Fashion photography so often thrives on extravagance and spectacle. Annie Leibovitz’s Disney Dream series, for instance, was a recapitulation of fantasy so hauntingly lifelike one almost expected its subjects to waltz out of the frame and break into song. And what about that climactic scene in The September Issue when Vogue staffers sweated out their Vitamin Waters over the mysterious absence of “those Colosseum pictures” by Mario Testino?
Like those famed shutterbugs, the late Corinne Day has, too, been credited with producing some of the most legendary images in fashion history, but without any of the familiar glitz and glamour. In particular, a series that featured a giggling, freckle-faced teenager traipsing along a beach of the not-so-posh, outside-London variety. That girl was a 15-year-old Kate Moss, and it was Day who discovered and launched the wispy waif to superstardom.
Day, who passed away last August from brain cancer, enjoyed an early start in fashion. But it hadn’t always been easy. She dropped out of school at 16, working first as a bank clerk and courier before venturing into modeling, which proved lackluster. But Day met her future husband Mark Szaszy during one assignment and received her first camera from him as a gift. She then contributed—for free, no less—to the cult magazine The Face, where she selected Kate Moss from a pool of unknown models for a spread titled Summer of Love.
The 1990 shoot would mark the start of a long and scintillating career for both women, one that wasn’t without its share of controversy. A 1993 commission from US Vogue featured more images of a half-naked Kate Moss, prompting angry cries of “heroin chic” and child pornography from straight-laced moralists such as, er, Bill Clinton.
Yet, Day’s pointed, often scruffy depictions of everyday life revealed an uncharted slice of the fashion world, drawing parallels to the work of Elliott Erwitt and William Eggleston, while cementing her status as one of Britain’s most influential photographers. “Corrine was a photographer of huge talent and integrity,” said UK Vogue editor Alexandra Schulman. “Her work…was entirely original and will always be remembered.”
A commemorative exhibit of Corinne Day’s projects with The Face will be held at the Gimpfel Fils Gallery, 30 Davies Street, London, from September 1 – October 1, 2011.