The book is the work of the co-writer, Fox, responsible for Life, the bestselling autobiography of Keith Richards, using interviews with Bailey, who says he hasn’t read it. So you can hear his authentic voice, but you also cannot escape the deafening emptiness at the book’s heart, which is Bailey’s total lack of self-awareness or self-reflection, even at the age of 82. He remains narcissistic, sexist and competitive to the end. “My basic attitude to children [he now has three], and to marriage, is that it’s nothing to do with me.” Great photographer, though.
There is much that you might feel you know already in this book, but what lifts it above the familiar are the recorded segments in which we hear Bailey test his memory against some of the people he has been closest to – not only Shrimpton, but also his ex-wives, Catherine Deneuve and Marie Helvin, current wife, Catherine Dyer, and many more friends and lovers. In this way James Fox, Bailey’s ghostwriter, makes what could be an exercise in self-mythology something far more raw and surprising (in this sense, the book makes a worthy successor to Fox’s last efforts as a “ghost” for Keith Richards’s Life). At times he gives full rein to Bailey’s unreconstructed cockney persona, but eavesdropping on him in the company of old friends and old lovers, we also hear him confront and examine some more complex drivers of his priapic creativity.
He never wanted children, but she produced three eventually and brought them up with very little help from him (he changed a nappy once) on their farm on the edge of Dartmoor. Fox, in another masterstroke, assembles Catherine and the children so that Bailey can tell them yet again how marriage and children are “nothing to do with me”. He is a monster – but oh, such a compelling one.
The most illuminating parts of Look Again come when Bailey zooms in on his work. In fashion photography, it wasn’t the clothes that made an image great, he says, “it’s what comes across from the girl”. For portraits, simplicity is key – no props, just the closest of closeups. “The intensity comes from concentrating on them, nothing else … I fall in love with people when I photograph them for that 15 minutes or half-hour; they become the whole centre of the universe. On a superficial level. They get up and leave after that.”
Nevertheless, it’s his unfiltered view of the celebrities he met and photographed over 60 years that provide some of the book’s best lines. Peter Sellers? “A f***ing bore.” Yves Saint Laurent? “Stoned most of the time, on smack.” Anjelica Huston? “A great mimic.” Mother Teresa? “A tough old bitch.” Marie Helvin, his third wife? “Best body I ever saw.” Princess Diana? “No great beauty” with “terrible posture”.