31 August 2010

Corinne Day, the fashion photographer widely-credited with discovering Kate Moss, died this weekend at the age of 45 after a year-long battle with brain cancer. 

Day photographed the now-iconic fashion shoot with a 15-year-old Moss that appeared in The Face magazine in July 1990. The raw, black and white pictures were shockingly naturalistic at a time when the glossy era of supermodel glamour was at its zenith. The shoot took place on a cold sunny Spring day on Camber Sands beach in East Sussex, and featured the unknown model wearing an eclectic mix of designer and vintage clothes. The cover image of Moss; topless, make-up free and freckle-faced; with unstyled hair under a feather headdress, seemed to usher in a new age of rebelliously anti-fashion style which came to be known as 'grunge'.

For three years the photographer and her model muse were inseparable; even living together in Day's Soho flat. Previously specialising in reportage photography, Day would endlessly shoot Moss, and her habit of documenting every candid, intimate or mundane moment undoubtedly contributed to the young model becoming so relaxed on camera - and in her distinctive, girl-next-door looks.

But the photographer, who was a decade older than Kate, also switched the model on to the style she would eventually become known for - vintage chic. Corinne (alongside stylist Melanie Ward who created the outfits for the Face shoot) was obsessed with second hand clothes, mostly found at Portobello Market. When they met, the teenage Moss, who was still at school, was coveting, and wearing, expensive clothes by Vivienne Westwood. But the photographer soon converted her to her own grungey style - bias cut slips worn as dresses, baggy mens suits worn with trainers. Kate recalled of that time 'I was only 15 then, I didn’t have any style - they styled me'.

The Face shoot seemed to usher in another era of fashion photography and it wasn't long before the rest of the fashion industry sat up and took notice. In 1993 Day finally achieved her dream - to shoot for British Vogue. The shoot 'Under-exposed' featured Day's studiously anti-glamour images; of a pale and skinny Moss sprawled around her rented flat in Notting Hill in mismatched underwear. When it hit the newstands, the shoot caused a public outcry with claims that the model appeared to be suffering from an eating disorder or drug addiction. 

While these photographs brought Moss to the attention of the fashion world (Marc Jacobs credits these shoots with starting his obsession with the aesthetic that would result in his Grunge collection for US label Perry Ellis, which consequently caused the young designer to be fired from the house, but brought him enough acclaim from industry insiders that he was able to set up his own label) the resulting controversy from the Vogue shoot tore apart the close relationship between Day, Ward and Moss.

Moss began dating, and living with, another photographer - former model Mario Sorrenti,  and they were relentlessly travelling the world for work. Meanwhile Ward moved to the US to work for Harpers Bazaar, and Day moved away from fashion and onto to another subject; Tara St Hill - a single mother living in a squat in Stoke Newington - whom the photographer also obsessively monitored, and these intimate but uncompromising photographs drew comparisons with the work of Nan Goldin

The photographer and model were finally reunited in December 2006, when Day shot Moss for a candid series of portraits for London's National Portrait Gallery, which were exhibited the following year. The pictures show Kate, relaxed and unmade up, as she chats away into the camera.

Day is known to have been suffering from cancer for over a decade, first collapsing with a seizure, in 1996. This experience pushed her to finally turning the camera on herself, and she began photgraphing herself and her time in hospital, publishing the images in her photography book Diary in 2000.

Last summer, friends, including Moss, held an auction of the photographer's prints to raise funds for her treatment, but earlier this year it was reported that the treatment was unsuccessful. 

Since February, Day's friends and colleagues had already been in talks with the Victoria & Albert museum about creating a retrospective exhibition of her work. Today the fashion industry is mourning the loss of a unique talent. As Day said 'photography is getting as close as you can to real life, showing us things we don't normally see. These are people's most intimate moments, and sometimes intimacy is sad'.


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