WONDERFUL MONSTERS (AND SUPER SESSIONS)
BOWIE BY DUFFY, LullaBit, 2016
Hardcover, 128 pagg, 324x218x18 mm, 1032 gr.
DUFFY BOWIE – FIVE SESSIONS, ACC Editions
Hardcover, 212 pagg, 230x190x24 mm, 1075 gr.
Here is a collection of wonderful (but not so scary) monsters: a glam rock extraterrestrial being, a heavily made up lad insane, an alien disguised as an earthling, a disfigured lodger and a sad clown with an excessive costume. T-shirts, paintings, tattoos and smartphone apps; it is at the beginning of 2016 that – paradoxically – Aladdin Sane’s “brand” is achieving a mass diffusion on every social network. The red and blue lightning bolt on the face of that magnificent white phoenix with orange hair, born again from Ziggy’s ashes, today has become the most significant symbol for David Bowie. Unfortunately, it is also abused. It is the one used (in shot alternative) in the posters for the great exhibition touring the world, which will be in Bologna soon. A simple yet brilliant symbol, painted on Bowie’s face by the makeup artist Pierre Laroche (his is the makeup on the Life On Mars? video), but captured and eternalized by Brian Duffy, simply known as Duffy. One of these shots is on the cover of this outstanding volume; the face is in three-quarter profile, making the lightning bolt even clearer.
This is not a brand new publication; indeed, it is the Italian republication of the British FIVE SESSIONS, from 2014. In this first one from the new independent record label LullaBit (in collaboration with OnoArte), the title, language and size change from the original British volume; the content is almost entirely the same. Between the many photographers who worked with the British singer, Duffy has had the unique privilege of making three different album covers for Bowie: Aladdin Sane, Lodger and Scary Monsters. Three fundamental yet very different albums, whose covers were taken from three very peculiar photo sessions (the Lodger session is undoubtedly the oddest and most sophisticated from a technological point of view).
If this is not enough, just think that the title of the first edition of this book is justified by two more photo sessions: maybe in these pages there is not all of David Bowie, but there is much of his best from the seventies. Duffy’s first job with David was to portray no less than Ziggy Stardust, and some years later he was called again, to capture Thomas Jerome Newton, the main character in the sci-fi movie The Man Who Fell To Earth. The photos from 1972 are maybe the less important of the book; the rise and fall of Ziggy have been better portrayed (with greater intensity and accuracy) by Mick Rock and Sukita. And yet, Duffy captures the essence of a moment in the short life of the alien of rock. The slightly out of focus color photos are innovative: Bowie, in his “space suit” (designed by his friend Freddie Burretti and worn some weeks earlier on Top Of The Pops) looks directly into the camera with a cocky and confident look, almost embarrassing for the onlooker. Watching him there, with that red guitar across his back, wrapped up in a halo of reflections, you think you are looking at a real alien.
There are more photos of David from The Man Who Fell To Earth, his first movie in a starring role: we can see him smoking during makeup sessions, and in many other situations both on and off stage. The most beautiful photos are those of him in the White Sands desert, dapper in his black suit and Borsalino hat, almost a test for his next alter ego: an evanescent Thin White Duke playing in the dark with his silhouette and the sand of New Mexico’s desert. It is hard to take off one’s eyes from these pages!
A sixth session has been in Duffy’s archives (forgotten or hidden, who knows) for 40 years: Mrs. Bowie posing topless; smiling, glamorous and brash. But in the new Italian edition, there is no trace of it: once again, a strange erasure toward Angie. Is it consistency, or did her former husband have a hand in it? And then, the Spiders, in slightly ridiculous portraits, if it wasn’t for Mick Ronson, the great guitarist, still missed so much, who could have given more. In a mini session from 1979, one of the most important, David is sitting on an armchair with a black terrier, maybe during a
meeting with the photographer in a studio.
This is not only an important record of Bowie’s career, but also of the work of Duffy, who died in 2010. Here, we can study his talent and greatness. The contributions written by Kevin Cann and Chris Duffy (Duffy’s son) are clear and detailed. A 1980 photo by Chris is included; the session was over, the makeup on David’s face was melting and the wonderful silver clown costume by Natasha Korniloff was already half removed. Anyway, David readily agreed to being photographed by the boy; he shot a pair of rolls with what was left: there was still magic in the air. If you are wondering why a fan of David’s music should buy this book, you will get it if you browse through its pages, either in the English or Italian edition. If you have no problems with the English language, you can settle for the former (the packaging is well-finished but more expensive). But if you lack both, then run for the nearest bookshop!
(translation: Rachele Mura)