Legendary melancholic fashion photographer, Corrine Day, passed away on Friday August 27th after an on-going battle with brain cancer.
Raised in Ickenham, west London by her grandmother, Day had a turbulent childhood. She had claimed that her mother ran a brothel – which was, probably, half-way to explaining her attitude towards sex and her annoyance at the sexualisation of fashion – while her tearaway father was emotionally distant.
After leaving school without many qualifications, Day’s first job was as a courier where, during one flight, a photographer told her she should be a model. Taking his advice, despite being only 5ft 6in and considered too short for the catwalk, Day appeared in adverts in the US and Australia, and catalogues in Japan. There she met her lifetime partner Mark Szaszy, who taught her how to use his camera. Eventually they settled in Milan, where Day began photographing other struggling young models.
“At first we were living in places like school dorms with shared bathrooms, full of people who didn’t have enough money for their own rooms. I always thought they looked best when they were sitting in their pyjamas, smoking pot and getting pissed on a bottle of wine. I loved seeing them with bags under their eyes because I thought they were even more beautiful. They had a life in them. It wasn’t bland, or fake and covered in makeup.”
A friend encouraged her to take these documentary pictures to Phil Bicker, the art director of The Face, who immediately commissioned her for a photo shoot. By then, Day had been away from the UK for five years. She had no contacts, and couldn’t get any of the big models from the established agencies. As a last resort she went to a new agency, Storm, where she picked out a scraggy-haired schoolgirl called Kate Moss.
The Face cover sequence The 3rd Summer of Love, was published in July 1990, with Moss, barely 16, in bits of quality ready-to-wear and Portobello market finds. Following the shoot Day took this aesthetic further, wrapping shaggy, sometimes druggy, youngsters from the street in mismatched vintage clothes: this became the “waif look” and what was later derogatively referred to as “heroin chic”, the visual equivalent of Seattle’s grunge music.
In the following years, Day surrounded herself with people who probably should have been in rehab, documenting their messy lives and capturing their most intimate moments. So, it was probably only natural that in 1996, when she collapsed in New York she told Szaszy not to forget her camera as he joined her in the ambulance. Throughout her time in hospital – where she was diagnosed with brain cancer and had an operation to remove the tumour – over a hundred images were captured. Diary, a collection of these images, was published in 2001.
After this traumatic period, Day and Szaszy turned away from drugs and Day, mellowing her visuals, returned to fashion. Throughout her career Day’s photographs were exhibited at the Victoria & Albert, Science and Design museums, Tate Modern, the Saatchi Gallery and the Photographers’ Gallery.
Her tumour returned in 2008 and despite completing treatment it did not arrest the disease.
Corinne Day, born 19 February 1962; died 27 August 2010.