“I thought I’d photographed everyone, all the great names that populated our lives and our post-war history. There was no-one left I wanted to photograph – and then I met Mandela and it took me back, all the way back, to that street in 1962 when Winston gave me a wave.”
It is surprising that it took 50 years before O’Neill himself realised the extent of his legacy when it was obvious to all who had followed his career. Photographers always looked to the next assignment, the next shoot, tomorrow paid the rent, tomorrow’s subject was how you were judged, yesterday’s photographs were quickly consigned to filing cabinets and cardboard boxes in dusty cellars.
Hardly a box or a file could be opened without revealing the intriguing, the compelling, the mesmerising. O’Neil l’s photographs told stories, historical insights into a cultural heritage long forgotten, or mislaid.
How did he do it? How did O’Neill conjure an uncharacteristic guffaw from HM The Queen, or persuade Margaret Thatcher to soften her image and delicately hold a flower under her chin, or persuade the controlling and difficult Frank Sinatra to allow him to photograph him in private and in public without EVER ordering him to put his camera away? Why would he, or Elton John or David Bowie or countless others feel so comfortable working with O’Neill that his archive can cover decades of their lives and careers?
The secret to O’Neill’s access was simple – it wasn’t just modesty and charm that unlocked doors, but a deliberate policy of making himself invisible once inside; he was a ghost in their presence when so many others invaded the limelight of stars. He was THERE. In the right place at the right time, camera loaded, as he says himself, taking pictures in his head that the camera translated – pictures that were honest, intimate, insightful, historic.
And even now, 10 years after the first ground was broken, digging into those boxes, a rich seam of images still remains to be mined, a vein of silver gelatin so deep it just keeps on throwing up nuggets.
At book signings and in gallery openings, O’Neill will sign or say simply “Enjoy.”
There’s nothing more to say.
Purchase “Terry O’Neill Rare and Unseen” here.
Truncated foreword by Robin Morgan, co-founder and CEO of iconic images.
Original press print, 1972.
On the set of the film “Star!” in the South of France, 1968.
For a series called ‘Great British Actresses’ for the Sunday Times Magazine, 2005.
At a children’s home for the blind in London, 1970.
Sammy Davis Jr.
At a London hotel bar while in town for a concert at the Pigalle Club, mid 1960s.
On the set of the film “Lady L” in 1965.
After party at Wembley Stadium, 1975
Front row: Billie Jean King, Elton John, Martina Navratilova
Back row: Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney, Dean ‘Dino’ Martin, Jr., Harry Nilsson
On the set of the film “Woman Times Seven” in Paris, 1967.
“I have known Terry O’Neill for over 50 years. We were both part of that post-war, working-class generation that, after our National Service, placed us at the forefront of the cultural revolution in the ’60s and put Britain centre stage in the world. Terry is I believe a ‘historian’ whose camera captured the resurgence and energy of this revolution. Whilst his contemporaries worked in studios with assistants, Terry took to the streets to record the people, places and events that educate and illustrate our knowledge, today. I can think of no other photographer who has contributed so much to our heritage.”
On the set of “The Magic Christian” 1969.
“Terry’s photographs have a language all of their own. It’s a conversation between lens and subject without the use of words. I’m glad to be counted as a subject of O’Neill’s focus.”
Pictured on her then-husband Peter Sellers’ yacht, circa 1964.
On the set of the film “The Boston Strangler” 1968.
“When it comes to photographic legends there can be few more prolific or revered than Terry O’Neill, the man who shot the greats.”
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