Renowned photographer Terry O’Neill honed his craft by studying trade magazines and candidly capturing subjects at the Heathrow Airport. He’s since gone on to photograph everyone from presidents to pop stars in his signature style—most often in black and white. For over six decades O’Neill authentically captured the personalities of Elvis Presley, Bridgette Bardot, David Bowie and hundreds more.
On the occasion of Art Basel Miami Beach, O’Neill will present a retrospective of this work, spanning over 50 years. To learn more about the exhibition taking place at the Delano South Beach, we spoke to Robin Morgan, founder of Iconic Images, who curated the exhibition. Be sure to come by through Saturday, December 3rd to see the work in person.
Can you tell us a little bit about Terry O’Neill and the history behind these Iconic Images?
Terry O’Neill documented tectonic moments in our cultural landscape. He discovered The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Elton John and many others, chronicling their rise to fame in the 60s. He worked with everyone from Elvis to Sinatra, Audrey Hepburn to Elizabeth Taylor, David Bowie to Amy Winehouse.
His art hangs in national museums all over the world. O’Neill’s work is unique because every picture tells an intriguing and complex story about fame and the people we elevate to stardom. As O’Neill says, “I approached every subject as if they were just an ordinary guy or girl like me and looked to capture the real people behind the public facade.”
What makes his work so unique?
He developed a reportage style that captured his subjects backstage and on stage: up close and personal. Nobody enjoyed such intimate access with rock stars and film stars. He even married one: Faye Dunaway. He employed a ghost-like presence, always staying in the shadows which enabled him to capture his subjects with honesty.
O’Neill summed it up best himself: ”Most became good friends – we would party together. I’d go to fights with Frank (Sinatra) for instance, but I always had my camera, and he never asked me to put it away through 30 years working together. I would hang out with John, Paul, Ringo and Mick and Keith of The Stones at a club in London in the 60s and we’d laugh about how long this fame thing would last. We’d laugh at the thought of Mick still gyrating at 30?! He reckoned he’d be working in a bank by then. Ringo planned to open a hairdressing salon. None of us expected the 60s to last more than a couple of years before we had to get proper jobs.”
Do you have a favorite piece?
My favorite is the showstopper in the exhibition. Terry was walking up the Miami Boardwalk in 1967 hoping to find Frank Sinatra who was filming “The Lady in Cement,” at The Shore Club. He recalled the experience: “I had a letter in my pocket for him written by the love of his life, Ava Gardner. She lived in London and was a friend of mine. She wrote me the introduction. As I walked up the Boardwalk wondering how I could get to Frank, he suddenly appeared around the corner with his entourage walking to the set. I got off a few shots and called out to him, ‘Mr. Sinatra, I have a letter to you from Ava.’ He opened it, read it, stuffed it in his pocket and said to his security ‘this kid’s with me.’ I worked with him for over 30 years after that. I could go anywhere with him, in private in public and backstage.”