unseen portraits of david bowie before stardom

In 1967, British photographer Gerald Fearnley captured the angel-faced music icon B.Z. (before Ziggy).

by Abraham Martinez
01 August 2017, 7:45pm

Ground control to Major Tom: a new book of never-before-seen photographs of David Bowie is set to be released on August 2.

Bowie Unseen offers a rare glimpse of pre-Ziggy Stardust Bowie. Or David Jones, as he had been known until earlier that year. (The singer famously changed his last name to "Bowie" in 1967 to avoid being mistaken for David Jones, the lead singer of 60s pop-rock band The Monkees.)

The book's images were taken by photographer Gerald Fearnley, during a shoot for the album cover of Bowie's eponymous 1967 debut record. Fearnley had been introduced to Bowie by his brother Derek, a rising musician, the year before. The two would often crash at Fearnley's house in London, where they would write and rehearse.

Bowie was 20 years old at the time and is pictured wearing plain sweaters and trousers. (The colorful Kansai Yamamoto costumes would come later). But the shoot was an early chance for Bowie to explore his more experimental side (see: the hats and clown-like makeup).

Bowie was also studying mime in 1967, under legendary British performer and choreographer Lindsay Kemp. "He was an A student," Kemp told The Guardian in 2016. "He fell in love with the bohemianism of my world." That bohemianism can be seen in Fearnley's images and would go on to characterize Bowie's career. One of the portraits even foreshadows Bowie's future Pierrot the clown character, as seen in the music video for "Ashes to Ashes."

The series also includes the photo that would become the cover of David Bowie: a simple headshot of the singer in a tweed coat. The image brilliantly illuminates the singer's heterochromatic blue and green eyes, sealing Bowie's status as an international heartthrob.

While the album failed to achieve the astounding commercial success of his later works, it was a pivotal moment: it represented Bowie's first transformation, from small-town music man to boundary-pushing rock idol.

"I don't remember why I took those photos, probably because I was the only one he knew with a studio and camera," Fearnley recalls in the book. "It's great that after all this time, these would be dusted off."

'Bowie Unseen' is published by ACC Editions.


Text Abraham Martinez
Photography Gerard Fearnley

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