Sunday 20 August 2017

The snapper who made Kate Moss an icon

Twenty years ago, the British photographer Corinne Day, who has died of a brain tumour at the age of 48, walked into Storm model agency and laid eyes on a 16-year-old Kate Moss. "I looked at her," she later recalled, "and thought, 'She's like me'. She was cheeky, and I really liked that. That's how it all began. We helped each other out."

Born in 1965, Day was an accidental and self-trained photographer, an international model with no formal training, but a faultless instinct which she followed until the day she died. Bored out of her mind, waiting for shots to be set up, Day picked up a camera and started to snap the scenes around her.

When she was asked by style bible The Face to come up with some fashion shots, she trawled through the look books of the London hopefuls and came across Kate from Croydon. It was a natural pairing, one that was to prove unbelievably fruitful for both.

What began was more far-reaching than either of them could have foreseen. Kate Moss was chalk to the Eighties' cheese in fashion model terms. Her peculiar blend of gangly, gap-toothed elegance lent her a vulnerability that appealed to a generation tired of high-octane gloss.

Day took Moss to Camber Sands, East Sussex, and photographed her running around the beach wearing nothing but a feathered headdress and a pair of Birkenstocks. Moss is breathless, laughing, and iced with perspiration. The photographs, published in The Face, captured the zeitgeist with such acuity that they changed everything.

"Fashion photography had always been about fantasy," Day said. "I wanted to take it in the opposite direction ... The best thing I did for fashion was bringing it down to earth, bringing a documentary quality to it. I wanted to put in that feeling of youth culture. After my pictures came out, the sale of Birkenstock sandals skyrocketed!"

Day had unwittingly opened the door on a new aesthetic that had been simmering at lower levels. Encouraged by the healthy response to the Camber Sands story, she began photographing unscrubbed models in bleak surroundings.

Her images tuned into a grey, post-Thatcherite Britain and ushered in a new type of beauty that was dubbed "dirty realism". In discarding the iconically handsome, goddess body, she had turned her back on 60 years of fashion photography.

Her wan, pallid subjects looked starving and mildly under the influence. The images came to stand for the Nineties as much as the film Trainspotting, and were similarly charged with promoting "heroin chic".

Her career as fashion photographer ended much as it had begun -- with her by now close friend Moss. Commissioned to photograph an underwear feature for Vogue, she took her to a grubby flat and immortalised her in sagging knickers against a backdrop of sloppily strung fairy lights. The pictures, published several months later, prompted a tidal wave of vitriol.

The then editor of Cosmopolitan, Marcelle D'Argy Smith, branded them "hideous and tragic. I believe they can only appeal to the paedophile market". Day's three-year run "poking fun at fashion" was over.

"Half-way through the shoot," she said, "I realised that it wasn't fun for (Kate) any more, and that she was no longer my best friend but had become a 'model'. She hadn't realised how beautiful she was, and when she did, I found I didn't think her beautiful any more."

But Day's work fired the imagination of a whole generation of photographers. Juergen Teller, Craig McDean, David Sims and Glen Luchford are just some who took her underground look and fed it to the fashion monthlies. Later Day vanished into documentary and autobiographical photography, but her work ignited a revolution in our ideas of what was beautiful and desirable.

"It is all about freedom, really," Day said "and being proud of the holes in your jumper."

After her diagnosis of a brain tumour in 1996, Day turned the camera on herself. Even in periods of prolonged, intense pain and incredible distress she asked for her surgery journey to be recorded.

In 2000 she staged an exhibition at the Photographer's Gallery, simply entitled Diary. It records the dramatic events of the night in 1996 when Day collapsed in her New York apartment and was rushed to hospital. There, she underwent an emergency operation for a brain tumour.

Even then, she couldn't abandon her profession, insisting that her boyfriend Mark Szaszy photograph her.

She appears dazed, helpless, disoriented. "To me, photography is about showing us things we don't normally see," she said later, "Getting as close as you can to real life."

After her initial illness, Day abandoned her raw, edgy style for something more traditional and she did fashion shoots for Vogue among others. Her older photographs were exhibited in the Victoria & Albert Museum, Tate Modern and the Saatchi Gallery.

Day's tumour returned in 2008 and she died on August 27, at home.

Irish Independent

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