It started at a charity auction back in 1979. What triggered it, I really can’t remember. I think I just fell in love with David Bailey’s image of Jean Shrimpton – evocative, sexy and stylish.
Over 30 years of photograph collecting later, the picture is no less fresh for me. And it has a lot more resonance now that I understand its significance…
The story behind the picture…
It’s 1961, she is 17, he’s 23. Both are at the outset of their careers and perhaps they’re already lovers. They met the previous year on the roof of Vogue House at a photo shoot for a Kellogg’s cornflakes ad.
And here they are together (except that he’s behind the lens) and it looks like she might have borrowed his coat against the chill of the early morning. Perhaps they’re on the way back from a night’s partying – she certainly has that dishevelled look – shabby chic not elegant glamour.
The gamine look certainly seems to reference Jean Seberg in Jean-Paul Godard’s A Bout de Souffle, one of the earliest and most influential films of French New Wave cinema. It was released the previous year.
The photo itself is quite grainy and has a compelling spontaneity about it. It looks more like a snapshot than a sophisticated fashion image. And that’s the point. It throws down the gauntlet at the aristocratic representation of fashion that has pretty much prevailed up until this point. It’s like a manifesto for the 60s and marks a profound turning point in the history of style.
It marks a turning point for the two protagonists as well. She will become his muse and help to put him on the map. His images will make her one of the most successful and celebrated models of all time.
And the story behind aenigma
One of the things that makes photos so fascinating is the stories they tell. The point of aenigma is to showcase some of the images that have caught my eye, to explore what’s going on in them and in the process to make sense of the collection I’ve acquired, which is full of enigmas.
It’s the next step in a quest that has taken me from a photo of Jean Shrimpton in 1961 to a fascination with Hollywood and cinema more generally. Along the way I’ve met Helmut Newton and Kate Moss, I’ve been in touch with the families of Ava Gardner and Lana Turner, and I’ve spent disproportionate amounts of time on eBay.
The purpose of aenigma
I’m developing aenigma as a resource for academics, students and other collectors who want to know more about the subject. It is about a particular aspect of our cultural heritage that fascinates me. I’ve taken a lot of care over selecting, preparing and researching the images, finding quotes that bring the characters to life and presenting them in a way that I hope you’ll find engaging.
aenigma is also a showcase and shop window for some of the most striking, amusing and important vintage prints in my collection. All the images you’ll come across here are scans of originals I own. If you’re interested in one of them, please get in touch via the Contact button in the main menu. I will be happy to send a price on application. Or you could follow my auctions on eBay.