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Justin's Birds of Barnes

Part 1: Becoming a photographer

You are clearly someone in whose life one thing has led to another, so how did you become a photographer?

I started photography out of necessity. It wasn’t that I wanted to be a photographer, but when was I was managing Twiggy we found the best pictures were taken in New York by Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Bert Stern and Mel Sokolsky. When we came back to England I wasn’t enamoured with the English photographers; they really were like the musicians of the 50s doing replica records of cover hits of the American artists (obviously that all changed with The Beatles, but that’s a different story). There were exceptions of course, like David Bailey and Terence Donovan, but it was easier for me to have a studio built in Charlotte Mews and start doing it myself.

A lot of people don’t realise that, at the time, we had nine factories making Twiggy dresses. The scale of this meant that we just didn’t want to do ordinary photographs, so Richard Avedon and Chris Killip - who became my assistant and whom is now a great photographer in his own right - planned a studio for me. It had a 28 foot backdrop wall, which I needed because when I photographed models - taking my cue from Avedon - I would lie on the floor and shoot upwards to make them look taller. So I became a photographer virtually overnight, but it was out of necessity.

Did that lead to a lot of resentment?

I don’t think the other photographers treated me as one of them. But then I couldn’t have cared less, because I didn’t take myself seriously either. However with all my pictures I’ve retained copyright because I’d call people and say "look, I’ve done a picture....." It was never a case of them commissioning me. It’s quite a surprise and a great pleasure that 30 years later my archive is now with Hulton Getty Library and people are suddenly admiring and licensing my work.

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