Skip navigation

Many people when writing about Corinne Day they write about ‘heroin chic’ style that Day had in her fashion photos. In my opinion, for Day, it has always been more about documenting real life stories of real people, those who are personally close to her, than any intention of fashion trend. Even more than taking photos, Corinne Day took it as ‘having too much of a good time’ that she ‘never thought about the commercial aspect of photography.’  There can’t be any better portrait for this idea of hers than her own  book ‘Diary’ – the diary of ten years being documented through the most intimate images of her close friends and herself.

A ‘diary’ is ‘a book with a separate space or page for each day, in which you write down your future arrangements, meetings, etc., or one used to record your thoughts and feelings or what has happened on that day’ (Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary Online accessed December 14th 2010). A diary is something very personal that some people even don’t let other people see it. Documentary photographers, when publishing their documentary photos, are those who choose to share their diaries. Corinne Day is one of them.

Other than the photos in her ‘Diary’ book and her own stories shared in ‘Imperfect Beauty’ by Charlotte Cotton, I haven’t been able to find any more personal story about Corinne Day’s own life…And that’s what I want to do, to keep looking and searching for more of Corinne Day’s personal life stories before writing more about her. That’s what it is about Corinne Day that I find to be worth researching about – her Own personal life stories; the life that had led her through the fashion’s usual way of glamorousity and flash lights to create her own way of doing documentary fashion photography. Corinne Day makes me think of – not fashion, not models – but real life, real people, real stories – and in this case – through real images of the fashion and model world.

to be continued…

Corinne Day, right, with Kate Moss in 2007.
Corinne Day, right, with Kate Moss in 2007.
Photograph: Dafydd Jones/
It was never comfortable to look at the photographs taken by Corinne Day, who has died aged 48 from a brain tumour. Her documentary work was plain, and plaintive. Her fashion shots, even her recent, formally glamorous sequences for Vogue, have a sense that the girls, the gowns, the gorgeous locations are transient, and likely fake anyway. And the promise that Day had perceived in a Polaroid image of a 14-year-old aspirant model – Kate Moss – was her potential for wistfulness. “In photos,” Day said, “we’re usually laughing and happy and having a good time. We don’t normally see the other side, when we’re not having such a good time.” It was always visible through Day’s lens.


Day told interviewers that her “nan” had brought her up – her portrait of her grandmother shows tough tenderness – in Ickenham, west London. She claimed her mother had run a brothel, hence, perhaps, Day’s unimpressed attitude towards sex, while her tearaway father had become respectable and successfully pursued serious money, but was distant from her emotionally.

Day’s first job after her failed schooldays was as a courier, catching planes around the world as casually as buses, surviving on snacks squirrelled away from inflight meals. She became a model because a photographer on a flight suggested it, but knew she was not a cover girl diva: melancholy already muted her face. Still, it was a better living – appearing 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, which she did while modelling in Milan.

She shot what she knew: kids who wore couture on the catwalk and for the camera, but who dressed in old tat, dossed in cheap rooms and “couldn’t afford to go out and do the things we would have liked to do”. Fashion employed progressively younger models from the early 1960s, and by the late 80s 16-year-olds were commonplace: the sad contrast intensified between their reality and the affluent arrogance they were paid to project. Day knew her pictures were original, and Phil Bicker, the art director of The Face, recognised that her teen strays suited his magazine, and commissioned a fashion shoot. Day went round the London agencies looking for a model who reflected her images from Milan, and found her in a snap of a scraggy-haired Croydon schoolgirl, Moss.

Their first great success, 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 – and, in the two most famed images, nothing but headgear, despite the chill of Camber Sands, in East Sussex, where the shoot took place. Moss’s half-combative, half-pathetic attitudes are suffused with laughter. Moss’s agency, though, disliked Day’s refusal to retouch the pictures. As a model, she explained, she had hated being made “into someone I wasn’t. I wanted to go in the opposite direction.” (She was protective enough of Moss to share a flat with her for three years.)

With the stylist Melanie Ward, Day took the aesthetic further, wrapping shaggy, sometimes druggy, youngsters dragged off the street in mismatched vintage clothes: this became the “waif look”, the visual equivalent of Seattle’s grunge music. Day shot Moss almost unadorned for a Vogue cover in 1993, did collections for the magazine and supermodel sittings – at first this was an ambition achieved, but she later said: “They’re stale, just about sex and glamour, when there are other elements of beauty.” However, she felt no thrill, not even a rebel’s excitement at the outraged response to her heroin chic Underexposed Vogue sequence, with Moss in saggy tights, looking as if she were in rehab. By then, many of Day’s London friends really were in rehab, or should have been. In 1991, she had taken up with a group based around a heavy rock band, Pusherman. They were into cannabis, ketamine and heroin (although Day did not always join them; drugs clouded the camera vision she valued – she was “a photography junkie” ); they were badly off in that recessionary era.

For almost a decade, Day, influenc- ed by the documentary art of Nan Goldin, photographed their messy lives, particularly that of Tara St Hill, an impoverished, sick, single mother, shown in sex and pregnancy, in tears and tinsel, and at parties, or wasted in her Stoke Newington squat: “What I found interesting was to capture people’s most intimate moments. And sometimes intimacy is sad.”

Day was included in the imagery – “the camera becomes a part of your life”. When she collapsed in New York in 1996, she told Szaszy, who had called the medics, not to forget her camera as he joined her in the ambulance to Bellevue hospital. His hands shook as he took the shots she requested – of her in a bed just after being told she had a brain tumour, in a lift on the way to the operating theatre for its removal – yet she felt having those moments pictured gave her control. A hundred of these images were collected in Diary, published in 2001 and much admired for its hard, but never cruel, candour.

She and Szaszy left drugs behind, and she made a pact with fashion and its finance, mellowing her visuals, even working with Moss again for Vogue. Later she accepted a National Portrait Gallery commission for a sequence of nine close-ups of Moss. Just as on Camber Sands, they chatted, so that Day could capture Moss’s animation.

Day’s photographs, fashion and not, were exhibited at the Victoria & Albert, Science and Design museums, Tate Modern, the Saatchi Gallery, and the Photographers’ Gallery, and Szaszy spent a devoted decade making a documentary of her at work, which was shown on BBC Four in 2004.

Her tumour returned two years ago. To pay for specialised chemotherapy in a clinic in Arizona, her friends raised more than £100,000 through a Save the Day campaign, by selling limited-edition photographic prints, including a set featuring Moss, some signed by the model. Day completed the treatment last year, but it did not arrest the disease.

She is survived by Szaszy.

Corinne Day, photographer, born 19 February 1962; died 27 August 2010

Corinne Day obituary.

[first lines]
Journalist #1: Do you consider the book to be autobiographical?
Jesse: Uh, well, I mean… isn’t everything autobiographical?

( Accessed on November 6th 2010)

That is how the movie ‘Before Sunset’ (2004) starts. A documentary alike movie, the second movie nine years after the first one  ‘Before Sunrise’ (1995), with only two characters and the camera follows their talks and walks throughout the movie. Just that simple. And that’s how it wins people’s hearts and minds. This is a very rational and at the same time – emotionally rational movie.

‘Isn’t everything autobiographical?’ Yes, isn’t it.

It is for me. For almost everything I do, there are personal reasons. Writing is one of them, either it is about personal or impersonal topics, I want my writing to be personal – so it is always personal for me then I guess. It is because I have realized for quite that I only have enough time to do things personally well. It would be too broad to be not personal; it would cost too much time to be general – and what’s the sense in talking about and for everyone anyway? Does anybody know about everything that applies for everyone? I guess not.

Back on October 25th, our class discussed about Academic Writing – Style and Tone. I agree with most of the suggestions of how academic writing should be: analytical, clear, cross and valid referenced, correct grammar/ spelling, evidence based, contructive argument, accurate structure and conclusion etc. However, I stop and wonder at the point of being formal to be professional. If everyone tries to follow the rule to be formal, will all writings then be alike in that one formal form? I think it is important that we have our own styles and tones when writing to make it worth reading – for it is another original idea or opinion –  not just another like-any-other piece of writing.

I enjoy Corinne Day’s stories so much  I have been typing most of her part in ‘Imperfect Beauty. The making of contemporary fashion photograph’

‘I photographed Rose in my flat which had a very badly beer stained carpet from the parties that we’d had. I was broke, still on the dole. I never thought about the commercial aspect of photography. I was having too much of a good time.’

Corinne Day – Photographer

I left school at 16 with barely any education. All I wanted to do was travel but I had no money. I got a trainee job at a bank which made me laugh because my dad was a professional bank robber. By the time I was 18 I’d had a few jobs. I was seeing this boy, Murray, and he was flying all over the place as a courier. You know, like a glorified postman. So I got a job doing that and that’s how I got into modeling. I met a photographer on a plane, all my friends laughed and said I’d end up on page three of ‘The Sun’. But I followed it through and ended up traveling all over the world as a fashion model.

I met Mark, my boyfriend, on a train in Tokyo, Japan. Mark was really into film and  photography. He taught me how to use a camera. I started to photograph Mark and the friends we made while traveling. It was when we were in Milan that I started to take photographs that meant something to me. These photographs had an intimacy and a sadness about them. There we were struggling to pay the rent, living in a dump, surrounded by glamorous magazines that were so far away from our own level of living. A photographer friend of mine, Antony, saw some of the photographs I had taken and suggested that I go and see Phil Bicker at ‘The Face’ magazine. It was in 1989 when I returned to London. I showed Phil the snapshots of Mark on holiday in Thailand and the photographs I had taken of girlfriend lying around, bored and scruffy, in Milan. Phil asked what I thought I could bring to the magazine. I asked if there were any girl photographers working for ‘The Face’ and he said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Give me a job, then.’ I think he thought I was joking; I wasn’t.

Phil asked me to take some fashion photographs and to work with clothes stylist Malcolm Beckford, who was a regular contributor to ‘The Face’. I hadn’t lived in London for over five years. I hardly knew anyone to photograph. So I made appointments at model agencies to meet girls without experience. I wanted to meet somebody who would bring themselves to the camera. Storm model agency showed me an out-of-focus Polaroid of Kate Moss. I said I couldn’t tell if she would be right and could I meet her? Kate was 15 years old. She was small for a model…same height as me. And there was something familiar about her that made me feel comfortable. That’s why I chose to photograph her. The first pictures I took were of Kate in my Nan’s front garden. Nan had raised me from the age of five and this was the house I grew up in. Nan made us tea and sandwiches. We went to the park where I had hung out with my brother my whole life. The photographs were snapshots of nothing more than us hanging out in the suburbs where I grew up. The clothes Kate wore were simple: V-neck jumpers, Kickers from the Natural Shoe Store and a bias cut John Galliano maxi-skirt from Browns. I took black-and-white photographs because I had little experience with colour. I showed six different photographs to Phil, and he published one but not the photograph I liked. I liked the photograph of Kate walking down the side of the motorway. She was blinking and looked pissed off. I suggested to Phil that Kate should be seen in the magazine more as it looked like a ‘boy’s own’ magazine. A couple of months later, he commissioned me to photograph eight pages of fashion.

The same week, I was walking down Old Compton Street with a friend of mine and she was telling me of a stylist she knew called Melanie Ward who, like me, collected second-hand clothes. That day, we saw her on the same street, went for a coffee and talked about our common interest in second-hand clothes. I asked Melanie if she would like to work with Kate and me for ‘The Face’. When I moved to London, Melanie and I became close friends. We went to the markets, Portobello and Camden and others, every weekend. We shopped at second-hand clothing shops likes Glorious Clothing and Cornucopia. We worked very closely together. Both of us being on the dole, we shared the expense of buying clothes. I always bought clothes that I would wear myself. Music was our inspiration for the ‘Third Summer of Love’ photographs that I shot in 1990 for ‘The Face’. Kate and I liked Nirvana, The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays. These photographs were about Kate. I wanted to capture her presence, not so much mine. And I liked the way that Kate was skinny. I was teased at school for being thin and clothes would never fit me when I was a model. In the eighties, you had to wear loads of make-up. I didn’t like the fake poses and phony faces. I thought fashion photography was about the photographer, instead of the person they photographed. Fashion magazines had been selling sex and glamour for far too long. I wanted to instill some reality into a world of fantasy.

I met Sarah Murray at a bus stop in the Kings Road. She had just quit modeling and was talking about getting her job back in the fish and chip shop. We became good friends and eventually worked for Vogue magazine together and Barney’s department store in New York. Sarah wasn’t like a typical looking model. It was hard for me to get advertisers and I were swimming at Tooting Bec Lido when this boy walked past. We argued who was going to ask for his number. George was a skinny 16 year old with long brown hair past his shoulders. We worked together for The Face in 1992. George was holding an electric guitar that he could not play. We are in a band together now, and he plays guitar. I met Rosemary Ferguson around the same time in McDonald’s. I thought Rose looked very androgynous. I found myself attracted to her in a way that I had never looked at a girl before. I photographed Rose in my flat which had a very badly beer-stained carpet from the parties we had. I was broke, still on the dole. I never thought about the commercial aspect of fashion photography. I wasn’t recording anything more than the way we were living. I photographed George in his own clothes where he lived. They were nothing more than snapshots with no hair, make-up or stylist. This is how I started to photograph and this is how I wanted to carry on.

In 1993, Melanie and I went our separate ways. She thought I took my work too personally. She was right, I did. Mel moved to America and never spoke to me again. My friendship with Kate also ended around the same time. I had taken some photographs of Kate for Vogue these photographs upset her model agency and a whole bunch of other people in the press in England and America. Kate never worked with me again after this. I thought the photographs were funny at the time, they certainly weren’t the kind of photographs normally seen in Vogue. I’d photographed Kate in her flat. I bought some underwear from an Ann Summer sex shop in Brewer Street, which is where I live. I also bought some American tan tights and got Liza Bruce to copy some t-shirts of mine so at least there were some designer credits in the magazine.

Charlotte Cotton. Imperfect Beauty. The making of contemporary fashion photograph. First published by V&A Publications, 2000. Page 78 – 85

That’s what happen to the books about or by Corinne Day that I have been looking for. It took another week of waiting for books to be on shelves.

1. Stella Bruzzi and Pamela Church Gibson (2000)  Fashion Cultures. Theories, explorations and analysis.

2. Cotton, Charlotte (2000) Imperfect Beauty. The making of contemporary fashion photographs.

3. Day, Corinne (2000) Corinne Day Diary.

I should have started earlier with online resources instead of waiting for books…It felt really good to finally get the books  I have been waiting for weeks for in front of me.

Front Book Covers of ‘Corinne Day Diary’ and ‘Imperfect Beauty’


Bottom page – back cover of ‘Corrine Day Diary’


Top page – front cover of ‘Imperfect Beauty’

The last subject in the pool is an image of which at first I thought as an advert image for lingerie, just another commercial fashion photo.

Sourced from: [accessed 24 September 2010] [Blackboard]

However, after attending most groups’ discussions, I got to know more about Corinne Day in her interview quoted in Joshua’s blog. While I was not very happy with some of Sally Mann’s set-up photos of kids, I can see bits of me myself and agree here and there with  Corinne Day in a very personal and emotional way.

I get my ideas anywhere, at any time; I don’t have to be specifically doing anything. I keep a diary at home and make notes of any thoughts I have, and then when a job comes up, I see if there’s anything in it that applies. I’m a workaholic, and I’m quite driven. I can’t switch off. Even when I was on holiday recently, I wanted to get away from taking photographs and just go somewhere else in my mind. I wouldn’t take my camera out with me, but I would still see pictures all the time and think: ‘Oh god, I wish I had brought my camera.’

People can be very inspiring – they can make you see that there’s a life beyond what you’ve learnt at school. When I was 12, my grandmother knew a painter who was friends with Modigliani and Picasso. I used to be painted by her and she would talk to me about art and imagery, and I think that was my first introduction to the creative mind.

I guess you must learn to be creative. I learnt photography when I picked up my first camera at 19. I started by taking photographs of my boyfriend and then my girlfriends. I have a very distinctive taste for the things I like to photograph, and that’s a very solitary creativity, in a way. I’ve always known what I’ve liked and I’ve always gone in the opposite direction of everyone else. I get bored easily of seeing the same thing over and over.

A very big source of inspiration for me is music – it brings atmospheres alive. I really believe you have to have time off to be creative, which is why I don’t have a darkroom. If I did have one, I’d spend my whole life revolving around photography, and then I wouldn’t get any inspiration to take pictures. I wouldn’t say that documentary photography is more creative than fashion photography, it’s just that documentary photography is more important for me because it’s something I’ve lived. It’s much more deep. Whereas when you’re creating an image, you’re just using your imagination, so it’s not so emotional.

– By Kate Mikhail. Creativity: Corinne Day. The Observer. Sunday 22nd September 2002 [Accessed on 25. 10. 2010]

I started to take pictures as photography in 2007 when I was 19. I took hundreds of photos of my little cousin and my grandma’s countryside natural scenes with a borrowed camera from a close friend back then. I newly get a humble first camera for myself using the rest of my saved up Vietnam Dong before leaving for London before I turned 22. Comparing to Sally Mann who got her first camera from her dad while I haven’t talked with my dad for several years because of continous domestic violence, I find more connections with Corinne Day, personally speaking. Above and besides those things, the key word/ thing is ‘documentary’ – it has been the reason why I have been taking photos and filming places and people – to record Real life, to keep Real memories, Real motions stay, as Real as I can take them, a bit longer.

Transferred to the course two weeks late, get access to the subject pool one more week late, despite all that I couldn’t help myself from being picky as usual. I went through almost all the subjects once and think about them all for two weeks before making the final decision to stick with Corinne Day’s photo from Today – I want to study about what I actually am fond of and have some kind of connections with. That means I have almost only one month left for everything, adding continous accomodation changes, I am afraid I won’t be able finish the research the way I want it to be. However, I would continue researching about Corinne Day whenever time permits.

I am also pleased that I have finally made up my mind to study about works of an English person, now that I am stuyding in London, England.

It was not ‘love at first sight’ but now Corinne Day’s photo ‘Georgina, Brixton’ and I end up together in this critical and research practice blog. Below are the very first notes I wrote down after first seeing the photo two weeks ago:

– nice body

– bare dirty feet

– what is she looking at?

– where is that room?

– why black sofa?

– why is she in lingerie?

– with the wire and the sofa, is that a living room?

– dirty floor

– was the color of the photo photoshopped? did the carpet and the lingerie actually have similar colors?

1. Sally Mann. Immediate Family. Borrowed October 19th – Novem ber 3rd 2010.

2. Sally Mann. At twelve.  Borrowed October 19th – November 3rd 2010.

I was quite surprised to learn that Sally Mann is the actual mother of the three kids in her photo ‘Emmett, Jessie, and Virginia’. From my first impression, and still now when looking at the photo, the kids look quite distance towards the camera where the photographer, who is their actual mother, is. Maybe the photo is not natural but set up, like many other family photos by Sally Mann.

For me, the beauty of kids and babies are their natural innocence and innocent nature. I myself do take countless photos of kids and babies and I would never feel comfortable to let myself to ask the kids to pose in a certain way to convey my ideas. Actually I did that once. And those photos are not as valuable to me as the natural ones.

Looking back at my notes on October 11th when I first got to know the subject pool, I found out the subject I questioned the most was actually ‘Emmett, Jessie, and Virginia’ by Sally Mann.

Sourced from: [accessed 24 September 2010] [Blackboard]

First impressions (notes on October 11th 2010)

– are they two girls or one girl and two boys? all bare chests

– the youngest one (a girl?)  looks bold with her nose in the air and hands on her hip

– the older guy looks suspicious with deep eyes, arms crossed on his chest –  protective/ more mature? nice bracelets. is he frowning a little bit with his lower lip curled down a bit?  more relaxed way of standing lowering one side of his body

– a bit younger guy (turned out she’s a girl) looks worried, a bit sad, questioning eyes, two arms folded in front of the chest – more protective, one hand grabs firmly to the other’s arm. is she scared of something?

– blur image behind of the road, trees – why?

* different ages, expressions, boldness/ security/ maturity/ protectiveness towards the photographer, who is a stranger?

– Emma: bold, chest upward, open, direct and upfront look, face, eyes, chin, chest, attitude

– Jessie: calm, deep and far and considerate look, thinking, reasoning, quite relaxed. a bit protective

– Virginia: scared & worried -> very protective, wondering/ questioning eyes

* Questions:

– why black and white? (1989?)

– where is that?

– who are they?

– what is the relationship between the photographer and the kids?

For one week looking up for information about Godard and his works and films, including Week-end (1967), I have realized how broad it is. Godard might not be a huge director  but he is a big one. There are many books to read and movies to watch when studying about him. For a perfectionist like me, one month and a half will not be enough to study thoroughly about Goddard with a long list of movies made and works done along his long life

Furthermore, I stopped from first part, then the middle while watching ‘Week-end’. It turned out I wasn’t fond of the movie enough to finish watching it…

There are also notes about the rest of the subject pool after I watched and looked at them that I haven’t mentioned in the first post of First Impressions. Subjects I don’t pick up to study about, there are reasons.

As for the Honda advert, ‘Cog’ (2003) director Bardou – Jacquet, A. (for Wieden+Kennedy UK agency), this is not the first time I know about  it but few months ago from a friend who is making robots.

Still, I watched it again with the same interest and it can be stated as a  ‘cool’ advert.  The feeling comes up as quite similar as when watching the traffic jam scene of Godard. Viewers are intrigued to the screen when watching this ‘Cog’ advert, to see where it goes to in the end. For such technical and mechanical subjects, the advert, however, moved smoothly imitating a ‘domino effect’ of   small details that end up building up…a car. If it were a bicyle, I might have chosen this subject. Personally I don’t want to spend time and effort studying about an advert that aims to make more people to consume cars that, more or less, cause pollutions.

The title scene of  ‘The Conversation’ (1974) Directed Coppola with the camera from high above approaching closer and closer to the ground where people are walking and having different activities then zoomed to a clown…

If I had more time, I would like to watch the movie (and I will later on). Then I might change my mind after that, just like what happened to ‘Week-End’. However from the first impression, the scene uses a quite familiar way of getting to an object that made me pay attention to…another subject in the pool: Photographer unknown, depicting Lynndie England and colleague image.

Sourced from: [accessed 24 September 2010] [Blackboard]

I found it more special when during the class discussion, I knew that they are soldiers and lovers – they look more like friends in this photo to me though. In my first notes after looking at this photo I wrote: who? what? when? where? how? why? Many small questions but not much enthusiasm with this photo so I passed it…

(to be continued)