An Invaluable Recording of Culture

Terry O’Neill is one of the most storied entertainment and music scene photographers of the medium. Beginning his career in the 1960s, O’Neill directed his lens towards the rising youth culture that would later gain notoriety as the “Swinging Sixties.” Renowned for capturing candid, backstage photographs of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie as well as famed actresses like Bridget Bardot and Faye Dunaway (who he would later marry), Terry O’Neill’s photography is recognized as an invaluable recording of culture and a seminal archive of fashion, styles, and celebrities at their most energetic moments.

The Early Years

Born in London, England in 1938, O’Neill’s introduction to photography came by way of applying to become an air steward. By taking a job in the photographic unit of British Airways, the now famed photographer had started a lifelong career that perhaps foreshadowed the unconventional way it had begun. O’Neill’s pictures of public figures began to draw attention by their distinct snapshot aesthetic. After landing a job at the Daily Sketch, the photographer started to gain notoriety and commercial success, later to become one of the photographers responsible for mythologizing the “Swinging Sixties.”

Terry O’Neill, Mick Jagger, Fur Parka, 1964, Printed 2017, Silver Gelatin Photograph

Mick Jagger in Fur Parka

In “Mick Jagger in Fur Parka”, taken in 1964, the photographer creates an image that is both intimate and public. The gaze concentrates on Jagger’s expression and eyes while the fur parka encloses his face and frame. Apart from Jagger’s appearance, his hand is gently holding the parka closed upon his chest, evoking a sense of intimacy while bringing the viewer into the picture. The variations in texture between the fur, skin, and hair give the photograph a tactile quality. This image highlights the individualism of Jagger, presenting at once a rebellious, counter-cultural Rockstar and a vulnerable; profound, and emotional person underneath.

“You must like the people, that’s the key thing to any job.”

Celebrities as Human Beings

O’Neill’s photography often presents a frank and unseen side to the celebrities we have come to adore. His photographs depict his famous subjects not only as creators and influencers of culture but also as human beings. The pictures, framed in unconventional settings, are devoid of the spectacle of the performer and gives us a more natural look compared to normal press or publicity photography. Terry O’Neill’s work ultimately stresses the human dimension of his sitters; they are penetrating, respectful, and memorable photographs. Accomplishing this is a difficult balancing act for photographers, and few do it with the mastery of Terry O’Neill.

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