Terry O’Neill is one of the twentieth-century's most accomplished and collected photographers, whose work hangs in national galleries and private collections worldwide. Since picking up a camera in 1958, he has produced covers for Time, Newsweek, Vanity Fair and many other renowned publications, photographing presidents, royalty and some of Hollywood’s most iconic stars.
O’Neill’s camera has chronicled the frontline of fame, in particular the emerging rock stars and actors of the 60s. He photographed the Beatles and the Rolling Stones when they were still struggling to get a recording contract, and snapped Oscar-winner Faye Dunaway by a Beverly Hills poolside in what has been described as the most iconic Hollywood shot of all time. With 35mm film in hand, he brought a whole new candid photography that hadn’t been seen before, and is unlikely to be seen again.
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Born 30th July 1938, Terrence ‘Terry’ O’Neill is an English photographer who first gained renown capturing candid shots of eminent figures in the 1960s.
Growing up in London’s East End, O'Neill dreamt of becoming a professional jazz musician and, by age 20, sought to pursue that goal with a job as a flight attendant. Between long haul flights to New York, he planned to use rest days to establish himself as international jazz drummer in America.
But stardom was not come for O’Neill in the form of music. Told there were no openings for stewards, he was directed instead toward the photography department. Initially, his job in the photographic unit was seen as an eventual route into flight attending, but within a year O’Neill had secured a job as the youngest photographer at The Daily Sketch where he worked from 1960 to 1963.
His very first job in his new role was to photograph an at the time little-known band called the Beatles. Following that, O’Neill was given free reins by his employers to photograph some of his favourite bands, including the Rolling Stones. O’Neill’s early pictures of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones became some of the first pop-music photography to be published in newspapers.
Aged just 24, O’Neill travelled to Hollywood and went on to freelance for Vogue, Paris Match and Rolling Stone. In the decades that followed, he became one of the world's most published photographers both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to photographing the decade's showbiz elite such as Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra and Twiggy, he also photographed members of the British Royal Family and prominent politicians, showing a more natural and human side to these subjects than had been portrayed before.
Most celebrated are his photographs of a sullen Brigitte Bardot smoking in the wind, and of Faye Dunaway—his girlfriend at the time and former wife—the morning after she won her Best Actress Oscar for the film Network. Lounging by the Beverly Hills Hotel swimming pool at dawn, the image depicts Dunaway in a night robe with several newspapers scattered around her, her Oscar statuette prominently shown on a table beside her breakfast tray.
The series was photographed in both colour and black & white. One image from the series hangs in the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London, and is widely regarded as the most iconic Hollywood shot of all time.
In September 2016, Ransom Art Gallery exhibited O'Neill's extensive archive of David Bowie photography to coincide with the publication of the book 'Bowie By O'Neill'. The exhibition then moved to Mouche Gallery in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles from 29th October until 9th November 2016.
“In a way, photographers like myself, David Bailey, Terence Donovan and Brian Duffy created the Sixties. It wasn’t just who we were shooting, but the way we shot them. You can’t take candid shots of today’s celebrities because they are brands and their management demand control of the images. It means the public only gets to see what the stars want them to see—or what the paparazzi can snatch… honesty, immediacy and intimacy has been extinguished and any reality is distorted through the lens of stalker photographers.”
— Terry O'Neill
Now in his late 70s, O’Neill continues to work, having notably completed a week long assignment photographing Nelson Mandela for an intimate portrait of the statesman shortly before his death. He remains the photographer of choice for many household names today, such as Simon Cowell and Gordon Ramsay. In 2011 he was awarded The Royal Photographic Society's Centenary medal in recognition of a sustained, significant contribution to the art of photography.