Terry O’Neill: A Legend Remembered

Sotheby's
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Terry O’Neill was a young unknown photographer when he was commissioned to shot a few portraits of a new band at Abbey Road Studios before the release of their first hit single Please, Please Me in 1963. The portrait ran in a sold-out paper the day after and the rest is history: the band would become known as The Beatles and the photographer as Terry O’Neill.

O’Neill witnessed and captured the cultural British revolution brought by the Swinging Sixties in London. This results in him pursuing a career of celebrity portraiture spanning over fifty years. Some of his sitters included legendary icons such as David Bowie, Michael Caine, Jean Shrimpton, Elton John, Kate Moss and Amy Winehouse amongst many others. The quintessential British photographer passed away in November 2019 shortly after being the recipient of a CBE award for his services to the medium of Photography. Sotheby’s remembers the artist and celebrates his work in the Made In Britain sale with a selection of his legendary shots included in the auction, which goes on public view on Friday 13 March.

This stunning shot of Elton John at the Dodger Stadium in 1975 portrays the singer at the peak of his career, glittering with satisfaction and embracing his success in the crowded and roaring venue. Although the photograph depicts thousands of people in a single shot, O’Neill caught a very intimate and meaningful moment for the musician. O’Neill explained, “I’m a reportage photographer, and I just like fading into the background,” “The more discrete you are the better off you are.” This photograph also marks the beginning of a life-long collaboration and relationship between the two artists, resulting in 5,000 photographs of the singer on and off stage.

In 1966, Terry O’Neill went to the filming of One Million Years B.C. in Hollywood. On set Raquel was making comments regarding her now infamous fur bikini and how the press would crucify her for it. This immediately sprung an idea in O’Neill’s mind and resulted in this image.

The photographer arranged for the 20th Century Fox to set up a giant crucifix in order to take a series of shots of the actress. Considered too controversial for promotional use at the time, Raquel Welch on the Cross was hidden from the public for thirty years. It was not until the Sunday Times Magazine published it as a cover that it rose to fame and into the history of photography. If the initial idea was to crucify Raquel’s beauty, the photograph became a timeless feminist art piece and one of the photographer’s most iconic images.

Terry O’Neill had the chance to shoot five Bonds and over twenty Bond Girls spanning the history of the film franchise. The simple yet powerful portrait of Sir Roger Moore englobes the characteristic of the true gentleman that we know as James Bond. “I went to the set of Live and Let Die thinking I’d see Roger Moore, but I came out knowing that I just took photos of James Bond.”