Terry O'Neill Biography

His work features at the National Portrait Gallery in London and is considered one of the great British photographers of our time. He gained renown documenting the fashions, styles, and celebrities of the 1960s, and for over six decades he has photographed the frontline of fame, from the greats of screen and stage, to presidents, prime ministers and rock stars.

Terry O'Neill's photographs display his knack for capturing his subjects candidly, or in unconventional settings, and is one of the great recorders of 20th century celebrity. He was awarded The Royal Photographic Society's Centenary medal 'in recognition of a sustained, significant contribution to the art of photography' in 2011.

No other living photographer has embraced the span of fame, capturing the icons of our age from Winston Churchill to Nelson Mandela, from Frank Sinatra and Elvis to Amy Winehouse, from Audrey Hepburn and Brigitte Bardot to Nicole Kidman, as well as every James Bond from Sean Connery up to Pierce Brosnan.

He photographed The Beatles and The Rolling Stones when they were still struggling young bands in 1963, pioneered backstage reportage photography with David Bowie, Elton John, The Who, Eric Clapton and Chuck Berry and his images have adorned historic rock albums, movie posters and international magazine covers.

Terry O'Neill still mixes with many of the stars that he photographed in their prime. Perhaps this explains how he achieved such access - he was often as good a friend as he was a photographer.

The beginnings:

Terry O'Neill began his career working in a photographic unit for an airline at London's Heathrow Airport. During this time, he photographed a sleeping figure in a waiting area whom, by happenstance, was revealed to be Britain's Home Secretary. O'Neill thereafter found further employment on Fleet Street with The Daily Sketch in 1959. His first professional job was photographing Laurence Olivier.

His reputation grew during the 1960s. In addition to photographing the decade's show-business elite such as Judy Garland, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, he also photographed members of the British Royal Family and prominent politicians, showing a more natural and human side to these subjects than had usually been portrayed before. Becoming good friends with Michael Caine and Richard Burton propelled O’Neill instantly to unique access to more stars, including the introduction of Elizabeth Taylor to David Bowie, creating a series of classic photographs. O’Neill spent his evenings at London’s Ad Lib Club where designers, photographers, actors and musicians spent time together discussing ideas. His long term relationship with academy award winner Faye Dunaway and friendship with the stars set’s Terry O’Neill apart.

In his own words:

As Terry O’Neill has said, “The Sixties was an incredible time. Young people took over, creating their own cultural landscape on stage, in music, fashion and on the film set. I was lucky. Seriously lucky. I was in the right place at the right time. But I never realized then that we were remaking the world in our own image – or that mine would become such a testament to the time. And the freedom I was given, on film sets, backstage and just rubbing shoulders with my mates who became these icons, simply isn’t allowed to photographers today. Now image is everything; the stars are brands and their managements control access and publication, so we never get to see them as they really are at work, rest or play.”