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Experience the Sixties through the lens of Brian Duffy

While he was usually behind the lens, iconic photographer Brian Duffy was as influential in the 1960s as the models he shot, defining a new visual and cultural ideology for his generation and beyond

Arguably more than any other decade, the 1960s shaped the Britain of today. Brian Duffy was one of the seminal photographers of the time – and his work is an exploration of the youth-driven cultural shift within art, music and fashion.

This spring, Proud Galleries is presenting Sixties Style: Shot by Duffy, an exhibition celebrating the bold appearances that defined London’s vibrant Swinging Sixties.

In 1959, Duffy began working as a commercial photographer, shooting his first commission for The Sunday Times. It was a prestigious moment which accelerated his artistic career. He was soon selected to shoot editorials for British Vogue and worked closely with Jean Shrimpton and Paulene Stone, supermodels who became synonymous with the 1960s and helped redefine fashionable style in glossy magazines.

Alongside his contemporaries David Bailey and Terence Donovan, Duffy became known and respected as a member of ‘The Terrible Trio’, the elite enfants terribles of fashion photography. Both rebellious and provocative, renowned fashion photographer Norman Parkinson described them as ‘The Black Trinity’ for the few rules the group operated by, and the many they broke.

Through Duffy’s commercial work, his archive documented evolving identity politics and explored the new set of feminine ideals that were influenced by the supermodels he shot.

From Jean Shrimpton to Grace Coddington, Michael Caine to David Bowie, Duffy captured each personality with a playful duality, challenging the typical notions of a studio portrait.

Many fashion traditions were disrupted in the 1960s, a transformation which mirrored the social movements of the time. The depiction of ‘The Single Girl’ was of a sharp contrast to the way the models of the 1920s were represented, carefully posed and immobile within constructed portraits. Duffy captured a very different and mobile single girl, who symbolised young, energetic and independent movement.

This expressive development in commercial photography pushed Duffy to work in and out of traditional studio set-ups, traversing international locations with his subjects to capture the necessary shot. Stylistically experimental, his considered approach to line, shape and perspective often added surrealist elements to each photograph.

From Jean Shrimpton to Grace Coddington, Michael Caine to David Bowie, Duffy captured each personality with a playful and commanding duality, challenging the typical notions of a studio portrait.

After an exceptional career taking some of the most iconic pictures of a generation, Duffy became frustrated by the industry and his work as a photographer, and in 1979 abruptly retired, burning a large number of his negatives in a backyard fire.

In 2010, Duffy died at the age of 76, leaving behind him a small number of signed works, many of which are on view within this exhibition. The negatives that remained formed The Duffy Archive, a comprehensive history of 25 years of British culture and fashion.

Proud’s curation of his 1960s’ work – many unpublished since the time – encompasses fashion editorials, celebrity portraiture and international advertising campaigns. Collectively, they embody the lifestyle trends of a momentous decade.

Sixties Style: Shot by Duffy runs until 18 March at Proud Central, 32 John Adam Street, WC2N 6BP; admission is free; afterwards Duffy’s archive prints will remain available to buy from Proud; proud.co.uk

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