Brian Duffy Retrospective

June 9, 2011 | Zoltan Arva-Toth | Photographers , Events | Comment |

The first ever full-career retrospective of the legendary British photographer Brian Duffy will open July 8th at Idea Generation Gallery. Together with Terence Donovan and David Bailey, Duffy is recognised as one of the innovators of “documentary” fashion photography, a style that revolutionised the fashion industry. He produced an extraordinary body of work but destroyed most of his negatives and transparencies in 1979. “Featuring more than 160 images painstakingly rediscovered by Duffy’s son after years of searching through archives and publications around the world, this exhibition has truly risen from the ashes,” the organisers say. Running until 28th August, the Duffy exhibition is presented by Idea Generation Gallery, 11 Chance Street, London E2 7JB. Admission is free.

The opening of the exhibition coincides with the release of a new book entitled Duffy, published by the ACC Publishing Group (RRP £45.00).

Idea Generation Gallery Press Release


A visual record of the photographic genius
Idea Generation Gallery, London
Exhibition: 8th July – 28th August
Book Launch: June 2011

Idea Generation Gallery presents the first ever full retrospective of Brian Duffy - a man who changed the face of British photography.

The first ever full-career retrospective of the legendary British photographer Brian Duffy will open July 8th at Idea Generation Gallery, coinciding with the publication of Duffy – the first and only book of his work.

Duffy infamously quit photography in 1979 when, at the height of his career, he took the majority of his photographic work into the back garden and set it on fire. Featuring more than 160 images painstakingly rediscovered by Duffy’s son after years of searching through archives and publications around the world, this exhibition has truly risen from the ashes.

Duffy’s newly restored body of work firmly cements his place in British photography as part of the notorious ‘Black Trinity’ that defined the visual language of swinging sixties London.

The resulting collection of iconic, rare and unseen works provides a veritable catalogue of 60s and 70s cultural iconography: from Hollywood royalty Michael Caine, Brigitte Bardot and Sidney Poitier; to the greatest rock stars John Lennon, David Bowie and Debbie Harry; through to sixties beauties Jean Shrimpton and Joanna Lumley; the literary legend William Burroughs and many more.

“The thing about the photograph is there’s no smell or sound, and in a sense it tells the truth, and yet it is a lie.” Duffy

The Early Years

Duffy never intended becoming a photographer. Studying dress design at Saint Martins College of Art, Duffy pursued brief stints in fashion design and illustration before turning his hand to photography in the late 1950s. Cutting his teeth as fourth assistant to Adrian Flowers, Duffy picked up his first commission from the Sunday Times in 1957, the year that he started at Vogue. Quickly becoming a Vogue favourite, Duffy’s avant-garde style was instrumental in pushing the formerly society-led magazine to remain relevant as the teenage revolution ensued.

“Duffy was a commercial photographer, a picture-maker for paying clients in the worlds of fashion, marketing and the print media….An anarchic, abrasive, provocative young talent in 60s London who precisely sensed the seismic shifts in British culture that could allow him to invent himself as one of the most successful of a new breed of fashionable photographers.”
Philippe Garner, International Head of Photography, Christie’s


Duffy ushered in a new style of documentary fashion photography alongside his ‘Black Trinity’ contemporaries David Bailey and Terence Donovan. Together they pushed aside the stuffy conservatism of the fifties in favour of a more innovative and energetic approach that perfectly fitted post-war ‘swinging London’. By 1961 Duffy started working for French Elle, where he believes he did his best work. Inspired by a culture that encouraged experimentation and subversion, Duffy remained working with Elle for nearly 20 years, alongside many other publications around the world. A selection of Duffy’s editorial work will be included in the exhibition, including the controversial Nova magazine shoot with Amanda Lear.


Duffy, Bailey and Donovan heralded a new era where the photographer was the star. Setting up his own studio in 1963 at his family home in Swiss Cottage, North London, Duffy captured the mood and ever-changing cast of rock stars, actors, models, writers, and politicians of the day in his innovative and dynamic style. Brought together for the first time, contact sheets and test shots of the likes of Michael Caine and Ziggy Stardust provide a behind-thescenes insight into an exclusive selection of Duffy’s most revered images and subjects.

Commercial Commissions

Duffy’s avant garde style is evident in the award-winning commercial commissions he delivered at the height of his career. Duffy became one of the few photographers to shoot two Pirelli calendars in both 1965 and 1973. He also shot three record sleeves for David Bowie, including the now iconic Aladdin Sane. The exhibition brings together some of Duffy’s most recognisable commercial work, including leading surreal campaigns for Benson & Hedges and Smirnoff Vodka. Created before the advent of digital trickery, these ingenious shots were a result of his detailed understanding of metaphysical photography, as well as often dangerous set-ups that would be impossible to recreate today.

Bonfire of the Transparencies

By 1979, Duffy was one of the biggest names on the London photographic scene. Known only by his last name, his fame eclipsed that of those he photographed. That was until one day in 1979 when Duffy took his transparencies and negatives into his garden and set them alight in a ceremonial finale to his career as a photographer, having felt he had said all he could say through the medium.

The Rediscovery

Drawing on the revived archives lovingly restored by his son in recent years, this new exhibition and book re-ignite the legacy of a creative visionary whose work both documented and defined the time in which it was created. 

Commenting on the significance of his father’s work, Chris Duffy said:

“One of the top three photographers on the scene in 60s and 70s London, Duffy’s work is essential in the development and understanding of the dynamic visual language that took hold at a time when London was the epicentre of cool. Known for his avant garde eye, Duffy’s work transcends the time in which it was taken and continues to influence the visual styles of today.”

Eloise Rowley, Gallery Manager at Idea Generation Gallery commented on the exhibition:

“Risk taker and mischief maker, Duffy is one of the great photographic mavericks of modern times. Arranged in three strands - Fashion, Faces and Money – this exhibition provides a rare and unprecedented insight into one of the most important archives of its time.”

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