David Bowie’s passing in January 2016 led to a natural clamour to try and make complete sense of his legacy and the thrilling, unexpected switches and changes of direction that characterised his life and career.
A new book of previously-unpublished photographs by Gerald Fearnley from the sessions for the artwork for Bowie’s 1967 commercially disappointing debut album offers fresh insight into the earliest, faltering stages of Bowie’s career, which has received the least attention when compared to the Ziggy Stardust and Thin White Duke periods.
The shots capture the fame-hungry Bowie in a light-hearted mood during a period where his manager, Ken Pitt, was keen to position the artist – then in thrall variously to the theatrical work of Anthony Newley and the Englishness of The Kinks – as an all-round entertainer with universal appeal.
Just as the record would, with the benefit of hindsight, provide coded, if crude clues to Bowie’s future songwriting prowess, the photos Fearnley took also highlight that, even at the very beginning, Bowie saw himself as a blank canvass upon which any number of personas could be painted.
Bowie Unseen is out now, published by ACC Editions.
Words: Mat Smith