“For the first time in my life, I’m realising that I’m going to die, which is a bit of a downer. But I can’t complain. I’ve had the best life anyone could have possibly had.”
A moment captured by photographer Terry O’Neill is one for the history books. It’s the first photo of the then-unheard of band now known as The Beatles, it’s Elton John bringing the house down at The Dodger Stadium in ’75, it’s David Bowie with a jumping dog, it’s the Queen sporting a rare grin, it’s iconic actress Brigitte Bardot windswept, cigarette in mouth. It’s raw captured moments like no other. It’s too many to name.
Born in the East End of London with dreams of becoming a jazz drummer, O’Neill pursued a job at the airport with the hope that it would lead to him ending up in New York, where his music career could take off. But in a funny twist of fate, it was his work as an airport photographer that led to the life-long partnership of man, camera and muse – one that snapped some of the most iconic faces of the decades to come.
His muse? The youth culture of the 60s. The new faces in fashion, film and music – those on the brink of changing the world. In his eyes, the 60s were a time where youth was given a chance. “It didn’t matter, you were all the same and we all helped each other.”
It was his unrestrained and natural style that attracted the stars – those trying to move away from the ridged, prefabricated images synonymous of the 50s. Audrey Hepburn, Elisabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra and Michael Caine were just a few of the personalities drawn to his informal artistic vision – and this ability to capture the ‘unseen’ moments remains unparalleled.
With his passing at the age of 81, we wander down memory lane to relive a few of his most iconic photographs – though we must admit, choosing just a few was no easy task.