Corinne Day was a British photographer whose influence on the style and perception of photography in the early 1990s has been immense. As a self taught photographer, Day brought a more hard edged documentary look to fashion image making, in which she often included biographical elements. Day is known for forming long and close relationships with many of her sitters (most famously Kate Moss), which have resulted in candid and intimate portraits.The most notable of these being the photographs of Moss in the 3rd Summer of Love editorial for the FACE magazine in 1990. Days approach as illustrated within the lifestyle and fashion magazines of the 1990s, came to be known as grunge and grew into an international style.
Corinne Day grew up in Ickenham with her younger brother and her grandparents. She left school aged sixteen and worked as an assistant in a local bank. After a year at the bank she became an international mail courier. It was during this period that someone suggested she try modelling – she worked consistently as a catalogue model for several years. In 1985 she met Mark Szaszy on a train in Tokyo – Szaszy was a male model and had a keen interest in film and photography.
During an extended trip to Hong Kong and Thailand, Szaszy taught Day how to use a camera and in 1987 they moved to Milan.It was in Milan that Day’s career as a fashion photographer started. Having produced photographs of Szaszy and her friends for their modelling portfolios, Day began approaching magazines for work.
She shot what she knew: kids who wore couture on the catwalk and for the camera, but who dressed in old tat, dossed in cheap rooms and “couldn’t afford to go out and do the things we would have liked to do”. Fashion employed progressively younger models from the early 1960s, and by the late 80s 16-year-olds were commonplace: the sad contrast intensified between their reality and the affluent arrogance they were paid to project. Day knew her pictures were original, and Phil Bicker, the art director of The Face, recognized that her teen strays suited his magazine, and commissioned a fashion shoot. Day went round the London agencies looking for a model who reflected her images from Milan, and found her in a snap of a scraggy-haired Croydon schoolgirl, Moss.
Their first great success, the Face cover sequence The 3rd Summer of Love, was published in July 1990, with Moss, barely 16, in bits of quality ready-to-wear and Portobello market finds – and, in the two most famed images, nothing but headgear, despite the chill of Camber Sands, in East Sussex, where the shoot took place. Moss’s half-combative, half-pathetic attitudes are suffused with laughter. Moss’s agency, though, disliked Day’s refusal to retouch the pictures. As a model, she explained, she had hated being made “into someone I wasn’t. I wanted to go in the opposite direction.” (She was protective enough of Moss to share a flat with her for three years.)
With the stylist Melanie Ward, Day took the aesthetic further, wrapping shaggy, sometimes druggy, youngsters dragged off the street in mismatched vintage clothes: this became the “waif look”, the visual equivalent of Seattle’s grunge music. Day shot Moss almost unadorned for a Vogue cover in 1993, did collections for the magazine and supermodel sittings – at first this was an ambition achieved, but she later said: “They’re stale, just about sex and glamour, when there are other elements of beauty.” However, she felt no thrill, not even a rebel’s excitement at the outraged response to her heroin chic Underexposed Vogue sequence, with Moss in saggy tights, looking as if she were in rehab. By then, many of Day’s London friends really were in rehab, or should have been.
In 1991, she had taken up with a group based around a heavy rock band, Pusherman. They were into cannabis, ketamine and heroin (although Day did not always join them; drugs clouded the camera vision she valued – she was “a photography junkie” ); they were badly off in that recessionary era.
For almost a decade, Day, influenc- ed by the documentary art of Nan Goldin, photographed their messy lives, particularly that of Tara St Hill, an impoverished, sick, single mother, shown in sex and pregnancy, in tears and tinsel, and at parties, or wasted in her Stoke Newington squat: “What I found interesting was to capture people’s most intimate moments. And sometimes intimacy is sad.”Day was included in the imagery – “the camera becomes a part of your life”.
When she collapsed in New York in 1996, she told Szaszy, who had called the medics, not to forget her camera as he joined her in the ambulance to Bellevue hospital. His hands shook as he took the shots she requested – of her in a bed just after being told she had a brain tumour, in a lift on the way to the operating theatre for its removal – yet she felt having those moments pictured gave her control. A hundred of these images were collected in Diary, published in 2001 and much admired for its hard, but never cruel, candour. She and Szaszy left drugs behind, and she made a pact with fashion and its finance, mellowing her visuals, even working with Moss again for Vogue.
Later she accepted a National Portrait Gallery commission for a sequence of nine close-ups of Moss. Just as on Camber Sands, they chatted, so that Day could capture Moss’s animation. Day’s photographs, fashion and not, were exhibited at the Victoria & Albert, Science and Design museums, Tate Modern, the Saatchi Gallery, and the Photographers’ Gallery, and Szaszy spent a devoted decade making a documentary of her at work, which was shown on BBC Four in 2004.
Her tumor returned.. To pay for specialized chemotherapy in a clinic in Arizona, her friends raised more than £100,000 through a Save the Day campaign, by selling limited-edition photographic prints, including a set featuring Moss, some signed by the model. Day completed the treatment last year, but it did not arrest the disease.She is survived by Szaszy.• Corinne Day, photographer, born 19 February 1962; died 27 August 2010
If you touch one thing with deep awareness, you touch everything.
-Thich Nhat Hanh
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