To the Soho Hotel last night, for a preview screening of a four-part Sky Arts documentary on the life and work of celebrity snapper Richard Young, a 'documentationist' of our time, according to David Bailey
To the Soho Hotel last night, for a preview screening of Celebrity Exposed, a four-part Sky Arts documentary on the life and work of celebrity snapper Richard Young, a 'documentationist' of our time, according to David Bailey.
The programme, which follows Young's rise from Stoke Newington to the Vanity Fair Oscars party, via late nights at the Dorchester, front of stage at rock concerts and a Romanian orphanage with Michael Jackson's freakshow (pictured below), makes a good case for Young as foremost historian of the age of celebrity. Decline and Drunken Fall you might call it.
Despite many celebrity friends in attendance – Heather Kerzner, Stephen Berkoff, Kelly Hoppen – and on screen – Elton, Kate, you know, the usual crowd – the evening felt a lot more like an intimate family affair, as the audience cheered at baby photos of Young and hollered at pictures from his particularly beardy years. Had Richard not confessed to being in his mid-sixties, you could have mistaken it for a bar mitzvah party.
Richard himself seemed to be taking to the role of watched rather than watcher rather well. When Hedgehog asked him how it felt to be the centre of attention for once, instead of its sharp observer, he said that he could see the pleasure in it.
Susan Young, Richard's wife and the manager of the Richard Young Gallery in Kensington, told Hedgehog that it had been an epic task to choose 600 stills from the 'millions' of Richard's career, especially the low-resolution ones from the early digital years. Susan also described the piles of invitations Richard receives daily, but added that he still goes into a tremendous sulk if he finds out he's NFI.
Michael Jackson with Romanian orphans, shot by Richard Young
The programme started with his Paul Getty Jr pictures, a significant scoop, but nothing compared to the global reach of his Burton-Taylor photos, taken at his 50th birthday party. Through glamorous candid shots in private parties and at nightclubs to personal invitations to cover stars to PR stunts, paparazzi and insta-fame, the documentary explored with reasonably clear vision how celebrities and photographers have created one another.
This is not new, of course, but first-hand stories of doorstepping Richard Burton and a long-term association with Princess Diana make this account significant, inasmuch as this is a significant subject. (It's getting less so with every new issue of OK! and its ilk.)
Tensions are brought out through talking heads' contradictory remarks: celebrities are Richard's friends but he thinks they would drop him in an instant; Richard captures your true self but always makes you look glamorous; he gets candid shots but will never take an unflattering picture; he's independent but always co-operates; he's 'the zen master of gatecrashing' but never goes where he's not wanted. (Peter York, who conducted an interview with Richard after the screening, was a lone consistent voice.)
Plainly not all of these things can be true and trying to find a clear theoretical line through his career is impossible, especially since a changing media landscape and the demands of access can require collaboration with subjects. Whatever the theory, Young has never been without a flash of inspiration.
Pictured left: Kelly Hoppen, Yasmin Mills, Heather Kerzner, Nancy dell'Olio
Pictured below: Steven Berkoff, Richard Young