The Guardian MAY 8, 2013 - by Mick McCann


Self-confessed Bowie freak Mick McCann casts his eye over the previously unreleased and behind-the-scenes Aladdin Sane and Lodger images from the late fashion photographer Brian Duffy.

Truth be told, outside friends and family, David Bowie has been the most important person in my life. I'd put forward a case for him being one of the most important artists of the twentieth century but then I'm a Bowie freak, so I would. And skipping along to the White Cloth Gallery for an exhibition of Brian Duffy's Bowie photographs, I was as giddy as a penguin in a water park.

Duffy, who died in 2010, is known for his fashion and advertising photography of the '50s, '60s and '70s and his work with David Bowie on the albums Aladdin Sane, Lodger and Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps). Along with David Bailey and Terence Donovan, Duffy was part of the 'Terrible Trio' seen as defining and capturing the London of the 'Swinging Sixties', moving models from studios and elevating successful photographers to celebrity status.

So let's look at these photos chronologically. There's a series of twelve, back-lit, slow exposure Ziggy Stardust pics, - stunning but almost standard fare for that well-chronicled period, although the big prints throughout the exhibition add a new depth to everything.

The main event has to be the Aladdin Sane photos. 'The Mona Lisa of album covers' is obviously a subjective statement, but Aladdin Sane is certainly one of the great, iconic covers. When I first saw the eyes open version it was so shocking that I imagined it'd been Photoshopped, which it clearly hadn't.

The negative version of the cover is the pearl of the exhibition; its black and white translucence could be seen as more in keeping with the album Ziggy Goes To America, written during his 1972 US tour. The lightning bolt on the front cover is said to represent schizophrenia or a duality of the mind. Bowie saw America as both dangerous and exciting and has also said that "the lad insane" was inspired by his older halfbrother who had been diagnosed as schizophrenic.

The Aladdin Sane contact sheet takes the breath away. I'd ridiculously imagined there was only one pic and if there were a series they'd all be eyes shut. All the others with eyes open and at different head angles almost manage to de-mystify this classic cover.

Three pictures of The Spiders simply emphasise how photogenic Bowie was. It's good to see Mick Ronson and, twenty years after his death, it brought to mind how musically crucial to early 1970s Bowie (and related projects) Ronno was; his solo albumSlaughter On 10th Avenue is a masterpiece of that Ronno/Bowie period.

The four Thin White Duke photos (1976) are stunning and stand out as the only nonestudio based images and capture David at his coolest. Of the two 'behind the scenes' Lodger pictures, the dressing room one stood out as unusual - Bowie as a normal bloke - as did the single Man Who Fell To Earth image... almost. The Lodger cover was blurred Polaroid and possibly the most startling image of the whole exhibition is the clear Kodachrome version showing the shockingly distorted face, broken nose and all.

The other most heavily featured album is Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), which saw Bowie usher in the New Romantics and return to full, theatrical make-up for the first time since Aladdin Sane. The series of six pictures, in preparation for the shoot, are lovely insights into how much skill and patience went into the final images. There's a never-before-seen contact sheet from the album shoot which reminded me of a black and white, unscribbled-on version of the four sets of stamps given away inside the single Ashes To Ashes.

One of Bowie's gifts was carefully selecting who he worked with - that Bowie asked Duffy speaks volumes for him as a photographer and artist. It's quite a coup for a relatively small Leeds gallery to get some previously unseen pictures of Mr Bowie. The current exhibition at the V&A is a sell-out, with pre-ordered ticket sales more than double any other exhibition the museum has curated.

White Cloth Gallery is a two minute walk from Leeds train station - one minute if you skip. I'd make that trip and witness a stunning slice of rock'n'roll history. The exhibition runs until July 15.