World-renowned photographer to icons of the modern world, Terry O’Neill will be celebrating his sixth decade behind the camera with a retrospective on fame and image, called “Starstruck.” In celebration of his 81st birthday, O’Neill will be exhibiting a collection of 20 iconic images spanning his 60-year career.
Unrivalled in artistic skill, O’Neill has made a significant contribution to the Western art scene, capturing the world’s most loved, most celebrated, most notorious and most sorely mourned celebrities over the past six decades, capturing everyone from Royalty to rock stars. He has immortalised these venerated individuals, from David Bowie and Elton John to Amy Winehouse, Frank Sinatra and Elvis, the Queen to Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela to Tony Blair, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and every James Bond, from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig. His iconic portraits hang in museum collections and grace album covers. Such is the uniqueness of his skill that in 2011, he was honoured with The Royal Photographic Society’s Centenary Medal in recognition of a sustained and significant contribution to the art of photography.
“Starstruck” will launch a brand new photograph from O’Neill’s vast archive of famous faces that has never been seen before – a portrait of Frank Sinatra, titled: Frank Sinatra, Miami Beach, 1968 (colour). Historically, O’Neill has cited Sinatra as the perfect sitter, and his relationship with the star has afforded him an encapsulating origin story:
“He was truly a great man. He was a one-off; a great musician. He allowed me to go wherever I wanted – backstage, on-stage, on-set to get the perfect shot,” O’Neill says. “The first shot I got…[Sinatra] came right up to me, because I was snapping away, and I nervously handed [him] a letter. I was friendly with Ava Gardner…I told her, ‘listen, I’m going to be working with your ex.’ And she went and wrote a letter and sealed it, and told me to give it to Frank. So I did. He opened that letter, read it, looked at me and smiled. He said, ‘Boys, he’s okay; he’s with us now.’ And that was the start.”
The name of the exhibition itself is juxtaposing, as O’Neill claims to have never experienced the lepidopteran, tongue-twisting, giggling awe of what it is to be starstruck. Instead, “Starstruck” denotes the provoked response in O’Neill’s viewers, who are able to – through his unique photographic perspective – get up close and personal with the stars of their time.
O’Neill demonstrates a sense of unflappable detachment in the company of the biggest names in show business, allowing him to achieve a level of intimacy with his ephemeral artistic subjects. O’Neill’s trustworthy magnetism saw the celebrities he spent so much time with seek his friendship, resulting in photographs that express the true personalities of these greats.
O’Neill learned from a young age that his role was to blend into the background and capture the essences of the famous, the wealthy and the beautiful. A professional photojournalist to the stars, O’Neill remains a background commentator, a Nick Carraway to the Jay Gatsbys of the stage and screen. Of this position within the lavish lifestyles of filmstars to rockstars, O’Neill says, “I worked with Sinatra for decades, and during this time he taught me the most valuable lesson – stay out of the way. He taught me that a top photographer should be ever-present, but never caught up in the lifestyle of their subjects.”
Even in this exhibition, O’Neill remains hidden. While the photographs showcase the icons of modern history, the name of the show comments on the condition of the audience. O’Neill remains obscured behind the flash of the camera, documenting the lives of the admired and their continued reception in the public domain.
“Starstruck” will be held at Box Galleries, 402 King’s Road, Chelsea, London SW10 0LJ, from 7th – 31st March. Admission is free. For further information, visit www.boxgalleries.com.