Beyond the Celebrity Age
The real age of the Celebrity began in the mid 1950's. After two
decades of political and economic gravity, rationing and diligence
the Celebrity offered the world a change of tempo. After the pre-war
Hollywood the public were hungry for something lighter, sexier
and more daring.
Into this backdrop came Terry O'Neill's (b. 1938) first job:
snapping celebrities at a London airport for a newspaper, and
by chance he became a teenage reporter. He was polite, always
asking for the permission before taking the shot, unlike the photojournalist
of our day. He was harmless and the celebrities knew the publishers
wanted beautiful shots so were not worried about where the image
might be shown.
O'Neill soon went freelance and was an instant success. He had
learnt that giving a compliment ensured a great photograph and
gained the trust of many celebrities from Brigitte Bardot to Frank
Sinatra. Even the Royal family and politicians commissioned him
for their portraits.
The quintessential image of the age began with Brigitte Bardot
- the hair swept across the face, the averted gaze. This was a
new approach so removed from the formal, stylised studio portraits
from early Hollywood. Moving away from the fabricated icons of
the 1920's and 30's, the age of the celebrity (as opposed to the
age of the star) offered a new icon. The idolised and removed
icon of the 1950's was a super real being, immortal and deified.
Terry O'Neill was there in the heyday of this time and became
a master of portraying the climate but offered it in a sensitive,
respectful and sometimes playful manner.
As we enter the end of the Celebrity age, faced with too many
charlatans who devalue the term, we still find in the work of
Terry O'Neill the peak of the era, the epitome of the dream which,
in its death, captures us as much today as when it first arrived
in the mid 1950's.