Terry O'Neill: Celebrity

Photograph of Elton John in a baseball outfit playing a piano in a packed stadium

Elton John, 1975

21 May - 11 September 2005

Terry O’ Neill: Celebrity brings together 43 sensational photographs of the most famous faces from the past four decades.

This striking exhibition, curated by the National Portrait Gallery, London, demonstrates why O’Neill’s name has become synonymous with the celebrity shot. His pictures have everything that such an accolade demands - celebrities of unrivalled calibre, in close proximity and in abundance.

From the classic cool of London’s swinging sixties to the glitz of Hollywood’s A-list, the photographs chronicle the changing styles and fortunes of the biggest and brightest stars.

Black and white photograph of the four members of The Beatles with their instruments beside a brick wall

The Beatles, 1963

O’Neill’s long and varied career began in London where he took candid shots of the rich and famous as they passed through Heathrow airport. Alongside other young photographers of the time such as David Bailey, he contributed to London’s status as a centre of fashion and culture, catching young talents such as the Beatles and Rolling Stones on the road to superstardom.

Black and white photographs taken in this period include a stunning joint portrait of Terence Stamp and Jean Shrimpton which typifies the essence of sixties’ cool.

Black and white photograph of Audrey Hepburn on a film set beside her chair

Audrey Hepburn, 1968

Audrey Hepburn, Brigitte Bardot and Paul Newman are pictured in the prime of their careers, with all the allure of the silver screen. In contrast, lush, full colour portraits of Hollywood legends Fred Astaire and Bette Davis reflect retrospectively on the achievements of the film industry’s most revered stars.

But it’s not all gloss and glamour. Pictures such as the one of Bob Hoskins and Michael Caine on film location in London reveal darker, grittier personas of their on-screen personas. Dudley Moore and Peter Cook - pictured in a Beverly Hills swimming pool in flat caps, coats and with that quintessentially English cup of tea - bring dry wit and irreverence to the home of the American dream. The photograph couldn’t be further from O’Neill’s vibrant, poolside shots of Hollywood’s elite where wealth and status are being quite deliberately showcased.

Black and white photographic portrait of a seated David Bowie with a large dog upright on its hindlegs beside him

David Bowie, 1975

This juxtaposition between the British perception of celebrity and Hollywood glamour is an interesting one. Personalities like David Bowie, Elton John, Rod Stewart and Tom Jones appear quirky and outlandish next to the effortlessly polished Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Faye Dunaway. Even the Queen and Prince Phillip are portrayed in a humorous light with their dorgi - a cross between a dachshund and a corgi - sat bolt upright at their feet.

By contrast those British stars that crossed the Atlantic to become the ‘royalty’ of the American screen such as Joan Collins and Elizabeth Taylor have a much greater command of the art of ‘celebrity’ - gazes fixed squarely on the lens, imploring the camera to adore them.

Black and white photgraphic portrait of Isabella Rossellini

Isabella Rosselini, 1984

Film idols like Mickey Rourke and Michelle Pfeiffer who dominated the eighties are pictured at the very peak of their success. These are names that epitomised an era but that no longer take centre stage in the media - a poignant reminder of the transient nature of celebrity.

Colour portrait of Catherine Zeta-Jones with a black jacket

Catherine Zeta-Jones, 1997

Interestingly, the exhibition also features powerful portraits of Michael Douglas in 1988 and Catherine Zeta-Jones in 1997, before they became publicly linked. They provide an intriguing example of how celebrities can prolong their status by shifting their profile through association with their peers.

One of the most engaging elements of the exhibition is a subtle undercurrent of vulnerability. Beneath the glitz and the glamour these are portraits of real people, many whose personal tragedies and stories have become public property - the price they pay for life in the public eye. Photos of people including Eric Clapton, Janis Joplin, Mia Farrow and Woody Allen all hint at the human flaws and imperfections that can either accelerate or undermine a celebrity’s status.

Every picture in 'Terry O’Neill: Celebrity' has its own story to tell. The exhibition is sure to be a hit with anyone interested in the cult of celebrity, the world of the rich and famous, or anyone who simply loves photography.


All pictures © Terry O’Neill

A National Portrait Gallery Exhibition
Supported by Deloitte, the National Portrait Gallery's Contemporary Photography Displays Partner

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