BOWIE BY O’NEILL, Iconic Images, 2016
Hardcover, 288 pp, 240×345 mm, 4354 gr, € 1800,00/£ 1500,00
A white resin bas-relief produced using thermoforming: an exclusive object made by Germana Senzani, an artist from Milan, for this truly unique publication. The face of Ziggy Stardust, David Bowie’s most iconic incarnation, has no features at all. The very white face decorating this unique cover seems to ideally symbolize the almost godlike ability Bowie showed throughout his long career: changing his appearance and transforming himself for each different musical project and in every single photo session, every time creating a fascinating mask to amaze his audience with unpredictable, incredible and bizarre characters. Inside this volume, we can enjoy some among his most famous.
Browsing through BOWIE BY O’NEILL, the latest publication by the great British photographer, is a unique experience. While your fingers caress the valuable paper, feeling with pleasure its thickness and the precious watermark, your eyes stop – almost incredulous – on the unbelievable photos. The amazements grows with every page; unforgettable pictures, both for the careers of these two artists and for the collective consciousness of the Thin White Duke’s fans, in addition to that of the great photography enthusiasts.
Terry O’Neill aimed his camera at David for the first time in October 1973, during the 1980 Floor Show, to capture the last appearance of the singer acting the part of his alien alter ego. Ziggy was deliberately killed about three months earlier on the stage at the Hammersmith Odeon, but what O’Neill captured was anything but the dying mask of a rockstar with suicidal tendencies.
After he broke up the Spiders, Mr. Stardust evolved into something different: on the stage of the Marquee Club in London, he was accompanied by guests such as Marianne Faithfull and Amanda Lear, flaunting maybe the most outrageous and scandalous outfits of his entire career. He oozed an extraordinary vigour, as these photos show. One of the distinctive traits of this book is the way it presents some of the 200 shots, in a completely different light: some pictures are partly or totally colorized, altered or re-conceived through different typographic techniques. Other photos have not been altered at all, showing all their authentic, original beauty. This is the case for some promotional pictures (mostly colour photographs) for Diamond Dogs and Young Americans: a terribly thin Bowie, at this point a heavy drug addict, using all the strenght left in his emaciated body to focus on his musical and artistic projects.
Throughout his career, O’Neill has photographed an impressive number of film actors, and in the portraits of the protagonist of The Man Who Fell To Earth he seems to have been able to instill something special, magic. Thomas Jerome Newton’s features reflect the magnificence which only the greatest Hollywood stars had. The big format and the glossy effect of high quality paper intensify the black and white of these photographs. The same can be said for two legendary sessions dating back to the seventies: the one of David with Elizabeth Taylor and the other with William Burroughs. Some unpublished alternative stills of the latter, believed to be irreparably lost, have been exceptionally included in the book. Never underestimate, anyway, the archives of a photograph from the “old school”: here are the Thin White Duke’s live performances, the jam session with Keith Moon and Bill Wyman for Peter Sellers’ birthday party, whole articles from the seventies (from magazines like Melody Maker and Rolling Stone), and significant full page sentences by David or O’Neill.
This volume is a veritable work of art, and an inevitably luxury product, the result of the collaboration between Iconic Images and Red Engine, of the art director Des Curran. The conception and planning of BOWIE BY O’NEILL are totally British, but the manifacturing is hundred percent Italian: printed by Erre Stampa and bound by Legatoria Bergamasca in Italy. The paper, the colours, the binding and the packaging (silk and velvet for it) are precious details making this book a truly unique publication. The last photo session included in this volume dates back to 1992: colour closeups of a blond, laid back David, without any of his outrageous outfits from his past – or also future – masks. O’Neill photographed the British artist just one year before he would unbelievably climb back to the top of his artistic journey, having fallen down during the preceding ten years. From 1993, after having achieved a certain balance both in his personal and love life (thanks also to the marriage with the Somali supermodel Iman Abdulmajid), he would produce a series of remarkable records, succeeding in getting into new and old fans’ good books.
Every copy of BOWIE BY O’NEILL includes a numbered certificate of authenticity and two limited edition lithographies from the sessions with Elizabeth Taylor and William Burroughs. The cover of the super-deluxed and really more expensive version has got a gold moon on Ziggy’s forehead and a more precious case.
(translation by Rachele Mura)