Marking the first anniversary of Corinne Day’s passing, this month London’s Gimpel Fils Gallery is featuring the first-ever exhibition of the photographer’s earliest work for The Face. i-D spoke to Susie Babchick, Corinne’s manager through eight years, about life with the photographer, and asked her to select her favourite pictures from the exhibition.
Few people in fashion get to leave this world with a cultural legacy quite like that of Corinne Day. One of the first photographers to shoot Kate Moss, Corinne’s influence on 90s fashion and everything that followed still echoes through culture like no other photographer – or designer, for that matter. Through two decades, Corinne gifted fashion – and indeed i-D – with a distinct photographic signature so iconic that it continues to send waves through fashion today. In August last year, Corinne passed away after battling a brain tumour for many years. To mark the first anniversary of her death, Corinne’s husband, friends and colleagues have come together to honour her with an exhibition at the gallery Gimpel Fils this month, showcasing her first published work for The Face.
On the 19th of September, Gimpel Fils will launch the book Heaven Is Real published by Morel Books. An uncovering of unpublished images, the book is a compilation of never-before-seen outtakes from the photographer’s famed shoots. Amongst those of Corinne’s friends who have been pivotal in the creation of the exhibition is Susie Babchick. A photographers’ agent who left her native Texas for London in 1989, Susie was a close friend of Corinne’s and managed her from 1999 to 2007. Susie picked out her favourite works from the exhibition, and i-D online spoke to her about her relationship with Corinne, the inaccurate phenomenon of ‘heroin chic’, and a certain Mrs Moss.
As a friend of Corinne’s, what has it been like to work on this exhibition? It’s been energising. Corinne’s husband Mark Szaszy and I sat down with Gimpel Fils and looked at all her work. There’s so much of it – so many different stages and types of work – so in the end we decided to tell the story from the beginning. Which was her first published work for The Face. We picked the ones we thought really resonate today. But it was hard because there were so many we wanted to include. What’s exciting is how timeless the work is. It still looks really fresh and really gorgeous today. There’s one of Rosemary Ferguson in a spider web T-shirt that Corinne made with a pair of scissors. That’s probably my favourite photo in the show, along with the one of George Clements lying by a lake.
How did you meet Corinne? We met in 1995. I was working for a record company and Corinne was going to do some photos of a band I was looking after. The singer of the band sent me over to Corinne’s to talk about the shoot, which was slightly daunting because she was already very well-known at the time. But we met in her flat and then we sat and talked, and then we went on to do a lot of shoots with that band. I think we liked the way each other worked. We were always very experimental. I went on to work at the press office at the ICA, where I would invite her to events. In 1999 she asked if I would like to work with her.
What was she like to work with? She was very serious. Preparing for a shoot was intense and it would take a lot of tries to get the right components. The models and locations had to be exactly what she was looking for. But she was great at casting, and on the day of the shoot she was always very gentle, free and easy. On our first shoot together, we went to Texas with Rosemary Ferguson for Condé Nast Traveller. Corinne told them, “I don’t need a stylist. I don’t need hair and makeup people. I just want to go on a road trip with Rosemary. You just give me the clothes and I’ll dress her”. So we flew to Houston and went to this car lot that had all these old cars. It took her ages to pick out a car, but she finally went for this really old Buick, which we bought and drove around Texas.
She worked with i-D as well… Yeah, Terry and Tricia knew Corinne very well. You know, they always get to know their photographers very well and stay friends with them for ages. Corinne shot for i-D a lot more before I worked with her, but we did do some really nice shoots for i-D from 1999 onwards. For Corinne, one of the great things about i-D was that she really did have absolute freedom with them. Terry and Tricia trusted her, and they liked what she came up with, and published what she provided them. It was a very supportive relationship.
What made Corinne’s work stand out? When Corinne first started shooting in the 1980s, the industry was very male-dominated, and fashion photography was generally highly sexual and very glamorous. Corinne introduced a turning point. She had been a model and had seen this 1980s style all the way through her career, and never really liked it. By looking around her, she saw models being quite natural and started taking photos of them in their penzione in Milan, back when they were all models together. She’d take pictures of them when they were taking breaks on shoots, thinking, “God, they look even more beautiful now than they did on set”. And that’s how she started taking pictures.
How did the whole ‘heroin chic’ phenomenon come about? Corinne didn’t know anyone on heroin at the time. I think it came from clubbing. They would go out to raves and stuff and all stay at Corinne’s house, and in the morning they’d have bed heads and make-up running down their faces, and Corinne thought that was really beautiful. So she started shooting that, and that’s what people eventually dubbed ‘heroin chic’. She didn’t use the term, and what’s silly is, none of those models were on heroin.
The models really loved her… Erika Wall has said that Corinne made them confident about all the things they didn’t feel confident about. Having been a model herself – and not a very tall one – she really understood models, and knew how to bring out their confidence. When Corinne did a shoot, she would be shooting throughout the day and not just when she was officially shooting. There’s a picture she took of Kate Moss on a British Vogue shoot, having a sandwich dressed in this beautiful lingerie. I think that’s one of the nicest photos of Kate I’ve ever seen. She’s so relaxed and happy and funny and being herself. Not performing.
What was their relationship like? They knew each other for twenty years. It was hot and cold, but they never had the fall-outs people like to guess about. They were really good friends, and of course things changed when Kate became an international superstar. But they remained friends, and Corinne never said a bad word about Kate. She was quite neutral about her. Whenever they had the opportunity to work together, they did, like when Corinne shot Kate for The National Portrait Gallery in 2006. They never stopped. Kate came out to see her in the hospital towards the end, and of course signed all the photos for the Save The Day campaign.
What was Corinne like as a friend? She threw her whole heart into friendship. She was tough sometimes as well. She was a perfectionist and she expected things to be just so. Our friendship and working relationship were very intertwined. But when people got close to her, she really cared about their wellbeing. When I split up with a boyfriend of many years, she was truly concerned about me. She was so happy when, years later, I met my husband. You could really tell that she was relieved.
What are your memories from the last year before she passed away? It was good for her, because she and Mark got out of Soho and moved out in the fresh air. But slowly she was not as able to speak. She could start sentences that she couldn’t finish. So I got into this thing where I would finish her sentences in a funny way, and make her laugh. That would crack her up. Paul Drummond and Kate Moss made her iPod selections, and I would bring my dog Jean Genie out to see her, and we would watch a Donny Osmond special or X-Factor and I would cook for her. If you went there and you were upbeat, she’d go with that. It would never be a sympathy draw, ever.
What do you miss about her the most? The adventure. It was a great adventure. If a pathway opened up, Corinne would always follow it to see where it led. What we’ve all learned from Corinne through her illness is an absolute fearlessness. She really stayed up, and was never seen to be afraid of dying. And of course, the industry will be missing a really brilliant, inimitable aesthetic. We’ve lost a brilliant inventor of imagery.
Text: Anders Christian Madsen
Photography: Corinne Day