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British photographer Terry O’Neill (1938-2019) made his name in the 1960s-70s, capturing shots of the stars he cosied up to on both sides of the Atlantic.
Attributing his success with celebrities to genuinely liking his subjects and offering plenty of ‘compliments’, O’Neill presented figures such as Frank Sinatra, Brigitte Bardot and his one-time wife Faye Dunaway, often in intimate and unconventional compositions.
we offer a peek even further behind the curtain this month with our exhibition Terry O’Neill: The Vintage Collection.
His extensive archive of two million negatives, which has been revisited over the past five years, has provided 13 signed prints, 3 of which are fabulous contact sheets, that will be unveiled at the show, from September 15-29. with a few of these rare images we are told having not been on display before and they cannot be reproduced to the same level of authenticity following the sad death of the photographer last year.
O’Neill came to be familiar with David Bowie, The Beatles and Elizabeth Taylor, O’Neill started small. The son of Irish immigrants living in London, he was initially encouraged to become a priest. but he had dreams of being a Jazz Drummer.
The best were in America. So originally, he was heading out there to apply to be an Air Steward as a way of getting back and forth. But the airlines were not taking on male stewards and suggested he took a job in their technical photographic unit instead.The job meant he had to attend art school at the time and it led him to becoming interested in photojournalism. He freelanced at Heathrow airport as a paparazzi of the day where he caught a famous politican napping, sold the picture, and got offered a job as a reportage photographer at the Airport. Then he moved on to Fleet Street, where at 21 he was the youngest photographer, taking pictures of the cool kids.
One thing led to another and Terry Oneill quickly became a significant image-maker. He was one of a group of talented young photographers who helped create the photographic icons of the 1960s and the buzz that became Swinging London. The peer group that emerged in this decade alongside Terry O'neill included David Bailey, Terence Donovan and Brian Duffy from the East End, with Patrick Litchfield and Lewis Morley from different backgrounds.
O’Neill’s love of music led him to photograph The Beatles and The Rolling Stones at the beginning just as they were starting out in the 1960s, and he went on to capture the movers and shakers and celebrity of all kinds, from the models of the day to film stars and politicians. During his career he photographed every actor to play James Bond and every British prime minister from Winston Churchill to Gordon Brown. if they were a star Terry O'Neil had taken a photograph of them.
One of the photographer’s most recognisable works is a shot of actress Dunaway – his girlfriend at the time – in 1977, the morning after winning her best actress Oscar for Network. In the final print she is shown with a dazed expression, sitting in front of a Beverly Hills pool surrounded by the statuette and newspapers.
The contact sheet for the shoot, which includes various outtakes of Dunaway lounging by the pool is offered for £5000.
O’Neill remains highly collectable by private and institutional buyers alike. London’s National Portrait Gallery, which held the exhibition Terry O’Neill: Celebrity in 2013, has 75 of his works in its permanent collection, for example.
His top prices on the open market were achieved in the same year at a Bukowskis auction in Sweden, where his classic image Frank Sinatra, Miami Beach, 1968 was hammered down for the equivalent of nearly £25,500, more than double its low estimate (source: Artprice by Artmarket).
Though not the same shot that commanded such a high price several years ago, an image of Sinatra from the same year on the set of Lady in Cement is offered at Zebra One for £10,000.
Among the top offerings at the gallery is a contact sheet from a portrait session of David Bowie from 1974 for his Diamond Dogs Tour, which shows the star smoking in a yellow suit Initialled by Bowie to the front, it is also signed by O’Neill who called the artist his “creative muse”.
The Zebra One Gallery Exhibition The Vintage Collection by Terry O'Neill 15-29th September