David Bailey: ‘I was never that interested in children. Until they can play chess'

The photographer, aged 80, on gnome gardens, the beauty advantage and carrying his brain in his pocket

My photography is all one thing. I don’t say: “Oh, today I’ll be a reportage photographer and tomorrow I’ll be a war photographer, and next week I’ll be a fashion photographer.” Just be a photographer. Do what you do.

Gnome gardens are made by artists. I love seeing gnome gardens. I think they’re wonderful. They’ve all gone. In the 70s, you’d see gnome front gardens, which was even more exciting.

I don’t care about technique. I like anyone who has a passion. It doesn’t matter whether they’re a good draughtsman – it’s their passion I like.

I was diagnosed with dyslexia when I was about 30. Until then I was just an idiot. It hadn’t affected my confidence, because I was arrogant enough to say: “Well I might be stupid, but I can do this and you can’t.”

Kate Moss is great. Her and Jean Shrimpton – they stick out like sore thumbs. Jean was better at working a dress, whereas Kate’s just Kate. She’s the Rock of Gibraltar with a frock on.

My early memories of the East End are of flakes coming off the ceilings like snow. [Bailey was born in north Leyton in 1938; in 1940 his family moved to East Ham.] Every time the ack-ack guns went off it used to shake the house, and because the cellar was whitewashed, it would flake down. Almost like being in one of those Christmas snow domes. Except there was no Father Christmas in the cellar! I spent about two years down there.

The secret to success in my marriage with Catherine [Dyer, his fourth wife, since 1986] is honesty and humour. If you laugh at something, it makes it ridiculous.

I was never that interested in children. Until they can play chess, I’m not really that bothered. But they’re all great [Bailey has two sons, Fenton and Sascha, and a daughter, Paloma]. There’s been aggravation – everyone makes out their kids are wonderful, but they’ve been a real pain in the arse. They’ve all turned out great, though

Beauty is always an advantage. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true. If you’ve got two people coming for a job, boy or girl, and one is beautiful and the other one is not, and they both know about things you want them to know, you’re going to go for the more beautiful one. It’s sort of obvious.

I have a smartphone. It’s smarter than me. I read all those books and it was a waste of time, because now I’ve got my brain in my pocket. I never use the camera – it’s just not good enough.

I still get Cage & Aviary Birds, which I’ve had since I was eight. It’s a weekly newspaper about birds. But I never actually did birdwatching. You see it on David Attenborough, and you can see it much better on there than you would do through binoculars.

I don’t care about being remembered. And I don’t believe in an afterlife either. I don’t want to come back as a worm! My pictures will probably survive, a bit, until civilisation ends. Which is probably quite soon, the way we’re going.

I hate political correctness because it turns you into a liar. People say what they think they’re meant to say.

I remember doing national service. You would, too, if you came from the East End and suddenly found yourself in Malay and Singapore. [Bailey was in the RAF.] I didn’t even know where that was! People, when they make movies, they never show you the boredom. You sit around waiting for orders, and you can be sitting there for three or four days before anyone remembers you.

PERU by David Bailey is published by HENI Publishing at £50


Louis Wise

The GuardianTramp

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