Unpublished Early Works of the Iconic Fashion Photographer Who Discovered Kate Moss
Shots of a young Kate Moss, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and travels through Borneo commemorate the poignant life and work of late photographer Corinne Day, being honored in a retrospective at Gimpel Fils gallery in September and an accompanying monograph Heaven is Real from Morel Books. The former model began shooting for The Face in the early 90s and it was her iconic pictures of a fresh-faced, unknown 14-year-old schoolgirl that launched her muse into superstardom—Day was the first photographer to shoot Moss as a Vogue cover girl. Often vilified by the tabloid culture of the time, Day's documentary approach and candid attempts at capturing innocence and the sometimes ugly realities of her world transformed fashion photography forever and opened the floodgates for subsequent generations of camera-wielding provocateurs. We invited leading curator Charlotte Cotton and celebrated art director Phil Bicker, who first commissioned Day to shoot for The Face, to discuss her formidable legacy.
Phil Bicker: Everybody thinks Corinne's work is very simplistic—that it just documents things that happen and that she was great at capturing the moment, but the reality is that everything is orchestrated, repeated, constructed. There’s a lot of contradiction about Corinne and her work, and the one thing that did her the greatest disservice was that she tried to claim them as moments. She could have been seen more as an artist rather than a fashion photographer.
Charlotte Cotton: I like the fact she never produced a particularly clichéd feminine version of photography. Her work has got deep emotional intelligence and sophistication, but it’s not a particularly responsible or maternal camera.
PB: It was about being ‘real’ and not having to push and promote brands for advertisers—being able to take pictures that were primarily about the people in them. She became associated with the term "heroin chic" but that was something made up by the tabloids. Everyone thinks of Corinne as an urban photographer, but she was a suburban photographer. It was much more about innocence than drugs. When you look at her pictures of Kate, there’s a sense of naivety.
CC: Corinne found her alter ego in Kate, is that right?
PB: Basically, Kate was Corinne—she was the perfect muse. Corinne had been a model and she saw herself in Kate. She worked with Kate to realize things she hadn't realized about herself, and molded Kate into something that was actually a reflection of her. In those early days with Kate, the pictures were almost like the days of innocence—in a way it became a lot more contrived later on. The early pictures are the best.
CC: One of the things that comes out of the book and the show next month is the sense that her signature, in an abstract sense, was there from the beginning. Even if she was asking a model to simulate something, it was about simulating something real.