David Bowie – Cool in Chelsea 1977

David-Bowie.-Dark.Arrowsmith.Dark.©.jpgI was working with the actress Brigette Neilson and Pierre Laroche (make up artist, famous for Bowie’s Aladdin Sane Album Sleeve) and we had just finished shooting. Pierre invited me back to his place for a drink in his bijou little flat at the end of The Kings Road which was  beautifully decorated like a Moroccan salon. He made rose tea and while I was sipping the tea, I said, “I noticed you’ve been working with Bowie again and I wondered how he is.” Pierre said, “Oh, he’s fine” and then I said, “Do send him my love and say if he has the time he can stop by at the studios in Chelsea and we can do some portraits. He can come in costumes or just as he is.” Pierre knew I had photographed David while he was still in Feathers and kindly passed my invitation on.

I went off to Taiwan to shoot for a couple of weeks for a Fashion Rock Shoot and forgot all about our conversation. When I came back Pierre had left me a message saying, “David would love to see you and do a shoot”. So I called him back and Pierre arranged a date.

Bowie-back-view-Arrowsmith.©.jpgDavid arrived in a blue silk jacket, rolled up jeans and wearing blue kickers which where what was happening at the time. Pierre took him the dressing room and as David was very busy he just dabbed him down and refreshed his mascara.

David walked onto the studio back drop, I didn’t say a word and he just started looking over his shoulder and slowly revolving, going through a series of movements and I just kept on shooting. I didn’t want to miss a thing. I congratulated him on how things are going, as it all seemed to be going so well. I then asked him if I could do a portrait and David was just completely amenable. I remember Pierre sitting there with a smile on his face enjoying David’s natural elegance, laughing and shouting camp encouragements, not that David needed any. David loved the camera.

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I had this old Balkar spot flashlight, which was held together with string and gaffer tape, but I loved it because it gave me such a crisp sharp light. I placed a cone of black paper over the light with the thin end pointing toward David, so it just gave a small beam of sharp light. I focused it and realised it was only lighting one side of his face. This was not what I had intended but I took a Polaroid and liked it so much I just carried on. There was this intense magnetic look in his eye that I had to capture. After I got that shot I cut the paper and got a wider beam of light across his face and carried on shooting. However this is still my favourite image from that shoot. Suddenly there was a ring on the studio door and David’s driver said “We have to leave now for your next appointment”. With that David smiled and hug Pierre and I goodbye. I thanked him for coming and that was that.

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The following April I was celebrating my birthday at St Lorenzo (1978) and David walked in. David joined my Birthday dinner party table. Champagne and substances were imbibed and then David invited me to the Xenon nightclub in Piccadilly. As the evening progressed I was getting more and more wired while David seemed to be completely calm as if he was at a Sunday tea party, he was just that cool. After an evening of crazy conversations and laughter by about 4am, we got into cabs and went our separate ways. This was the last time I ever saw David. What a wonderful icon he became, but to me he was always the same guy I knew from his first band Feathers.

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  • Clive Arrowsmith is shooting stunning images, staging exhibitions and is as passionate about photography as he was when he first pressed the shutter at The Paris Collections. He is available for global media opportunities related to his work and photography generally. Bespoke prints from Clive’s archive are also available by special request, for any enquiries  (email Eugenie here). Clive’s book Arrowsmith: Fashion, Beauty & Portraits is available hereand Lowry at Home: Salford 1966 is available here

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