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David Bowie - Brian Duffy - Holden Luntz Gallery

75 years ago, a legend of Rock & Roll and a true ‘influencer' (before the word was coined) was born.

BRIAN DUFFY (only ever known as Duffy) was already at the peak of his career when he met David Bowie and ultimately they went on to shoot five sessions together including three album covers between 1972 and 1980 — often referred to as Bowie's “Golden Years.”

Duffy & Bowie

Occasionally 2 artists, working in different mediums, come together synergistically in a creative way. This was the case between the great British photographer, Brian Duffy, and the groundbreaking musician, David Bowie. The most famous of David Bowie’s album covers was “Aladdin Sane” from 1973. Duffy went on to shoot the cover of Lodger in 1979 and Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) in 1980.

The Beginning

Duffy was born in 1933 and studied at the prestigious St.Martins School of Art in London and began his career in 1955 as a trainee dress designer and moved on to work as a freelance fashion illustrator for many magazines. However, it was when he was working for Harper's Bazaar that he first became intrigued with photography and subsequently sought a trainee position assisting Adrian Flowers.

In 1959 he began freelance shooting for British Vogue. Duffy along with David Bailey and Terence Donovan were the three key creative forces in photography that defined the “Swinging Sixties” with its emphasis on youth, spontaneous energy, and liberating ideas. Duffy’s bold, unpredictable, creative style and dynamic personality were much in demand creating fashion and celebrity images. He shot two Pirelli calendars. His photographic career abruptly ended in1980 when he shut his studio and burned a large number of his negatives, he then moved into film-making and was a skilled craftsman and lecturer in antique furniture restoration. Duffy died in 2010.

Aladdin Sane

Bowie’s dramatic visual appearance and chameleon-like evolution were key to what propelled him forward. “Aladdin Sane” was the second album in his Ziggy Stardust persona which he dramatically killed off onstage at the end of the 1973 Aladdin Sane tour at the Hammersmith Odeon in London 1973. The songs for the album were written mostly on his American tour where he was exposed to the frenetic energy, sex, drugs, and cultural upheaval of the U.S. in the late ’60s and early ’70s. The album title “Aladdin Sane” evolved from the phrase “A lad Insane” which Duffy misheard and Bowie preferred. The red and blue lightning bolt that split his face was drawn on Bowie's face by Duffy and completed by Pierre Laroche the make-up artist. This was the only time that Bowie had his face painted with a lightning bolt but became a symbol that is instantly recognizable as Bowie. The teardrop that was airbrushed on Bowie’s collarbone was Duffy’s idea and executed by Philip Castle who had worked with Duffy on the 1973 Pirelli Calendar.

The cover image of “Aladdin Sane” has become the defining visual presence for Bowie. Bowie understood the power to brand his visual image and Duffy’s image was blown up into a backdrop for his live performances. The Duffy Archive was honoured to have the Aladdin Sane image used to spearhead the David Bowie exhibition that launched in March of 2013 at the Victoria & Albert Museum and toured worldwide with over 2 million visitors.

The cover image of “Aladdin Sane” became the defining visual presence for Bowie. Bowie understood its power to brand his visual image. It was blown up into a backdrop for his live performances. This was the only time that Bowie had his face painted with a lightning bolt and became the signature image of the David Bowie exhibition that originated in March of 2013 at the V & A Museum.

“The Mona Lisa of Album Covers”

The Aladdin Sane image transforms Bowie into a larger-than-life personality and reflects on the ever-evolving music that he wrote and performed. The cover was seen as a daring departure from the typical music portrait and at the time confused some with its daring boldness. Duffy was always one to disregard conventions. For the period it was the most expensive album cover ever produced which forced the record company RCA to heavily promote Bowie to get a return on their investment, a clever strategy by Bowie’s manager Tony Defries. Mick McCann of the Guardian newspaper called the cover, “The Mona Lisa of Album Covers.” and this cover is considered a cultural icon. The British Royal Mail Service issued a stamp of the Aladdin Sane album cover in 2017 and sent 52 first day covers of the stamp tied to hot air balloons into space. “Aladdin Sane” is one of the prime examples of the height a photographic image can attain when 2 creative giants team together to create an image that both transcends its time and its purpose.

Aladdin Sane prints are held in the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) Album Cover 1980

Bowie’s career was defined not only by his music but by the visual personas he invented, and while clowns are usually depicted to be humorous or even scary, “to be the most beautiful clown” was Bowie’s ultimate intention. Duffy captured that vision magically and together they “opened strange doors that we’d never close again.”

Duffy’s Legacy

Duffy’s legacy is continued by his son and former assistant, Chris who has sensitively reinterpreted some of his father’s iconic photographs. The Scary Monsters shoot was taken in Chris’s studio and Chris took the publicity shots for the album. Duffy’s 20 years of documenting British culture and fashion had the British Journal of Photography recognize him as one of the top 100 most influential photographers of all time. His portraits of David Bowie will remain some of the most iconic images in photographic music history. Much like music, photography provides portals that inform, transform, and communicate ideas, which is why the two mediums collide so harmoniously.


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