When the late David Bowie, iconic musician, lyricist, artist, and showman, released the album “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)” he wanted a consummate photographer to create memorable artwork for the album cover. Brian Duffy was at the peak of his career when he met David Bowie. The two iconoclasts had an eight year working relationship collaborating on three different album covers including Bowie’s sixth studio album “Aladdin Sane” in 1973 and “Lodger” in 1979. Both musician and photographer not only fashioned images, but produced a visionary body of work throughout the course of five sessions, most notably in Duffy’s depiction of Bowie as a harlequin in “Scary Monsters & Super Colour Creeps.”
Duffy began his career in photography very unconventionally. After a rebellious childhood, he was sent away to a school in Kentish Town where the arts were the encouraged outlet for borderline “troubled” adolescents. He was introduced to a multitude of arts and cultural institutions and later attended Saint Martin’s School of Art in London. After stints as a painter, fashion designer, and ultimately a freelance fashion artist for Harper’s Bazaar, he happened upon a photographic contact sheet which inspired his career. He began working at British Vogue in 1957, and even then as a photographer, Duffy broke the rules and ignored the established protocol.
Coming almost full circle, “Scary Monsters & Super Colour Creeps” was transformed from a black and white photograph to an archival pigment print using contemporary digital tools. The photograph has been arranged in the form of a contact sheet and reimagined in a variety of different colors that have been tinted, shaded, and toned. Brian Duffy changed the way we view fashion photography and portraiture through his idiosyncratic documentation of the 60s and 70s. Transformation speaks to the heart and soul of this image.
Continuing Brian Duffy’s legacy, his son Chris has been reinterpreting some of the artist’s most iconic photographs since working side by side with him on the Scary Monsters shoot, and has gone on to produce many creative images of his own. Having documented 25 years of British culture and fashion, Brian Duffy will always be remembered as one of the greatest European fashion photographers, and his portraits of David Bowie will remain some of the most recognizable images in photographic music history. Much like music, Photography provides portals that inform, transform, and communicate ideas, which is why the two mediums collide so harmoniously.
Bowie’s career was defined not only by his music but by the visual personas he invented, and while clowns are usually depicted to be humorous or even scary, “to be the most beautiful clown” was Bowie’s ultimate intention, and Duffy captured that vision magically. Together they “opened strange doors that we’d never close again.”