As have many people my age, I grew up listening to David Bowie, thanks to my parents’ fantastic taste in music. I remember being around seven years-old, sitting in the back of my dad’s car as he blasted a live version of Ashes to Ashes through the tiny speakers, the bass line reverberating through the chassis. I remember hearing Five Years for the first time, being told that ‘You’ll love this one!’ (I did and still do, and have a line of the lyrics tattooed on me). David’s pained voice crying out that the world was going to waste, that he had a warning for us. If only we’d listened.
When David passed away in January 2016, it felt as if a member of our family had died. I remember sitting on the train home from work, an overwhelming silence filling the carriage as we all sat in mourning. Since then, it truly does feel like the world has gone to waste, that David was the key to the good stuff.
If he was beloved in life before, that amp has been turned up to 11 after his passing, with collection after collection of memories released in the four years since. The latest is David Bowie: Icon, from Iconic Images and Acc Art Books, two leading publishers in the art world. Its 181 pages bring together 25 of the industry’s biggest photographers, from Mick Rock to Masayoshi Sukita, to celebrate one of our biggest, brightest stars.
Opening with an introduction from George Underwood – a boyhood friend of Bowie’s – he describes their young life growing up beside each other. At 14, they bagged tickets to see Little Richard, David’s jaw on the floor as they sat metres from the stage, taking inspiration from the showman’s performance and flare. George, an artist himself, finishes on a memory of when he asked David to write something for the catalogue for his upcoming show. After David sent him his copy (and purchased one of his paintings), George told him, ‘You’re a star,’ ‘Yes, I know‘ was David’s reply.
As someone who obviously knew, could feel from an early age, that he was going places, Bowie was a natural in front of the camera. This anthology chronologically tracks him as he rises to fame, starting with Gerald Fearnley, who shot the images for Bowie’s self-titled debut album in 1967. We can see early foreshadowing of what David would go on to become, with a selection of prints showing him in clown make-up, pulling faces and poses that contrast the album’s quite serious cover.
From there we flick through studio portraits, photos taken at gigs both big and small, candids, press shoots and outtakes, documenting David’s enormous and varied career. Supplemented with interviews with the photographers themselves, you learn what went on behind-the-scenes, how an image came to be, and one overarching fact: David was really nice to everyone.
From his Ziggy days through to becoming a Young American, from The Man Who Fell to Earth who then appeared at Live Aid, this collection is a visual deep-dive into one man’s devotion to art and entertainment, and a ‘thank you’ of sorts from his photographers over the years – for being such a good, reliable, varied subject. As many anthologies are, this is a must-have for fans; not just of Bowie himself but of photography as a way of preserving moments in history, as this is one collection that does so in such a warm, personal way.