the unpublished archives // sixties style: shot by duffy


E-Type Jaguar, Opening of the M1 Motorway, 1960, Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive




It's 1979. Smoke and flames are lifting from a backyard in King Henry’s Road, Swiss Cottage, filling London air of the acrid smell of burning plastic. Some film negatives are slowly melting, eaten up by unstoppable fire.


The backyard belongs to the studio of Brian Duffy – one of the pivotal lenses of 1960s London. Duffy was experiencing an existential crisis, followed by a breakdown, that convinced him to quit his career, completely let down by the media industry. Although his attempt was stopped soon enough to avoid a big loss of his age-defining work, it could come as a surprise to discover some unpublished signed shots that Duffy left us before passing away in 2010, aged seventy-six.


This is Sixties Style: Shot by Duffy, currently on display at Proud Central, London.


The exhibition highlights Duffy’s revolutionary role in capturing the changing face of the woman in 1960s London. She is dynamic, independent, but also auto-ironic in breaking the rigidity of traditional fashion photography.


There isn’t only the studio dimension – that quintessential Swinging London Blow-Up-esque suspended pipe dream – but also, and mainly, the street. There, Duffy’s models move at ease, on their own. Playfully self-conscious, they were shaping the fashion of their time and the society of tomorrow.


Duffy may have looked like a bank employee – with his sparse hair and white-shirt-black-tie combo – but he had the gift of capturing the stills of ideas to come. He was the avant-garde. Simply consider his pop-arty experimentations with coloured gloss in 1963 [pictured below], a good three years before this aesthetic became mainstream. Fashion, lifestyle and jet set, this is 1960s Duffy.


Sixties Style: Shot by Duffy, Proud Galleries, 2nd February – 18th March 2018.






Michael Caine Smoking, 1964

Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive

You can’t really be a Swinging London photographer if you haven’t snapped Michael Caine at least once. Duffy didn’t only shoot Caine, but even managed to frame his most iconic representations – the contact sheet, also used for the recent Caine-directed My Generation documentary. In ’64, Caine was the upcoming face of British showbiz. A self-made man taking London by storm from Elephant and Castle. With his essential but flawless style, Caine embodied the typical working-class Londoner who fought to affirm his auto-determination, despite the poor upbringing. Duffy’s skill is all about capturing on film the human and joyous side of the Elephant and Castle boy, differently from the more authoritarian Ipcress File style of David Bailey’s work with Caine. No photographer ever made a nerdy thick frame and a cigarette look more seducing.




Paulene Stone, Colour Gels, Town Magazine 1963

Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive

The apparently casual holes in the boldly-coloured gloss stripes show a kinky, voyeuristic and teasing nature, augmented by the subtle costume worn by Paulene Stone. It creates a curve shape, matched by the model’s languid body pose. Men’s magazine eroticism turned into art.




Doublement Mieux, French Elle, 1963

Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive

Many of Duffy’s fashion works took place in Europe, especially in France and Italy. Apparently Duffy, being a ‘foodie,’ never lost a chance to fly abroad to enjoy local cuisine. Ancient urban landscapes were turned into glamorous and hip playgrounds where Duffy’s models moved like they were on a nouvelle vague film set, breaking the stillness of traditional fashion photography. The subjects’ playfulness – own of both the Swinging Sixties and French Godard films – often emerges in these shots, bringing the models closer to the public and setting important precedents for fashion advertising to come by. 




E-Type Jaguar, Opening of the M1 Motorway, 1960

Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive

It’s assumed that in 1963, a Liverpool band revolutionised fashion by sporting Pierre Cardin round-collared jackets on their record sleeves. Well, two years earlier, Duffy shot a male model in that very jacket. Who’s the trendsetter, then? No wonder Duffy was a fashion connoisseur. He studied dress design at Saint Martins School of Fashion, which provided him with knowledge about how to obtain the best results from clothes, when shooting.




Love, Queen Magazine, 1968

Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive

This is another shot witnessing Duffy’s talent as an anticipator, both on an artistic and human level. The writing ‘love’, in a way, could be considered a predecessor of graffiti art, especially because captured by an artist’s camera. On the human side, Duffy anticipates the man-woman relationship the two kids will experience once grown-up by capturing their sights. The boy looking at the girl’s [Duffy’s daughter] legs seems to suggest the submissive relationship men develop towards the female body when adults.




John Lennon with UFO Detector, 1965

Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive

In this portrait, Lennon is holding is a ‘ufo detector’ that he had just bought in New York during The Beatles’ infamous last US tour. Lennon brought the novelty item to the studio for the amusement of Duffy’s team. The playfulness is fully captured by Duffy’s lens, which gives justice to Lennon’s human and funny side. This shot surely stands out among Duffy’s studio work, proving the photographer’s ability to capture dynamic and lively portraits in a traditionally strict environment.




Ponte Vecchio Florence, Vogue, 1962

Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive

The provincial quiet of lazy early 1960s Italy is disrupted by the stormy arrival on the scene of a model, who takes the role of an art installation. This neorealist vibe is common to other Duffy works for this 1962 Vogue feature. Take the Ponte Vecchio shot, pictured. The model standing next to the arch seems to be compared in grace and elegance to ancient Renaissance architecture. The guy riding a Vespa – certainly some strong inspiration here for those London kids who would soon revolutionise British culture – glancing in a quintessentially Mediterranean style at the model is another neorealistic Dolcevita staple. Or, again, The Emilio Pucci promotional shot outside Florence Loggia della Signoria, counterposing jet set design with a Catholic priest. 1980s Vogue didn’t create anything new.




Queen, Kings Road, 1968

Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive

This is the quintessential pop, Blow-Up-like, Swinging London interior shot. Even in these circumstances, though, Duffy leaves his distinctive trademark. The smashed glass on three Jill Kennington framed pictures – something as simple as this – creates an unsettling whole new dimension that distinguishes the photographer’s work from the rest of his colleagues. This aesthetic solution seems also to suggest the caducity of fashion and modelling in consumerist society.



Sixties Style: Shot by Duffy is currently on at Proud Central, London, until March 18th .

Visit today at Proud Central, 32 John Adam Street, London, WC2N 6BP

View Proud's ongoing and upcoming exhibitions online here.



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