoming an expert in furniture restoration and died in 2010.
Bowie and Duffy were beacons of light working together. Bowie was transformative and always evolving. For him, his dramatic visual appearance and chameleon like evolution – were key to what propelled him forward. “Aladdin Sane” was a persona created by Bowie after he had just become an international superstar with Ziggy Stardust. The songs were written mostly on his American tour – where he was exposed to the frenetic energy, sex, drugs, and cultural upheaval of the U.S. in the late 60’s and early 70’s. The title “Aladdin Sane” evolved from the phrase “A lad Insane” which was his comment on his observations of America. The red and blue lightning bolt that split his face was in some way emblematic of the cultural split between the U.S. and Britain. The teardrop that was painted on Bowie’s collarbone was Duffy’s idea. It was for David Bowie – a touching idea.
The cover image of “Aladdin Sane” became the defining visual presence for Bowie. Bowie understood its power to brand his visual image. It was blown up into a backdrop for his live performances. This was the only time that Bowie had his face painted with a lightning bolt and became the signature image of the David Bowie exhibition that originated in March of 2013 at the V & A Museum.
“The Mona Lisa of Album Covers”
The image transforms Bowie into larger-than-life personality – and reflects on the ever-evolving music that he wrote and performed. The cover was seen as a daring departure from the typical music portrait – and at the time confused some with its daring boldness. Duffy was always one to disregard conventions. At its time it was the most expensive album cover ever produced. Mick McCann of the Guardian called the cover, “The Mona Lisa of Album Covers.” It has become an icon of photograph. The British Royal Mail Service made a stamp of this image in 2017 and sent 52 first day covers of the stamp tied to hot air balloons into space. “Aladdin Sane” is one of the prime examples of the heights a photographic image can attain when 2 creative giants team together to create an image that both transcends its time and its purpose.